The thing about so-called fairy tale weddings is that one, the castle is often missing, and two, they are exorbitantly expensive.
Glasgow-born, New York City-based Lisa Bauer is out to change that. Bauer has recently launched a wedding planning service, Tartan Weddings, inspired by her own castle wedding.
Scottish castles available for booking through Tartan Weddings are a varied lot but they are all picturesque, from the gray 13th-century Eilean Donan Castle, which provided a backdrop for “Highlander,” to Dalhousie Castle, just outside Edinburgh, which offers four-poster beds, gourmet meals, and a spa.
Bauer herself got married at Dalhousie Castle, in the chapel, where an owl dramatically swept in to deliver gold rings. What Bauer found through planning was that the price tag was much more affordable, compared to something comparable stateside. For 50 guests, she spent just over $15,000—quite a deal for a fairy tale wedding. (See the breakdown in the side box.)
Everyone in One Place
You can rent out an entire castle; rooms go for about $190 and up per night, and the bride and groom get the wedding night for free. Not only does having the wedding guests stay in one place eliminate the headache of transportation, but as Bauer found, she and her husband got a great deal of time with their guests, which doesn’t always happen at weddings. “The morning after the ceremony, everyone was waiting for us at breakfast,” she said.
Castles can also cater to guests with activities: children delight in ghost tours at night, and can also feed the birds of prey—many castles do keep some, and they are the same that are trained to deliver the wedding rings. Outdoor activities, from golf, to salmon fishing to mini-Highland games can all be organized to keep guests entertained and busy.
And those who prefer to sleep off any jet lag, or rest in beautiful surroundings, can of course do so.
“Even though you are in a castle it’s like being in a home away from home,” Bauer said.
Wedding traditions abound in Scotland, and guests are free to partake in them, or have them customized to their wishes.
One involves a “quaich,” also known as “the loving cup,” double-handled and made of silver or pewter, filled with Scotch. The bride and groom first take a drink from it, followed by members of the bridal party.
“It represents two families coming together, unity,” Bauer said.
Another is handfasting, where multiple cords are wrapped around the groom’s and brides hands as vows are read—another symbol of coming together.
The dancing starts with a traditional grand march, with the bride and groom marching around the room then bridal party then guests.
Bauer also remembers the end of her lively wedding party very well: she and her husband Craig were tossed up into the air by the enthusiastic guests.
“They really threw him, he was up by the chandelier,” she said of her Craig, who was wearing a kilt.
At the very end, the happy couple was surrounded by family and friends, serenading them with traditional Scottish song like “Flower of Scotland” or Auld Lang Syne.
Bauer recommends getting married during the week to save money. (Saturdays tend to be booked for two years out). Plan on three or four nights, so you can get the day before and after the wedding, for example, arriving on Monday and getting married on Wednesday.
Also keep in mind it stays light fairly late in summers, with the sun setting around 10 p.m. The wedding ceremony could be scheduled for 1 p.m. and the party could go on till midnight.
Though Tartan Weddings is focused on wedding planning, Bauer books castles for other special occasions too, including family reunions, girlfriend getaways, and vow renewals.
She’s also savvy about money-saving tips—she made her own flower centerpieces by heading to the market the morning of the wedding and chose to spend more on what mattered to her and her husband: live music.
If you can’t decide among the many gorgeous castles, Bauer is happy to get a few brides together to drive around and help them settle on the castle of their dreams.
Meanwhile, it’s clear Bauer’s own castle wedding made a big impression on her own family. One of her daughters, age 12, is already planning her wedding. And she’s already got her castle picked out.
Breakdown of Lisa Bauer’s Wedding at Dalhousie Castle:
- $1,200 for the chapel
- $110 per person for a four-course wedding breakfast including an evening buffet and reception drink after the ceremony; room, chairs, linens, tableware, servers, and master of ceremonies—and wine—are all included
- $150 for the castle bagpiper
- $150 for ring delivery via owl
- $500 for the cake
- $800+ for the photographer
- $650 for an officiant
- $100 for DJY bouquets, buttonholes, table centerpieces, chapel flowers (though you can easily go all out and spend $10,000 if you want)
- $800+ for a videographer
- $75 per person for the make-up artist
- $400 for the hairstylist, for bride, bridesmaid, mother of bride, and groom
- $600 for a string quartet for the ceremony and cocktail hour
- $1,900 for a live band, for four hours
- $160 for a wedding visa
- $550 and up for flights to Scotland (varies depending on departure city)
- $190 and up per night for castle room; wedding night is free