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From Camden Hells to clam shells: the proposal story

It all started in a beer garden on a warm, sunny evening last summer, with a pint of Camden Hells in hand. Sarah and I had decided to head to the pub for a couple of drinks in the sun, and the conversation ended up on Dorset.  As we chatted about the sea, the sand and the fresh air, we started to imagine where we’d love to go and visit and as the conversation grew longer, our aspirations rose higher. We ended up dreaming of a stay by the sea at The Pig On The Beach, a beautiful, boutique hotel that Sarah had wanted to visit since it opened in 2014. And this got me thinking…

I’d known I wanted to propose for a few months and with Sarah being an ocean-loving Dorset girl through-and-through, The Pig was the perfect location. I booked our stay the very next day and the proposal planning began, starting with the ring. At this point, I was admittedly clueless. Lucky for me, Sarah was rather forthcoming in her openness, and willingness, to discuss all things ring (and engagement) related, despite having no idea what I was planning. She knew exactly what the ring of her dreams looked like, and I was able to make a note of some pretty specific criteria.

Over many weekends I started speaking to Jewellers across London and beyond, and became increasingly aware that there was more to this than I thought. After three months, and myriad conversations, I headed back to my hometown of Cheltenham for the weekend. While I was there, I decided to try a few of the Jewellery shops to see if they had what I was looking for. I entered, and swiftly left, a number of different shops with no luck. Feeling dejected but determined, I decided to try one more shop, Martins & Co.

I spoke with the manager, James, who had all the knowledge, and patience, in the world. As soon as we started looking at rings, my heart nearly stopped. After three months of searching, there it was. Sat right in the middle of the cushion, huddled amongst a plethora of rings, sparkling like a beacon. There was the ring I’d been looking for.

A few months later, in mid-January 2017, it was time for me to ask my first big question. It was important for me to ask for her father’s blessing, and I knew this was even more important to Sarah. So, on a weekend visit to Dorset, I took him to one side and asked if I could marry his daughter. He was elated, and I was honoured. It was now time to put almost six months of planning into action.

Fast forward a few weeks to Thursday, 9th February. It was Sarah’s birthday, and we’d travelled back to Dorset to stay with her family for a couple of days. From the moment we woke up, I was determined to spoil her. After a few presents, we headed downstairs for some breakfast, and I handed her a card. In it, I asked her to pack a bag and be ready to leave by midday. Beyond that, she had no idea where we were off to.

As we got into the car, I handed her a present. It was one of her favourite candles, with an ‘ocean tide’ scent. But this wasn’t just a present, this was a clue of where we were heading. I entered a post code into the sat nav, and asked her to follow its directions. It was a 45-minute drive over the hills and along the coast, and a 45-minute guessing game too. Eventually, we reached a junction; the sat nav asked Sarah to turn right, and I asked her to turn left. We did so, driving straight into the gravel car park of The Pig On The Beach hotel. Her excitement was palpable, my heart was palpitating. It was time to put my plan into action.

The hotel staff had been briefed, with one young lady designated to help. I handed her a glass bottle, and she headed down to the beach ahead of us. With our room not yet ready, I asked Sarah if she’d be up for a walk along the beach. She joined me, and as we arrived on the beach, I started to scour the sand. I was short-sighted, and quickly started to wonder how we’d ever find the bottle. But then there it was, propped up against a pebble ahead of us, just in front of some beach huts. Curious, Sarah picked it up and examined it. A letter lay inside, tied with twine. She uncorked the bottle, unravelled the paper and turned to look at me. It was my handwriting, and she’d recognised it immediately. She cast her eyes to the very bottom of the letter, and read the last line first (as you do…), which said:

‘…and so, I have a very important question to ask you…’

SandShe realised what was happening, overwhelmed by emotion. I asked her to read the letter, and as she stuttered her way towards the end, I pulled the ring out of my pocket. Presenting it in an open clam shell, I dropped down on one sandy knee, and asked Sarah to be my wife.

In the midst of an emotional maelstrom, she said yes!

After an unforgettable evening, we settled down for the night in front of a log fire, and started to dream about what our wedding could be like. And this got me thinking: we have a wedding to plan now, and I don’t even know where to start…

Location. Location. Location.

 

In the spotlight of a sparkling spring sun, we took a weekend away from London to begin our search for the perfect wedding venue. We had ideas of what we wanted, and when we wanted it, but nothing concrete. With six venues to be viewed over two days, our hope was for clarity at the very least, and decision at the very best. With Dorset on our doorstep, Sarah’s selection left us spoilt for choice:

We started our search on a scorching day in Christchurch, at a lovely hotel on the edge of a harbour. As we walked across the terrace and looked out to sea, I started to envisage our wedding day and how it might look, and the excitement that sparked in that moment is still lighting up my imagination today. As we both explored, our excitement fostered more and more ideas; we knew this was going to be a fun weekend.

Later that afternoon, we headed off to Dean’s Court, a stunning, rustic and grand country manor nestled away behind Wimborne’s shops and cafes. A real country treasure, and one that I’d never even realised was there. Exploring the grounds was a treat in itself – considering them for our wedding day was beyond anything I’d ever imagined. Once we’d walked along the lake, viewed the marquee, explored the cottage accommodation and paid a lot of attention to the dog, we had to head home. Two venues down, we’d only just started and already had so much to think about.

Day two was a packed one and started at Harbour Heights, a hotel high up in the heavens overlooking the Sandbanks peninsula. We could not have had a better day. Clear blue skies and a shining sun lit up a crystal clear view across the bay and out to sea. We stood on the terrace and took in the view for quite some time, watching the boats bobbing around on the still water. It was perfect, but sadly the views far exceeded the venue itself and so we moved on, to Compton Acres.

The Italian Villa, though a little anachronistic for the Dorset coast, was beautiful and we viewed it all set up and ready for a wedding later that day. The grounds were manicured, the food looked incredible, and the building itself was nice inside and out. It gave us both a lot to think about, but we quickly had to set off for our next location.

After a 30 minute drive, our little car turned a corner and a world of memories came flooding back for us both. We’d come back to view Milton Abbey, the place where we met and one of the most beautiful and secluded spots I’ve seen anywhere in my life. As we rolled slowly down the drive towards the manor, we both reminisced of the good times that we’d shared here, and took in the astounding beauty around us. Looking around the abbey and staterooms, it felt like a little part of me had come home again. Sadly the package on offer was not so right for us, and regrettably we had to move on.

Five venues down, we had seen a lot. It had helped us to understand what we did and didn’t want for our special day, and given me a world of ideas along the way. Our sixth, and final, location was a place I’d never even heard of. A country manor called Athelhampton House. From the moment I first saw it, I knew it was somewhere special. As we looked around, it all felt so right. The countryside location, the rich history, and even links back to our London home. This was beyond our wildest dreams, and as we sat down together, we feared this was well beyond our reach.

As we talked it all through, we realised that this dream could actually be realistic for us, and we struggled to hide our delight. Over the next few days we chatted about what we’d seen, and our excitement grew and grew. This was everything that we’d been hoping for and more, and once that had become clear, the decision made itself.