A rustic spring wedding in Essex

20 Jan 2020

Carl Bryant and Marc Riches wanted a wedding venue which felt like a home from home and Gaynes Park in Epping ticked all the boxes

How did you meet?

Marc contacted Carl via an online dating site in the early hours following a night shift for the Olympic Games and promptly fell asleep. Carl had to wait until the afternoon before he was to get another response from Marc. Once we got chatting, it was clear we had very compatible personalities and a shared sense of humour.

Our first date was at Bluewater (Carl was 10 minutes late), where we ate at Browns restaurant and then went to see Ted the Movie. We dated for a few weeks before we took our first trip together, spending the weekend in Brighton. It was at the end of this trip that we decided we would become a couple.

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Tell us about the proposal

We decided to spend the Christmas of 2017 on holiday in Guernsey. We had received an email from a hotel Marc had taken Carl to for his 40th birthday where we had a Christmas special with several planned events.

Unknowingly, both Carl and Marc had the same idea that this would be the perfect occasion to pop the question. Carl had an engagement ring made from our favourite jewellers in London (Joy Everley) where Carl had previously bought a few gifts for Marc. Marc had a bespoke framed proposal made which consisted of two framed personalised Lego characters. One featured Carl with some of his favourite sayings which was wrapped for him to open on Christmas morning and the other kept hidden for the Marc's proposal, holding a ring with the words 'Carl, will you marry me' underneath.

On Christmas morning, the hotel had planned a clifftop walk which was to pass by our favourite beach spot in Guernsey where we’ve spent a few evenings sat on a large rock, watching the sun set while enjoying a bottle of bubbles. We both had the same idea that this would be the perfect place and time to propose.

We left the rest of the group to continue their walk and made our way down the 300 or so steps to the beach (both unaware that the other was plotting an imminent proposal). Once we had climbed onto the rock, Carl immediately got down on one knee, presented the ring and proposed to Marc. Marc was taken aback as he was just about to propose himself and after some fumbling in his bag managed to produce his own gift-wrapped proposal. There was plenty of laughter and lots of tears (of happiness) as we couldn’t believe we’d both come up with the same plan.

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What was your first step in planning your wedding?

After discussing possible dates in 2019 we started looking at venues in January 2018. We then put together a wedding planning spreadsheet (Carl loves a spreadsheet), so we could start organising everything we needed to do and pay for.

We also started pulling together a lot of images we liked to help nail down the theme and style for our big day. We quickly settled on a rustic foliage theme which would suit the venue perfectly.

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What were your wedding'must-haves'?

We knew that we wanted a live band and we also wanted to make the whole day very personal to us. We would end up doing this by making a lot of things for the wedding ourselves and using some of our favourite objects from our home as our table centres.

We didn’t want a flowery wedding or anything too stereotypical. We wanted our own personal tastes and personalities to shine through rather than a preconceived image of a gay relationship. We very much wanted a rustic, masculine, relaxed and eclectic vibe. We also made the decision to have a 'no children' wedding with the exception of our nephew and nieces and also not to have best men or bridesmaids.

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Tell us about your venue

We searched for venues online and once we’d narrowed our list down we visited our shortlist in person. We loved Gaynes Park so much we only visited one other venue before we quickly booked up.

We thought the entire venue was beautifully presented and we particularly liked how everything was in one place and the day would flow seamlessly from one stage to the next - from the Orangery to the Mill Barn. The venue was just a five-minute drive from our home too, which was a huge bonus.

We used rustic, foliage, greens and eclectic ornaments from home for our décor. We wanted it to feel a little like a home from home as we like entertaining and wanted our guests to feel welcome and comfortable.

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Tell us about the details of the day

We designed and made our own escort card display where we attached escort cards to ribbons hanging from two moss covered hoops. Between these we displayed a Japanese themed card box (which is where we’re going on our honeymoon). We made a hoop covered in selfie photos from our time together along with a moss covered depiction of Guernsey with a flag positioned at our proposal spot. We also provided a selfie hoop for guests to take their photo through.

We didn’t have table numbers and just had images of our table centres for people to find their table. We did print out a listing of guests and their table names for the staff to help direct guests. This approach meant we didn’t actually display a table plan for guests so they couldn’t figure out where they were sitting in advance and would only know who they might be sitting with by comparing escort cards.

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In the garden we hung tulle pom poms in a variety of greens from the trees as these were still pretty bare in early March and we wanted some extra colour. We had a few hoops hanging outside too, one with a candelabra, one with a bird cage full of ornamental birds and another with Sock Monkey (a DIY sewing project which was the first thing Carl ever bought Marc and who comes on most of our holidays with us) sitting on a swing.

We had also planned a family tree of wedding photos but sadly on the day we lost some of the photos due to high wind in the morning and ended up taking it down.

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We designed all our own stationery with the main theme being an image taken from a photograph Carl had taken of a succulent at the Hampton Court Palace garden show a few years earlier. We created our invites and had these printed by a professional printing firm. 

We designed some activity books for the children with a collection of colouring in, dot to dot, word search and spot the difference all based on our table centres. We left these along with colouring pencils at their tables.

We also designed and printed a few signs which were displayed in matching frames around the venue. One to discourage guests from posting on social media too soon, one to identify the gluten-free cakes, one for a sweet bar and one for our photo booth.

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How did you make the ceremony personal to you?

We jointly read a reading which was our own abridged version of Rainbow Connections by Garfunkel and Oates. We also wrote our own promises where Carl went down the traditional route and Marc’s was a little more alternative (explaining the compatibility of our mutual weirdness) which the guests really enjoyed.

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Describe your wedding outfits

We had already decided we wanted tweed to fit in with the rustic theme so we researched shops online and visited a few places before deciding on our final supplier. We particularly liked the supplier we went with as the suits came with lovely wooden buttons rather than plastic buttons.

We both went for three-piece suits with matching waistcoats and brown brogues. Carl’s was a blue herringbone and Marc’s a green windowpane.

We bought marigold yellow knitted ties and pocket squares for an accent colour. Marc wore a bowtie for the whole day and Carl wore a tie for the day and bowtie for the evening.

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Marc wore his bee cufflinks which Carl had bought him a few years prior (and matched the engagement ring) and Carl bought some moss filled cufflinks in brass settings from Etsy to fit in with the rustic theme. Our florist produced complementary rustic button holes using thistle, craspedia, succulents and wild grasses.

We had our matching wedding rings custom-made at Joy Everley of London. They are white gold rustic bands in the style of branches. We like the fact that as they age they will just look even more natural.

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Did you have groomsmen or bridesmaids?

No, we didn’t have groomsmen, but Carl’s nephew Harrison (aged six and a half) was pageboy and ring bearer. We bought him a light grey herringbone tweed suit with dark blue trousers and a matching yellow bowtie. Carl bought Harrison some personalised keepsake pageboy cufflinks to wear on the day. The florist also made Harrison a smaller version of our buttonholes.

We had Marc’s twin nieces, Hollie and Emilia (aged four and a half), as flowergirls. Hollie wore a pink floral dress with pink bolero cardigan and sparkly pink shoes. Emilia wore a pale blue dress with bee motif and a navy blue bolero cardigan and sparkly blue shoes. Marc bought his nieces a necklace each to wear on the day. Hollie had a silver heart and letter 'H' pendant and Emilia had a gold necklace with a bee. The florist made a posie for each of the girls which fitted in with our foliage theme.

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What was your biggest investment?

Food was our greatest expense. We definitely wanted the food to be remembered so put a good proportion of our budget towards it. We weren’t disappointed and received so many wonderful comments about it.

For our drinks reception we had elderflower prosecco spritz, Dark and Stormy (one of our favourites) and apple julep with a selection of canapés. For our wedding breakfast we had the following:

  • To start: Terrine of braised ham hock, corn-fed chicken and dry-cured bacon, red onion marmalade, followed by elderflower sorbet, caramelised pink grapefruit
  • Main course: Beef two ways, Scotch blade and fillet; potato dauphinoise, butternut squash purée, crisp horseradish
  • Dessert: Dark chocolate mousse, cinnamon spiced hazelnuts and raspberries (we customised a white chocolate mousse from the menu).

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What was your most memorable moment? 

The best moment for both us was as we entered the Orangery, surrounded by all our friends and family smiling at us. Carl managed to say “yes” instead of “I do” and also couldn’t get Marc’s ring on.

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Tell us about your cake

Marc wasn’t too worried about having a cake but it was definitely a must-have for Carl who is a keen baker. In the end Carl decided to take on the challenge of making the cake himself. We settled on lemon Madeira cake with a subtle lemon flavoured buttercream with semi-naked icing. We ordered a laser-cut wooden cake topper.

Our florist provided some wired succulents which Marc arranged artistically on the cake once we’d assembled it on the day. As Marc is gluten intolerant, Carl also made a batch of lemon polenta mini-cakes.

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What advice would you give to a couple in the planning stages?

The spreadsheet was essential. We used it to track a to-do list with dates when we needed to get things done and it was great to tick things off as we went as we felt we were making progress.

We would definitely suggest considering what personal touches you can put into the wedding to really make it your own.

We took the three days off before the wedding to make sure we had time to relax and enjoy the build up in anticipation of the big day (which also gave Carl time to make the cake).

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Steal their style: 

Venue and catering: Gaynes Park
Photography: Justin Bailey
Grooms' suits: Jennis and Warmann
Flowergirls' outfits: Monsoon 
Pageboy outfit: Roco Clothing
Wedding rings: Joy Everley
Flowers: Violets and Velvets
Stationery: Designed by the grooms, printed by Printed.com
Venue styling and lighting: Mediterranean Occasions
Cake: Made by Carl
DJ: DJ Sparx
Phootbooth: PicMe Photo Booths

For more Essex wedding inspiration, browse the latest edition of Essex Bride magazine

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