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An arboretum is for life - not just Autumnwatch!
Westonbirt Arboretum (Gloucestershire)
Member Name: WoozleWife
Westonbirt Arboretum (Gloucestershire)
Advantages: Fantastic setting, amazing trees, something new every time, brilliant for kids too.
Disadvantages: The price is a little high if you are only planning to be there for a few hours - stay longer!
Last year saw the BBC Autumnwatch programme base their studio at The Great Oak Hall at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire for a couple of weeks. While this was on I would rave at anyone I could find about how they should watch it and go there - but I was a little biased because you see I got married at Westonbirt last year.
I've lived in the west for a long time, moved here when I was 4, have done some moving about all over the place but have always returned here and in all that time I had never even stepped foot in Westonbirt Arboretum. When I met my husband on the bus back in 2009 we became firm friends and I knew he had been to Westonbirt and he had shown me photographs on his phone of the wonderful colours on display during the autumn with the maples and acers. I've always loved autumn and the amazing hues and tones and richness that abounds in that season. In late 2009 we got together and talk soon swiftly turned to marriage and one night while joking away he said to me 'Lets get married at Westonbirt' and we both thought for a moment about how lovely that would be (me still not having been there at this point) and then we thought - 'hold on, do they even do weddings?' thinking best not get our hopes all set on something that could never be! But after a quick look online to the Friends of Westonbirt website we found that you can indeed get married there. http://www.fowa.org.uk/venue_hire/weddings_and_civ il_partnerships
The Great Oak Hall - the setting for Autumnwatch's studio is the venue for civil ceremonies. It is an absolutely gorgeous building, expertly crafted and can hold about 80 people. They have a dedicated wedding planner (currently a lovely lady called Lucy) who will talk to you about your big day and help everything run as smoothly as possible. They provide you with a host who will welcome your guests and can help with a little of the organisation on the day - ours was a gem of a woman called Sylvia. Westonbirt do have their own catering service if you wanted to have the reception there too, or even just a champagne/canapes reception before heading off somewhere else. We opted not to do that as we were on a budget.
Needless to say once we had pencilled in our big day with them we came together to have a wonder around exactly a year before the wedding (at the end of September) just at the height of the autumn spectacle and we were not disappointed. With over 17 miles of pathways you need a whole day if not longer to really take it all in, which is what makes it such a great place to come back to. It has a section - Silk Wood, which you can take dogs into. A fantastic collection of japanese maples, limes, walnuts to name a few. They have brilliant little hidden activity areas for children, from a little hut which kids can make themselves out of planks of wood, wooden tiles etc to balance beam obstacle courses.
There is a childrens play area near the entrance along with a restaurant and cafe area. The toilets are always well maintained and the staff are friendly and helpful.
The entry into the Arboretum varies during the year. Currently the winter (Dec to Feb) entrance fee is just £5 for adults, £4 for concessions and £2 for children over 5. From March - Sept entry goes up to £8 for adults, £7 for concessions and £3 for children over 5 and during the busy autumn period the prices go up by another pound.
Although it may seem a little pricey, I think if you get there as early as you can and make the most of the whole day, you certainly get more value out of your pounds!
Westonbirt also host regular events, such as Treefest, Enchanted Christmas (where portions of the arboretum are lit up beautifully) and offer a range of regular events (check out the website for details - http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-5y4f5k) as well as concerts - for instance this year they are having Will Young and Plan B in concert. They also have a garden centre for shrubs and trees which has a really lovely shop - this can be accessed separately to the main arboretum if you just want to go there rather than paying to get into the arboretum.
If anyone is thinking of an interesting different wedding venue this year I can highly recommend Westonbirt Arboretum. We got married on the last day prior to the busy autumn season - they stop doing weddings during this time, but right at the end of September (weather/global warming permitting!) there is still plenty of autumnal colours to be seen. It is cheaper to marry there in the week than at weekends, you get a very lovely personal service from the staff and you have a fantastic venue that people will remember. All your guests get free entry to the arboretum on the day, we made our day pretty relaxing and encouraged people to bring sensible shoes and make the most of it and have a wander around. Plenty of fantastic photo opportunities and some really cherished memories.
Westonbirt is certainly a regular place for us now, in the past two years I would say we have been about 4 or 5 times and each time we have really enjoyed it and we will certainly be no strangers there.
Summary: A wonderland of nature - something for everyone all year round.
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