10 Years On… Alizon & John’s humanist wedding at Ravensheugh Log Cabin

Your wedding is a defining moment, but you have no idea just how important it is at the time.

Alizon and John got married at the Log Cabin at Ravensheugh on the 30th of July, 2011, so it was their tenth anniversary this year. I was so pleased when they reminded me, that I asked them to share what it means to them now.

This is their story, in Alizon’s words.

When Johnnie and I decided to get married, we knew it had to be in Scotland. We’d briefly lived there when John was at Napier studying photography and we still had many friends there. John had asked me to marry him in The Barony Bar on Broughton Street one snowy New Year’s Eve so of course it was our first choice, despite us living over two hundred miles away by then.

John doesn’t like fuss or formality, and said he’d be happy marrying in a field. I wanted Art Deco and peacocks and a glorious Gothic building. When I saw Ravensheugh Log Cabin on the internet, I knew it was the place that would suit us as a couple. The location has grandeur – those views over Bass Rock – but it has a wildness that suited John’s free spirit. There was a cosy log cabin in case it rained, camping for guests and to top it all we could have a bonfire! It was decided; a Humanist wedding with handfasting followed by a two day wedding party with a festival vibe.

Making that decision was our first big lesson that compromise does not mean giving up your needs and desires. I wanted decadence and glamour, John wanted wildness and fun. We had both: the wedding at Ravensheugh and the honeymoon at Prestonfield House complete with peacocks! We had the best of both worlds.

It turns out then that choosing locations was more than just a decision about where we would get married, but a deep part of who we are as a couple and what marriage meant to us both. Looking back ten years later we can reflect on how that location was key to forging the ceremony itself as well as the community celebration that followed.

We knew we didn’t want a religious ceremony as neither of us believed in God. A registry office would have been ok, but we wanted something that reflected our philosophy. We found out that you can have a legal Humanist wedding in Scotland and this led us to Tim. At the time we didn’t know it, but it turns out we had been Humanists all along. We believed in the good of humanity and that we can act morally and ethically without a divine force.

As humans we like to mark our rites of passage with ceremony and ritual and these are often tied in with some form of religious belief. However, we wanted a meaningful ceremony outside of that, one that would celebrate our love and share it with our community of family and friends.

That it took place in nature made it even more fitting as the waves on the shore, the wind in the pine trees and the wildflowers in the grass at our feet seemed to connect us with the whole bigger world in a special way. Most of our guests stood to watch us make our vows and the photographs showed a joyous circle of loved ones surrounding us against a big expanse of sky and sea beyond. They loved it. Still ten years later they talk about it as the best wedding they have ever been to.

Tim helped that happen. Not just in conducting the ceremony, but in helping us create it. We were set homework to do and then we met for a discussion of what we wanted and how the ceremony would unfold. Tim made us feel like he was really helping us explore our relationship and what it meant to us and his suggestions and support helped us write our meaningful and beautiful vows.

The day we all met up, Tim suggested we visit the venue as it was a beautiful spring day. Despite my extensive research, we got lost and ended up walking along the beach looking up the cliffs to try and find our cabin. I was stressed at being lost and annoyed I had not planned better, but John encouraged me to keep on, to look at our beautiful surroundings, to let things unfold. We found our special place and it took our breath away. Literally for me, as I had a yet undiagnosed hole in my heart!

How we found the location, first online and then in reality, became the story we used in our ceremony and it revealed to us the facets of our individual personalities.

Landscape and place are important parts of who we are. I’m a writer and academic: an ideas person.  I love research and organising a good project (try getting everything for a wedding onto a field when you live 200 miles away.) I love travel, but like to plan ahead.

John is a photographer, a dreamer, an adventurer. He’s spontaneous, a go with the flow kind of wanderer who sees beauty in the everyday. That day when we lost and found our log cabin on the cliffs was a lesson in how to make a marriage work and, guided by Tim, we took that discovery into the vows we made on our day.

Getting lost became a key theme of our ceremony. John had said ‘we are not lost, we just don’t know where were are.’ Later I pictured us on a street view map- we can only see what is immediately in front of us.  But John zoomed out, he looked at the bigger picture and saw that wider world. I can get bogged in detail, he sees beyond that. And in these times of great uncertainty, nothing can be more true than the fact that we are always uncertain.

It is the human condition to not know where you are, but to know that is to have certainty. Things will pass, things will change, we cannot always see the bigger picture (and nor would we always want to,) but it is there.

The other element of this is that your life partner is a certain bet against uncertainty. They are there for you and you for them. If you are lost, they are lost with you, but in that experience they bring their qualities and you bring yours. You find things together.

What we have found from creating our beautiful ceremony are many things that underpin our marriage. Our wedding ceremony was definitely outside the conventional. It appeared wild and free but making it happen took a lot of hard work and planning. We never thought to stop and go for something safer. We try not to be constrained by our age, our health, our financial situations. If we want to do something different and sometimes a bit out of the ordinary we will try our best to make that happen.

On the other hand, we know that things go wrong. Plenty did on our day. Lots of things have in our life. There will always be the unplanned, the unexpected, the disastrous.

Two examples from our wedding: The minute we decided to get married that snowy eve in Edinburgh, we started planning our playlist. It took us a year to get the perfect set of tunes: some meaningful, some personal and some that would have everyone up on the dance floor. However, it was so hot we never even used the marquee at night but just set speakers up outside.  Our setlist was abandoned and our first dance took place by the bonfire when I was heading to the cabin bar and John was wandering back.

The second thing that went wrong was that our carefully set up bell tent, overlooking the Bass Rock with its amazing view and rose petal strewn bed, was covered in swarms of flying ants. We spent the first night of our wedding sleeping on the floor of the cabin with about ten other people.

These ‘disasters’ have become the things we remember fondly, the proof that we can laugh it off when things go wrong, when life throws up a diversion. The best laid plans always gang awry so we have learned to have a plan B or in our case a plan Y subsection 3a. There is no such thing as perfection and we try and see the positives in the accidental, the unplanned and the diversions. Tales of the unexpected are always more interesting!

In the end our wedding was as much about the bigger picture as the tiny details. It was not just about us as a couple, but about friends and family coming together to be happy, to be joyous, to celebrate love. In these hard times these are the things that have really mattered. It mattered then and it matters even more now.

This brings me to the final lesson we learned from our wedding.

If you want something, do it soon. Don’t wait too long for the right time, the special moment when all the money is saved and all the career goals reached or the right house has been found because there will be people who will miss your special day.

Our wedding was too late for John’s dear mum Jean who had left us 18 months earlier and for my dad who was too ill to travel. They were missed. The last two years has taught hard lessons about missed opportunities. Let’s hope the next few years opens up to a lot of saying yes to things and going with the flow. Of being lost in wonderful ways and of finding that through all of our struggles it really is love that keeps us going.

We only truly know what we have when we look back, and John and Alizon’s story really does bring that home more than ever. I’m so grateful to them for sharing it with us, and to their many photographer friends whose work is featured here. Their wedding was a truly magical moment, and I’m glad I was part of it.

Something Alizon and John may not have realised it that there is another lesson we can take from their ceremony, and it’s about photography. You can choose to make some – or indeed all – of your guests ‘official photographers’. It’s a very inclusive way of calling on peoples’ talents, and these shots were all taken by their friends, Andy O’Donnell, Paul Greenwood and Kate Astbury. My thanks go to them too.

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