Humanist and Alternative Weddings: marrying in the Great British Outdoors

Even in our wonderful British climate, you will probably be familiar with alfresco dining, but are you equally au fait with alfresco weddings?

Getting married outdoors can be the ultimate expression of freedom, and a marriage ceremony conducted amidst nature can be a beautiful experience.

humanist outdoor wedding

Unfortunately, in England, Ireland and Wales, getting married entirely outdoors simply isn’t a legal possibility. In fact, the minimum requirements for any registrar to wed a couple in these countries, as well as a valid wedding licence, are three walls and a roof overhead. The building has to be a permanent structure, so tents, caravans, boats, aeroplanes or other mobile vehicles won’t be granted licences.

humanist outdoor wedding

However, you can hold a short, perfunctory and legal marriage ceremony in a registry office, and then go on to have a bigger ceremony outdoors. This is perfect for couples who want to get married just the two of them and then have an elaborate ceremony with friends and family.

In this article, we look at doing just that. Firstly, we’ll explore the types of ceremony you could have, and then we’ll explore where you can have it.

Humanist Ceremony

Humanist weddings are conducted in many locations around the world, but only ceremonies that take place in certain countries are legally recognised in the international community.

If you are absolutely looking to marry outdoors in the UK, then having a Humanist wedding in Scotland is a perfectly legal way to do it. These marriages have the same legal status worldwide as religious and civil marriages – just so long as they are conducted by a licensed HSS Celebrant, who is a figurehead approved by the General Registrar of Scotland.

humanist outdoor wedding

As Humanist Society Scotland states, “Humanists are people who trust science and rational inquiry to help explain the universe around us, and who do not resort to supernatural explanations.” It is a stance rather than a religion, and Humanist weddings allow for a completely unique ceremony. There are rituals, and couple can exchange their own vows, but God is not mentioned.


In ancient Europe, a proper wedding ceremony was reserved for the highly wealthy. On the other hand, most couples undertook a DIY wedding with their towns witnessing. In an act known as handfasting, the bride and groom would tie their hands together – or get someone else to do. It would be up to the individual how long the hands would remain tied.

humanist outdoor wedding

In fact, this is an early version of how couples would marry, back when not every Christian village had a church or clergyman. An official ceremony would follow, much like would happen in these instances today.

As well as handfasting, other traditions at a Pagan wedding include standing in a circle, blessing the space, mentioning the four elements and even jumping over a broomstick. These are all common to this kind of non-religious wedding today.

Tea ceremony

Chinese weddings now mostly follow Western practises, but a tea ceremony is something that remains. Both the bride and the groom serve tea to both sides of parents. In this way, the two families are connected. There are traditions such as using a red coloured gaiwan (teapot) but of course, as with any tradition in this post, you can adapt as needed.

humanist outdoor wedding

The significance of pouring tea is that it shows respect, and also thanks for the years of bringing up. Furthermore, it shows purity and nobility, and encourages fertility. Three recommended teas to use are Tieguanyin, Jinjunmei and Pu erh.

The steps of the tea ceremony are relatively straightforward. It is possible for the ceremonies for the families to be done separately, but many now prefer to do everything at the same sitting. Start with the happy couple standing; everyone else should sit in chairs.

Next, serve the parents first, then grandparents, then work down in age to siblings. You should bow, or kneel, in front of each member of the family in turn. A video can much better describe how to drink from the cup, and you should teach your guests this before the ceremony.

Unity Candle

Although it is unknown exactly where the tradition of the Unity Candle comes from, it is understood that it is a newer practice. It can be done in a completely non-religious way or with links to Christianity and Judaism.

In this style of ceremony, there are at least three candles: one each for the bride and groom, and one larger one for the union of the two. Often the parents of the couple can get involved by lighting the smaller candles. The happy couple can then, together, light the central candle.

humanist outdoor wedding

This will be a particularly nice ceremony to undertake if you are bringing together two families, for example with children from previous relationships. Furthermore, you can store the candles in an engraved box and bring them out for anniversaries and vow renewals.

Independent Wedding Celebrant

If you have an idea of what you want but just need someone to officiate, look in to getting a celebrant. If you are interested in having some religion involved, or simply want the option, then this is a great alternative to Humanist weddings.

The FPC (Fellowship of Professional Celebrants) was founded in 2011 to help connect celebrants to couples looking for a wedding with a difference. How ever you want your wedding to look, a celebrant can make it happen.

humanist outdoor wedding

Samantha Kelsie, a celebrant listed in our directory, provides rehearsals the day before for anyone with butterflies. She can incorporate any of the ceremonies we have mentioned above, or can create something completely bespoke. Furthermore, a lot of celebrants have skills to help you write your vows.

Get married…

On a beach

It’s an oldie, but for good reason. Beaches are seen as terribly romantic places. What could be more dreamy than tying the knot alongside the lapping tide? In addition, imagine the sun slowly setting over the horizon, and a reception featuring a beach barbecue.

humanist outdoor wedding
In a bluebell wood

This is perfect if you are planning a medieval theme wedding. Bluebells appear in ancient woodland and, although they are at risk, the UK hosts over half of the world’s population. Also known as fairy flowers, it makes sense that a bluebell wood would be a perfect setting for a mystical matrimony.

humanist outdoor wedding

When the British weather is so temperamental, it is easy to see why many couples choose to fly to sunnier climes. Moreover, you can start your honeymoon early! Nevertheless, a destination wedding is a great choice for couples from different countries or those who want to elope away from their nearest and dearest.

humanist outdoor wedding
On a mountain top

Whether you opt for a rocky crag or a grassy bank, a high elevation enables a fantastic view. Of course, safety first, make sure you are far away from a precipice and the visibility is good. If you do decide on a rockier overlook, make sure there are facilities nearby in case the weather does turn south. Mostly, though, enjoy the view: your wedding snaps will look spectacular.

humanist outdoor wedding
In the sky

If you’re the kind of couple always looking to go the extra mile, this may be the location for you. For instance, you can say (or shout) your vows as you are skydiving back to earth, or with a select group in a large hot air balloon. Take off single and land wed.

humanist outdoor wedding

As with all of the above, you will need a legally binding ceremony first – in a registry office or other licensed venue. After that, push the boat out and see where you imagination – and your love for each other – takes you.

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