Gretna Green for singletons! The UK’s marriage capital is hoping to attract normal tourists, too 

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Gretna Green for singletons! The UK’s ‘marriage capital’ hosts 3,500 weddings a year – but here’s why normal tourists will love it, too

  • Gretna Green is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of place, says Emma Cowing
  • But linger and you’ll discover a ‘pretty and welcoming’ village, she declares
  • Plus, she notes, it’s an ideal launch pad for exploring Dumfries & Galloway

Ah, the honeymoon suite. Rose petals on the bed, champagne on ice and a whirlpool bath that’s big enough for two. The only thing missing, in fact, is my husband.

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But that’s rather the point of Gretna Green these days. While it is still very much the wedding capital of Britain, averaging more than 3,500 of them a year, a revamp of its top hotels and the Famous Blacksmiths Experience — all owned by the same family — means it is hoping to attract casual tourists, not just the marriage market.

Just a mile over the border from England, Gretna itself is admittedly a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of place.

Open to all: The Blacksmith Shop in Gretna Green is now an ‘immersive experience’, billed as Britain’s first dedicated love and marriage attraction. Its association with marriages began in the 18th century when an enterprising blacksmith reinvented himself as an 'anvil priest', marrying couples in his blacksmith shop - for a small fee

Open to all: The Blacksmith Shop in Gretna Green is now an ‘immersive experience’, billed as Britain’s first dedicated love and marriage attraction. Its association with marriages began in the 18th century when an enterprising blacksmith reinvented himself as an ‘anvil priest’, marrying couples in his blacksmith shop – for a small fee

But it’s also pretty and welcoming, and is an ideal launch pad for visiting the rest of Dumfries & Galloway, where you’ll find such delights as the coastal artists’ town of Kirkcudbright and wilderness of Galloway Forest Park.

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Gretna Green cemented its place in history in 1754, when a strict marriage act in England came into force, meaning no one under 21 could marry without parental consent. 

Young lovers poured over the Scottish border where the rules were more lax, and arrived at Gretna Green, home to an enterprising blacksmith who reinvented himself as an ‘anvil priest’ marrying couples in his blacksmith shop — for a small fee, of course.

The anvil at the Gretna Blacksmith Shop where thousands of couples placed their hands to be married between 1754 and 1940

The anvil at the Gretna Blacksmith Shop where thousands of couples placed their hands to be married between 1754 and 1940

TRAVEL FACTS 

Double rooms at Smiths from £130 per night; from £300 for penthouse. Famous Blacksmiths Experience from £6.95 per adult. 

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Since those heady days it has weathered allegations it is a tacky, market-driven town, but the truth is that today, it’s simply a rural Scottish wedding destination, albeit one with a unique history.

Smiths at Gretna Green is the village’s classiest hotel, and has recently had an impressive revamp. My penthouse suite had the aforementioned whirlpool bath, a stylish bedroom and living-room area, as well as a balcony overlooking rolling farmland. While some parts of the hotel still need a little TLC, the bar and restaurant is a chic, modern space serving pub favourites.

And whether you’re single, newly wed or tourists on a pit stop before heading for the Scottish highlands, what you will find in Gretna is love, and lots of it.

The newly transformed Blacksmith Shop is a case in point. Now an ‘immersive experience’, it is billed as Britain’s first dedicated love and marriage attraction. There are letters written by fleeing lovers (one, dated 1928 and addressed to ‘the Village Blacksmith’, starts: ‘Dear Sir, my fiancée and I have a wish to be secretly married by you… ’), interactive exhibits where you can hear the stories of star-crossed lovers, and reaffirm your wedding vows with a handfasting ceremony.

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The final flourish is the original anvil, where thousands of couples placed their hands to be married between 1754 and 1940.

Before visiting Gretna, I’d imagined a wedding theme park, attracting the Vegas-on-an-Aldi-budget crowd. What I found was a village that maintains and preserves the love that built it. Next time, I’ll bring my husband.
 

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