Dorset—a rather lovely and sparsely populated county on the south coast of England. One of my friends and colleagues always jokes that everyone knows each other in Dorset—a little like the people of Sandford in ‘Hot Fuzz’ with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. And I always went along with the joke until I realised it was unnervingly true, as I dragged myself away from another impromptu catch up with an old friend at a wedding.
I was personally born and bred in Dorset, with a little stint in the midlands during university and then another short stint in London as a graduate. But the South West was always calling me back—I just can’t get enough of those damn fields.
With so much space brings plenty of stunning wedding venues, most of which are tucked away in what feels like the middle of nowhere. In other words, they are perfectly located. But being tucked away often means that some little gems are overlooked, so I’ve decided to compiled a tasty list of my 8 favourite wedding venues in Dorset that I’ve had the pleasure of photographing at over the years.
There’s also an outrageous number of really obvious venues that I’ve somehow never photographed at before, but we’ll ignore that for the time being. Perhaps a Volume II is in order…
Springhead Trust at Fontmell Magna
Nestled in the rolling hills behind Blandford Forum is a proper little treat—Springhead Trust.
Now this isn’t a huge wedding venue by any stretch of the imagination, which is probably why I love it so much. As blank canvases go, it doesn’t get much more beautiful than this. You’ve got a Grade II listed mill, a lake full of swans, acres of stunning gardens, an Italianate Rotunda and a grass amphitheatre.
One of my favourite weddings ever was SJ & Anne’s little shindig at Springhead Trust and I genuinely didn’t even know what to do with myself or where to point my camera. If you’re after a small venue in a naturally beautiful space to act as a complete blank canvas to exercise your DIY skills—then this is the venue for you.
Deans Court in Wimborne
A popular one in the area and for very good reason—it’s awesome. Whether you’re inside or outside, getting ready in the gatehouse or sinking a bottle of champagne in the marquee, everything about this venue is great and perfectly catered for just about any size wedding.
Deans Court is one of those venues that knows how to host a wedding and avoids becoming overbearing. Some venues can feel like a bit of a…meat factory, but Deans Court avoids this by just letting the day unfold seamlessly.
There are so many cool little areas around the venue, including a pretty tasty staircase around the front for photos, a pumpkin patch for no reason at all other than to check out the pumpkins, a great spot for getting ready out of the way of the guests arriving and a whole bunch of space for lawn games and activities.
Deans Court is also about 2 minutes from my house, which come to think of it, might also be why I have a certain little soft spot…
Pennsylvania Castle in Weymouth
Now Penn Castle Estate is a venue which I drove past countless times and always thought it looked pretty nuts. Then when I finally had the chance to photograph a wedding there for Sera & James’ absolute belter of a wedding, it exceeded all expectations.
That location is just something else altogether, positioned right on the cliff-top overlooking the sea with nothing else around. The bridal suite even has an almost 360 degree panoramic view from up in the tower and the dining room is unbelievably light, bright and airy—even on a quintessentially British day.
If you’re feeling a little bit spicy and adventurous, the cliffs just up the road make for some pretty unreal photo opportunities, which I was pretty keen to demonstrate after driving to the venue and not being able to stop thinking about it.
For those after a classy venue with unbelievable views over Dorset, Pennsylvania Castle will be right up your street.
Another popular and somewhat upmarket venue tucked away in the Dorset countryside. Axnoller is part of West Axnoller Farm near Beaminster and hosts all sorts of events and provides plenty of accommodation. Every single little detail feels high-end and just that little bit special, with more stunning views over the surrounding countryside thanks to it’s position at the top of a hill.
The layout means that just about any sized wedding will feel comfortable, with plenty of little nooks for guests and a flexible space in the barn for different table layouts. As a wedding photographer, I love it at Axnoller as there are so just so many locations for photos. From the stunning interior design of the cottages, through to the stunning exterior brick walls, aisles of subtly illuminated trees and miles and miles of Dorset countryside.
If you’re after a classy affair but without the pretense—Axnoller has got you covered.
A stalwart of any favourite wedding venue list. One of the more popular venues in Dorset that must host a fair few weddings each year, but again, somehow avoids feeling anything like a meat factory with its attention to detail and relaxed approach to weddings.
So many venues can feel a little bit ‘over-managed,’ which can be a little anxiety inducing when you’re just trying to have a good day. But all of the weddings I’ve photographed at Sopley Mill have ran like a Swiss train conductor without anyone even noticing.
There’s not a huge amount of outside space at Sopley Mill which can be a little challenging as a photographer, though there are loads of funky fields around if you fancy getting your shoes muddy and going on an adventure.
The mill itself is split across 3 levels, with a pretty cosy bar area on the ground floor and the dining room and ceremony rooms spanning the top two levels. Loads of light pours through the windows and the decoration is tastefully done. Almost feels like a nude wedding cake if you squint hard enough.
Can’t go too far wrong with Sopley Mill—great little wedding venue near Bournemouth.
That’s right, a Grade I listed agricultural college surrounded by sheep, cows, pigs and…guinea pigs.
This is one of my favourite wedding venues in Dorset as there’s just so much space to do just about anything you like. Some of my favourite weddings have been here, including Lucy & Dhiran’s multicultural hoopla a couple of years ago.
The interior has so much character, with enormously high ceilings and huge windows. The same can be said about the grounds, which seem to be never-ending when you venture into them, full of all sorts of nuggets of interest. One of my favourite bits about Kingston Maurward is the space for outdoor ceremonies, flanking a little pond and nestled under a funky brick structure. The way the bride comes down the steps towards the back builds so much suspense, that and the nagging fear of falling in the pond.
Bennetts Water Gardens
Bit of wildcard option for the list is a venue that I’ve only shot at once before (and only for the ceremony, come to think of it), but it’s a space with TONNES of character that just left me overwhelmed with awesomeness.
This is such a great location for slightly smaller weddings that want a wedding full of colour and with a soundtrack of babbling water and feisty ducks. I remember asking my client’s Hannah and Tom why they chose Bennetts Water Gardens as they’re not from the area and their reply was: “we accidentally arranged a viewing because we got the venue wrong, then ended up falling in love.” So a seemingly pointless 5 hour round-trip ended up changing everything, enough to drag all of their friends from London to have a jolly down in Dorset.
Really awesome venue and I’d love to shoot here again, as there are so many little corners that I didn’t get a chance to check out before whizzing off last time!
Kingston Country Courtyard
Tucked away in one of my favourite parts of the country and plonked right up on the hill above Corfe Castle, this is one of those views worth paying for. But the mega-bonus is that Kingston Country Courtyard is not just a pretty view, the venue itself is a really cool little space with oodles of character.
For Suzie & Jamie’s wedding last year, the entire space was kitted out with hundreds of fairy lights and it just transformed the room and made it really quite special. There’s just something about Portland limestone, loads of natural window light and twinkly lights that just looks so damn cool.
With a nice little courtyard (clue’s in the title) for outdoor ceremonies and a cute little garden for garden games and photos, this is a great venue for perhaps a smaller or medium sized wedding in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Can’t go too far wrong really.
The Family Back Garden
Last but by no means least, perhaps you don’t need a traditional wedding venue at all. Gone are the days of everyone getting married at a church and having an evening reception at a local hotel—it’s becoming more and more popular to do the legal bit at a registry office days before, then having something really intimate and personal at the family home.
It’s amazing how many people have nice big houses in the countryside with loads of space in the garden to either shove a tipi or just embrace the great outdoors. The weather in the UK isn’t always bad…
Just about all of my favourite weddings that I’ve ever shot have been just in someone’s back garden. Kate and Ed’s wedding last year, where they completely transformed the garden and barn, was absolutely mind-blowing and proved just what’s possible with a little bit of creativity and some grubby hands. What made it even more special is that if you get the registry office bit out of the way, you can enlist a friend or family member as the celebrant for your ceremony—making it roughly one million times more personal.
Whilst getting married in the back garden isn’t for everyone, if you have the space and want to make your wedding truly yours, I certainly wouldn’t write this idea off. I’d be tempted to journey down this route for my own wedding. And if you don’t have the space in your family, how about a family friend? This is what Emily and Dave did, and just look how incredible their wedding was…
Getting your wedding venue right is a big deal as there’s just so much to think about. Is it convenient enough for all of your guests? Does it host the right amount of people? Is it sanctioned for wedding ceremonies or will you need to arrange a separate venue for that too?
But above all else, the question you should really be asking is “does it feel right?”
Hannah & Tom’s wedding at Bennetts Water Gardens is a prime example of it simply just feeling right. They actually got the venue wrong after a recommendation and ended up arranging a visit at at the venue 4 hours from their house by pure accident. But it just felt right, so they dragged all of their friends and family down from London for a full-blown jolly.
While the logistics might feel a little unnerving, what you have to remember is that your guests are actually really excited about your wedding and will know that you’ve made the best decision, regardless of where your wedding is. Do what feels right to you and you can be happy knowing you’ve got it exactly right.