Lynn and Steven Connolly have long had a love affair with the New Forest. They are regular visitors to the national park for day trips and short breaks at the 4-star Balmer Lawn Hotel and Spa in Brockenhurst from their home in Oakley, Nr Basingstoke. When they had their son Benjamin, they decided to host his summer christening at the hotel, and hired the entertainment industry go-to special effects company ‘Snow Business’ to transform a area of the gardens into a winter wonderland - It was a phenomenal success.
Roll forward 10 years, and a proposal of marriage from Steve meant that the couple were thinking about venues for their wedding. They wanted an outdoor wedding and for it to be an intimate day with just 30 guests, 8 of which would be children including their son Benjamin aged 7. Most importantly, they loved the idea of a relaxed and dreamy setting in natural surroundings. They looked for a venue that could offer something quirky, rustic yet elegant and beautiful that also had accommodation for guests to stay.
Based on their great experiences over the years, they returned to The Balmer Lawn Hotel and Spa and fell in love with the hotel’s wooden pavilion, located in a secluded area of the hotel gardens. Lyn says, ‘It was everything we were looking for with three sides of the structure completely open. We didn’t want to feel cooped up or in something that was too formal. I loved the fact that it was natural, yet effortlessly stylish with really pretty mosaic floor tiles and the sound of birds singing in the background was simply beautiful.’ Steve added “We knew we would be taking a chance with the English weather, but the hotel showed us a selection of lovely rooms to be married in. When we booked, they allocated us one of the rooms ‘just in case it rained’, which was a stone's throw from the pavilion with a sun terrace which we used for the reception. The room was allocated to us for the entire day, and that was really handy for storage and the children to relax and play in and out of the sun”.
Lynn’s Grecian inspired wedding dress came from a boutique in Camberley and was altered by Olesjia Dress Design in Basingstoke. Steve and Lynn had been toying with the idea of a beach wedding in Hawaii, so whilst discussing design ideas, Lynn kept half a mind on the dress being ‘beach appropriate’. The result was that her dress was perfect for a beach or the informal natural inspired wedding she had in the New Forest with soft, flowing drapes, pleats and ruching creating a soft feminine silhouette. As it turned out, Steve surprised her in his wedding speech by inviting her to a second wedding on Waikiki Beach, so the dress really was perfect in every way.
Lynn’s glamorous bouquet was created by Jo Hicks Flowers, and was an imaginative and creative blend of roses and wildflowers, lily of the valley - honouring her mother in law’s wedding bouquet, a selection of natural foliage and herbs: sage, lavender, lemon verbena and rosemary. The result was an exquisite and unusual collection of colours, texture and scent.
The wedding party stayed the night before and enjoyed a leisurely morning preparing for the ceremony. Lynn and Steve were mindful of their younger guests and provided them with plenty treats and entertainment. For the ceremony, the 8 youngsters were sat on soft blankets on the grass in front of the Pavilion, and each given a large plush woodland animal brought from Go Go Gadget, Festival Place in Basingstoke. The children loved them, as well as wrapped gifts of activity packs, nibbles, a craft table and an ever-popular bouncy castle, which kept them cheerful and entertained throughout the day.
Steve and Lyn chose not to overdress the wooden pavilion for the ceremony, choosing a simple garland of bunting and a huge wicker heart as a focal point against the back wall. The result was informal, subtle and serene, in keeping with the natural colour palette of their surroundings.
During the ceremony, guests were pleasantly surprised with Lyn and Steve’s choice of ringbearer, a beautiful barn owl named ‘Luna’ from CSR Falconry who not only flew in with the rings to their son’s outstretched arm but was also happy to be held by wedding guests throughout the afternoon, which went down a treat.
Steve explained, “Because the hotel is surrounded by forest, we only had to walk outside the carpark for some beautiful photographs with the New Forest as the backdrop”. After photos, champagne and canapes came fun and frolics with a ‘stomp to the river’. The couple invited guests to don their wellies and toddle just outside the hotel to a little stream for some informal photos, laughs and a chance to cool down under the dappled shade of the lofty trees. Lyn says, “It was perfect, a relaxing diversion to the formality of the day at just the right time”.
Upon returning to the hotel, staff had laid tables on the sun terrace. Each round table was draped with bright white table cloths and adorned with a taupe hessian runner. Pots of herbs were wrapped in the same taupe hessian with height added by hessian and blue hearts on wooden sticks embellished with jute twine. The centre piece for each table was a wooden bark inspired vase loosely filled with a mass of flowers mingled with foliage and herbs inspired from Lyn’s bouquet. The result was whimsically romantic and understatedly elegant.
The couple chose a BBQ for their wedding breakfast which included: seared tuna, steaks and vegetarian options along with salads and home-made bread. Lyn remembers the abundance of food being “Absolutely delicious with lots of variety and options”.
For music and entertainment, the couple asked John Burke to play and sing during the ceremony and throughout the reception. One of the couples highlights of the day was when their son joined John for a duet of ‘you are my sunshine’ and John’s rendition of ‘Have I told you lately, that I love you’ by Van Morrison as their first dance.
Dessert was the wedding cake which Lynn made herself with help from her son, Benjamin. There were three layers – traditional fruit cake, Sicilian Citrus and rich chocolate. The cake was displayed under a beautiful wrought iron gazebo which was elegantly decorated with bunting and pots of lavender. Lynn’s friend Millie Goston was in charge of the cake for the day and positioned it on a crisp white tablecloth, and surrounded it with twisted willow branches, moss, ferns, succulents, woodland flowers and a little plush Kingfisher.
The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the hotel grounds with their friends and family whilst the children played in the bouncy castle. Come evening, guests retired indoors to a private dining room, where they chose from the menu of the hotel’s award-winning AA 2 Rosette restaurant, Beresford’s.
Asked if Lynn would do anything differently she says “Maybe a seating plan for the wedding breakfast would have been an idea. We wanted to keep everything informal and relaxed, but in hindsight if everyone knew where to sit, it would have been better. Apart from that, nothing – it was perfect”.
Steve: “Our wedding photographer Robb Webb Photography was superb. It was like having two extra friends with us. I knew they have a good reputation – especially for outdoor photography, but I felt they really captured the essence of our day perfectly with relaxed, fun shots – they were brilliant with the children.”
Lynn: “Our son Benjamin being Best Best Man: making my wedding cake together with him, his taking part in the ceremony assisting Steve’s best man – his brother Mark and duetting with our singer has created some very special memories. Also having Steve’s Mum and Dad there and being part of the preparations really made the whole day feel perfect. It was also worth while seeking out the venue. It was perfect in so many ways. The staff were lovely, the setting was absolutely magical, and all the food was delicious. The day was everything Steve and I had hoped for”.
VENUE: The Balmer Lawn Hotel and Spa, Brockenhurst www.balmerlawnhotel.com
PHOTOGRAPHER: Robb Webb Photography www.robbwebbphotography.co.uk
OWL: CSR Falconry, www.csrfalconry.co.uk
FLOWERS: Jo Hicks Flowers www.johicksflowers.co.uk
WOODLAND ANIMALS – Go Go Gadget, Festival Place, Basingstoke www.gogo-gadget.co.uk
MUSIC – www.johnburkemusic.co.uk