I absolutely LOVE mountain weddings, but they’re not for the fainthearted. Even in good weather, getting up to the summit requires a lot of planning and preparation, but when it’s absolutely tipping down as it was last Sunday, well, that’s when you find out what people are made of.
Andy and Jo are climbers: ‘craggers’ in the private language of mountaineers, and they spend much of their year clinging to inaccessible pinnacles in the heat and dust of Spain. Jo hails from Scotland, so that was why they chose to come to the legendary ‘Arrochar Alps’ for their wedding on Beinn Arthur, as The Cobbler is properly known.
The Cobbler has a very dramatic skyline: it looks like the kind of place you might have to trek towards for months before throwing a golden ring into a pit of fire. It’s only a Corbett, so it’s not that high, even by Scottish standards, but as Wikipedia will tell you, ‘it’s “one of the most impressive summits, and the most important site for rock climbing in the Southern Highlands”, so as a location, it was a shoo-in!
I was really looking forward to seeing how Jo and Andy’s wedding would work out. They had said there might be a few people coming with them, but I had no idea that ‘a few’ would turn out to be thirty of all ages, plus a few dogs, notably their own indefatigable and very affectionate Bailey!
Bailey is a Spanish rescue dog: if like me, you couldn’t guess what he is, he’s a Podenco cross and he’s not usually a fan of the rain, but he obviously felt the sense of occasion!
Billy Connolly famously said, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing’ and thanks to Goretex™, (other waterproof membranes are available) everyone was properly kitted out and raring to go at half past nine in the morning.
A conventional wedding takes about half an hour, more or less, but a mountain one tends to be both shorter and longer at the same time.
Before we left the car park, I introduced myself, said a few words about humanism and what was going to make this ceremony different, and then up the long path we started.
The Cobbler isn’t a hard walk, but it has a few steep sections, and because the burns running down it were in spate, we had a few hairy moments leaping from rock to rock above the raging torrent.
We stopped three times during the ascent for a moment’s rest, and each time we did so, someone spoke.
Jo’s brother Andy welcomed his namesake to the family: Andy’s best man Alex read a very rain-tattered but still funny and moving speech and I said a few words too. The rain really was non-stop.
There were lots of iPhones and small cameras among the guests, and that’s where many of these photos have come from.
Andy and Jo’s friend, the award-winning adventure photographer John Thornton had brought his professional kit with him, but even he was defeated by the weather as the insidious Scottish rain found its way into the electrics, which is why this frame was the last he shot on the day.
It’s easy to get lost in the hills. At one point, I found myself some distance ahead of the main body, approaching what looked like a ridge. Beyond it was a steep incline, beyond that an even steeper drop, so I thought I’d sit down for a while until everyone else caught up.
It turned out that was a good move, because the small plateau was the perfect spot to conduct the wedding. To our right, somewhere not far above us in the swirling mist was the true summit, a rock pinnacle that calls for Grade 5 skills in good weather, but it was completely invisible on the day.
Here, with their family and friends gathered around them, Jo and Andy spoke their vows and exchanged rings – surprisingly given the cold and wet, they actually managed to get them on – and then we had a small champagne reception, with cocktail sausages, thoughtfully pre-smothered with HP Sauce, provided by Jo’s mum.
Everyone headed downhill at their own pace, and as luck would have it, more or less as we got back to the carpark, the sun came out.
Andy and Jo drank from a quaich, a surprise element set up by her dad, and then they had a hand fasting, using rope – there’s no more symbolic material for mountaineers!
as Jo said when she sent me these photos, “Since Sunday, I have had so many happy messages from friends. I think the wedding really was a team event: we all helped each other make it to the top! A good base for our wettest, most fun mountain wedding!”
I don’t think The Guinness Book of Records has a category for the Wettest Wedding Ever, but if it did, Jo and Andy’s would win it hands down, but it would also be right up there in the entries for Most Fun, Most Inspiring, and Most Engaging: I’m just glad I got to be a part of it!