Hello there everyone and an especially warm welcome to any new visitors who have dropped in from English Wedding.com.  So glad you’ve joined us.

Apologies in advance to those amongst you who read my last post and are chomping at the bit to find out how I reduced MoH and Mrs Adams to tears.  You will, I’m afraid, have to chomp just a tiny bit longer because I’m pressing the pause button on that particular tale in favour of another which I hope you will enjoy just as much.

Indulge me when I state the obvious. This year, I am going to be a bride. Even now I can’t quite believe it.  Twelve months ago that possibility wasn’t even hovering on the horizon because although John had proposed in September 2009, our domestic situation was such that  I’d accepted that we’d embarked upon what was likely to be a very long engagement.  But don’t think for one moment that this stopped us from dreaming of how we would like our wedding to be. Far from it! ‘If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?’ is the mantra by which we live our life together.

Now whilst neither of us are particular rail enthusiasts, we do both share a love of the glamour and romance of steam trains. Inspired by that wonderful scene in The Railway Children when the whole village congregates at the station to witness Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis being rewarded for their joint act of heroism, we painted a picture of our family and friends assembled on the platform, dressed up to the nines, Cath Kidston bunting flapping in the wind and a brass band playing the theme to Wallace and Gromit as we alighted from the train, Mr and Mrs Moore at long last. At this juncture I should perhaps explain that on our first proper date H2B took me to see The Curse of the Were-Rabbit so Wallace and Gromit will forever have a very special place in our heart.  I seem to recall that during one wedding conversation we even joked about having a Wallace and Gromit themed wedding.  We quickly agreed, however, that such a theme would have stretched quirkiness to the very limit of its outermost boundaries.

But we talked, albeit rather vaguely, of how we might infuse our dream wedding with a lovely Puffing Billy and, just for fun you understand, we had a look on the Internet and found that there are several steam trains which cater for wedding parties.  At the top end of the scale, for those who find themselves in possession of a winning lottery ticket, there’s The Orient Express.  A mere £250,000 will cover the cost of transporting 100 guests from London to Venice in the most beautiful and sumptuous style imaginable.

Betrothed steam train buffs planning a wedding on a slightly more modest budget need not, however, be disheartened because there are several other more cost effective options around.  The Severn Valley Railway, for example, offers couples the chance to charter their very own steam locomotive and dining carriages for the day so that the bridal party and guests can enjoy the scenery from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth whilst tucking into the wedding breakfast (www.svr.co.uk/Hospitality_Charter.asp). Or for those who want to go one step further, some steam railway companies, such as the North Norfolk Railway, are licensed to perform civil ceremonies at one of the stations along their track (www.nnrailway.co.uk/weybourne_station.php).

But fun as both of these options sound, they weren’t quite what we had in mind.  Our dream was neither to hold our wedding breakfast on the train nor to get married at a station. No, what we dreamed of was a bit more complicated: it was to marry in a church near to a railway station and then to transport our guests by steam train to somewhere for the wedding breakfast.  We weren’t entirely sure where ‘somewhere’ might be but I had visions of an of fashioned village hall, decorated with jam-jars full of hand-picked wild flowers and lined with long trestle tables set up for afternoon tea. In my mind’s eye I could see mis-matched vintage cups and saucers and a three-tier wedding cake surrounded by mounds and mounds of scones and cupcakes and slices of Victoria sandwich and eclairs and macaroons and sponge fingers and Battenberg and black forest gateaux (which, I understand, is having something of a Renaissance at the moment). Patisserie paradise on a plate.

Now, as you will doubtless appreciate, it’s a tall order to find a steam railway with one station near to a church and another station, some distance down the track, in close proximity to a hall which has the potential to be transformed into something akin to the  Darling Buds of May film set. But just because something is tall doesn’t mean that it is completely out of reach. Sometimes you just have to learn to stand on your tip-toes.

That said, to be honest, I found what we were searching for when I wasn’t actually looking for it. Idly pursuing an online magazine I chanced to come across a short article about the West Somerset steam railway which runs from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard

Fig 1. One of West Somerset's steam locomotives © 2011 West Somerset Railway

My interest piqued, I investigated further and discovered something called the Hestercombe Express listed on the events page. Now for those of you who share my interest in garden history, you’ll know that the name Hestercombe is synonymous with two other names: Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens. Jekyll’s story is one which inspires me.  Born in 1843, she spent much of her early life honing her skills as an artist but poor eyesight eventually forced her to abandon painting and drawing. Devastated, but not defeated, Jekyll found a new creative outlet: that of garden design, and a chance meeting with the up-and-coming young architect, Edwin Lutyens, resulted in the birth of a legendary partnership which was destined to go down in the annuls of garden history. For over the decades that followed the pair collaborated to create gardens that cleverly combined Lutyens formal features, such as pergolas, water rills and stone pathways, with Jekyll’s meticulously planned planting schemes which beautifully harmonised colour, texture and shape.  The result was some of the most well-loved arts and crafts gardens to be found on these shores.  And one of these is Hestercombe.  But, as I was about to discover, Hestercombe is more than just a tourist trap for garden history buffs like me, it’s also a sought after venue for weddings.

Fig 2. Hestercombe Gardens in Somerset © Hestercombe Gardens

You can but imagine how my eyes nearly popped right out of my head when I clicked on the drop-down menu and read about the facilities available. As well as a lovingly restored orangery suitable for drinks receptions (as well as civil wedding ceremonies), Hestercombe also boasts a hall and barn,  both perfect for either wedding breakfasts or evening receptions. All of this set against a backdrop which provides the most visually stunning and dramatic of photo opportunities.

Fig 3. The Orangery at Hestercombe © JH Moore

Fig 4. Bampfylde-Hall. © Jamie Dodd

But what, I hear you say, about the church? Have no fear! Within hours of reading about Hestercombe, I had loaded Google maps and had tracked the West Somerset line, searching for villages with potential churches along its route.  And, would you believe it, the second station along the line from Minehead is Dunster, home of St George, a lovely fifteenth century priory church with Grade 1 listed status and a rood screen of some note.

Fig 5. St George's Priory Church, Dunster © JH Moore

Readers, take good note of this moment because it was when Bridezilla, turbo-driven and fuel-injected, burst her way onto the stage of a Warwickshire wedding. From that point on it really was, if you’ll forgive the pun, a case of full steam ahead. There were emails, there were google searches, there were phone calls and, of course, there were endless discussions with both H2B and MoH.  Within a matter of weeks we’d got it all worked out: between us we’d sourced  an adorable car with the most accommodating of owners (www.theashdownclassicweddingcarcollection.co.uk), a vintage bus for the guests (www.quantockmotorservices.co.uk), a great saxophonist who agreed to learn to play the Wallace and Gromit theme (www.charliesax.co.uk) and a company which specialises in the supply of ‘quiet’ fireworks designed not to alarm the livestock – something which we needed to take into account given Hestercombe’s proximity to farmland.

Fig 6. 1959 Austin A35 Delux © and available from http://www.theashdownclassicweddingcarcollection.co.uk

Fig 7. Vintage bus © and available for hire from http://www.quantockmotorservices.co.uk

To Bridezilla, even the legal requirement to attend at least one of St George’s services each month for six months prior to the wedding, posed no obstacle. We had wheels, we could travel! What fun to have lots of lovely weekends away by the seaside. Any slight fatigue caused by the journey, Bridezilla reasoned, would be entirely extinguished by the rejuvenating effects of being at the coast. Perfick!

Such was Bridezilla’s attention to detail that she’d even drawn up a provisional timetable for the day.  There was, however, one thing that she’d completely overlooked: we hadn’t actually visited Somerset to see Hestercombe, the steam train or St George’s with our own eyes.

So it was that one weekend in late June we set off to Somerset,  full of hope and very, very, excited.  Well, I was very, very excited.  H2B was, wisely, much more measured. He calls me his Fizzy Pop Girl because he says that, on occasion, my excitement is such that I remind him of a bottle of pop that has been vigorously shaken and is about to explode. Our journey to Somerset was one such occasion.

There was, however, no Fizzy Pop Girl to be found on the journey home.  She had gone completely flat.  For whilst Hestercombe had indeed been stunning, the steam train great fun and St George’s every bit as beautiful as we had hoped (the rood screen is indeed a gem) our plans had, if you’ll forgive yet another train-related pun, been derailed by hard facts and cold reality.

Prior to our trip we had, of course, known that the station nearest to Hestercombe was some miles away from the actual gardens, hence the need for the vintage coach.  But, being the urbanites we are, we hadn’t quite appreciated that travelling along city roads which are wide, well-lit and straight makes for an entirely different experience from travelling in the countryside.  The spectre of some of our younger guests being travel-sick as the coach twisted and turned down the moon lit country lanes danced before my eyes.  And then there was the train.  The journey from Hestercombe to Minehead, which was where I imagined most of our guests would be staying, was much longer than I had anticipated.  The excitement of travelling on a steam train would doubtless have distracted everyone on the outward trip but I could see that the novelty factor might well have waned on the return journey, late at night when everyone was tired and had, perhaps, had one too many.

But what really brought our dream wedding plans to a grinding halt, more abruptly than trespassers on the track, was the realisation that travelling to Somerset to attend St George’s, even once a month just wasn’t going to work. It was too far.  We wouldn’t be energised, we would be exhausted and there’d be no opportunity to have any real involvement with the life of the church or to become part of the local community.

This was no ‘leaves on the track ‘ scenario.  Even Bridezilla couldn’t see a way of revising her plans and issuing the equivalent of a leaf-fall timetable. The St Georges/Heastercombe/steam train idea had well and truly hit the buffers.

But something had shifted.  Even now I’m not entirely sure how it had happened.  It was almost as if our enthusiasm had opened up a channel of positive energy that had dissolved some of the more fundamental barriers to our marriage. What for so long had seemed impossible now felt within our grasp and, as Somerset faded into our rear view mirror, signposts directing us towards Warwickshire appeared before our very eyes and Fizzy Pop Girl suddenly started to feel some of her fizz returning.

*  If any of you brides-to-be (or indeed grooms-to-be) are interested in using one of the suppliers I feature and subsequently contact one of them, I would be much obliged if you’d  mention having heard about them here at http://www.awarwickshirewedding.com.