Celebrant Bagpiper for Inchcolm Abbey Wedding Ceremony

In September I had the great pleasure of officiating the intimate wedding ceremony of Jacqueline and Geoff from upstate New York, at this hidden gem of a wedding venue near Edinburgh, Inchcolm Abbey!

I say a hidden gem, because Inchcolm Abbey isn’t somewhere that you can just swing by. A boat trip’s needed to take you to to Inchcolm Island, which is in the Firth of Forth, north of Edinburgh and east of the famous Forth Rail Bridge.

The Augustine Inchcolm Abbey (and Inchcolm Island) is looked after by Historic Scotland and it dates back to the 12th century. It was abandoned in 1560 following the Scottish Reformation. Many parts of it quite are quite intact including the cloister where Jacqueline and Geoff held their Scottish wedding ceremony.

Jacqueline and Geoff had initially planned to visit Geoff’s sister, Lauren, who lives in Scotland with her husband, Stefan, but then decided they would like to get married in Scotland while they were here.

Living in the US, Jacqueline and Geoff weren’t too familiar where you can get married in Scotland! Credit goes to Lauren for finding Inchcolm Island and conducting an earlier scouting mission!

But it’s fair to say that this wedding didn’t have the smoothest of starts..

wedding-ceremony-at-inchcolm-abbey

Inchcolm Abbey

Inchcolm Island

Inchcolm Island

The wedding’s off…

So here’s the thing… I wasn’t supposed to be the one conducting Jacqueline and Geoff’s wedding ceremony…

Jacqueline and Geoff had actually arranged for a registrar to come along with them to Inchcolm Island and handle the legal part of the ceremony. My role was simply to be their bagpiper for the day and to conduct their Handfasting Ritual, which isn’t something that registrars will typically do.

But unfortunately the whole process of getting the necessary paperwork and visas to legally marry in the UK, especially if you’re not a British citizen or resident, can be incredibly painful. And for Jacqueline and Geoff, being US citizens and not from an EEA country, it was even worse.

Then, on Tuesday, the bombshell was dropped: their Visa company in the US completely messed up their paperwork, leaving them unable to have a legal ceremony in the UK. That meant the registrar couldn’t marry them or do anything for them, since conducting a personalised or symbolic wedding ceremony is off the table for a registrar.

Burning the midnight oil!

So we had the situation just three days before their wedding ceremony for which Jacqueline and Geoff had travelled thousands of miles, and had booked the absolutely beautiful Inchcolm Island wedding venue. But there was no ceremony, nobody to tell the couple’s story, no vows, no exchange of rings, hardly any of the things that make a wedding ceremony a wedding ceremony! Only myself with the bagpipes and the handfasting ribbons…

Well, I just couldn’t have that!

So I did what I do, and set about creating a ceremony for Jacqueline and Geoff. They were told they were going to get a proper wedding ceremony, and that was that!

Wedding Countdown

Normally, a wedding celebrant has a few months to craft a wedding ceremony!

Any wedding celebrant will tell you that a celebrant-led wedding is all about creating a ceremony that truly reflects the couple. It’s about sharing their unique story and incorporating meaningful symbolic elements into the ceremony. The focus is on celebrating the couple and the journey that has brought them to the point of wanting to spend their lives together. Unlike wedding ceremonies conducted by a registrar or religious official, the emphasis is not on legalities or religious rules.

To tell this story effectively, it’s really helpful for the celebrant to get to know the couple really well. I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with Jacqueline and Geoff, driving out to the wilds of West Lothian on a Tuesday evening. We talked about their background, how they met, their jobs, hobbies, interests, and their vision for their wedding at Inchcolm Abbey.

And… relax!

Jacqueline and Geoff were super easy to talk to, and we hit it off right away. Despite the time pressure, I had a great feeling about their special day from the start. Over the next two nights, I created a beautiful ceremony for them that included their amazing story of being secret admirers back in school, then going their separate ways as adults, until they finally reunited in 2019.

Jacqueline and Geoff wanted to have a handfasting ritual, and I suggested adding a quaich ceremony and a reading from Lauren, who was instrumental in planning their wedding and initially getting in touch with me.

On Thursday night, just before Jacqueline and Geoff’s wedding, I completed their ceremony, had a quick check-in with them, and then called it a night, eagerly anticipating the next day on Inchcolm Island!

Photography

Jacqueline and Geoff didn’t actually hire a photographer for their wedding because they felt it would be too much for their small elopement. Instead, Geoff’s sister, Lauren, planned to take pictures with her phone.

I was really disappointed that they wouldn’t have proper memories of such an important day, and that Lauren, who put so much effort into organizing their wedding on Inchcolm Island, wouldn’t be in the photos she was taking.

But then I had an idea… My sister, Donna, is a professional photographer!

Donna runs her own photography business called Donna Green Photography, specialising in brand photography and headshots in Edinburgh. Unlike other brand photographers who focus on studio work, Donna loves capturing her clients in various outdoor locations, just like Inchcolm Island!

Donna was very keen to help out, and had a chat with Jacqueline and Geoff, who were delighted to secure the services of a proper photographer.

Donna Green Photographer
Donna Green Photography

High impact, strategically designed brand photography for small businesses, professionals, creatives, entrepreneurs. [EDIT BY GLYN]: And some weddings too!

On the day

The Friday of Jacqueline and Geoff’s elopement wedding ceremony was a nice and bright day. Their ceremony was scheduled for 2pm, so we all met at the Hawes Pier in South Queensferry at 12pm, in advance of making our way across to Inchcolm Island.

The boat trip to Inchcolm Island

To get to Inchcolm Abbey on Inchcolm Island, you definitely need a boat! Lauren had already booked tickets for us on the Forth Belle, which is run by Forth Boat Tours. The Forth Belle’s skipper is actually the partner of my bagpiper friend Louise. It’s amazing how small the world, especially Scotland, can be! We hopped on board the Forth Belle at 1pm to embark on a 40-minute journey to Inchcolm Island. Along the way, we got to enjoy breathtaking views of the Forth Rail Bridge as we sailed underneath it. The Forth Belle operates multiple trips to Inchcolm Island every day throughout the summer season, departing from the Hawes Pier in South Queensferry, just 12 miles north of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh to Inchcolm Island by boat
Forth Belle Forth Bridge

The Forth Belle

Several boats per day make the sailing to Inchcolm Island from South Queensferry, 12 miles north of Edinburgh.

Arrival on Inchcolm Island

We had definitely had a smoother crossing to Inchcolm Island than King Alexander the 1st of Scotland, who was forced to take refuge here during a storm in the year 1123. It was he who ordered the establishment of a priory on the island, in thanks for his life being saved. After King Alexander’s death, his brother David became king and invited the Augustine canons to establish an abbey.

It’s wasn’t too long a walk from the island’s pier to the abbey. I went on ahead with Lauren and Stefan to prepare Inchcolm Abbey’s very much intact Chapter House for a wedding ceremony!

Inchcolm Island Pier

Inchcolm Island pier

Inchcolm Abbey wedding – The Chapter House

Inchcolm Abbey Wedding Inside of the Chapter House

Inside the Chapter House of Inchcolm Abbey

Jacqueline and Geoff’s Inchcolm Abbey wedding ceremony was held in the abbey’s wonderfully well preserved Chapter House. Dating back to the time of original construction of the abbey in 1235, it’s seriously old!

chapter house:

noun

a building where all the priests of a cathedral or members of a religious community meet.

Wedding in Inchcolm Abbey

The outside of Inchcolm Abbey’s Chapter House.

Ready to go!

Quaich Ceremony at Inchcolm Island

The wedding celebrant’s folder, the handfasting ribbons, the whisky and the quaichs all at the ready.

Inchcolm Island wedding Abbey cloisters

Jacqueline and Lauren at the ready.

Inchcolm Island Chapter House wedding

Geoff and the red carpet also at the ready!

Jacqueline’s Processional

With everything and everyone ready to start the ceremony, I stepped outside the Chapter House to chat with Jacqueline and calm her nerves. I also reminded her and Lauren about their entrance.

Then it was time for me to focus on my Wedding Bagpiper duties of playing her up the aisle. I chose to play the Scottish Small Pipes, which have a softer and mellower sound compared to the traditional big pipes. They were perfect for the stone-walled Chapter House at Inchcolm Abbey.

Small Pipes for piping up the aisle to

The mellow-sounding Scottish Small Pipes are particularly suitable for small inside spaces such as the Chapter House at Inchcolm Abbey.

Jacqueline and Geoff’s story

After piping Jacqueline up the aisle to Geoff, it was time to leave the bagpipes behind and resume my role as Jacqueline and Geoff’s wedding celebrant.

All the stress from three days ago when it seemed like they wouldn’t have a real wedding were now just a faded memory!

I truly enjoyed celebrating Jacqueline and Geoff, sharing their love story, guiding them through their symbolic rituals and witnessing them tie the knot in the breathtaking Inchcolm Abbey.

Wedding Celebrant for Inchcolm Island wedding ceremony

Telling Jacqueline and Geoff’s story in the ancient Chapter House of Inchcolm Abbey.

The Vows

Wedding Vows at Inchcolm Abbey

Jacqueline and Geoff make their vows to each other, which I’d helped them write after meeting them earlier in the week.

Exchange of Rings

Inchcolm-Abbey-Wedding-Ceremony-Exchanging-rings

Jacqueline and Geoff exchanged rings during their Inchcolm Island wedding ceremony. Ring bearer duties were expertly performed by Geoff’s brother-in-law, Stefan.

Handfasting

Inchcolm Abbey Handfasting ceremony

Lauren and Geoff has always wanted to have a Handfasting. Jacqueline has Macmillan ancestors so I got her one handfasting ribbon in Macmillan tartan, whilst the other was the nice Edinburgh Ancient tartan.

Sharing a kiss

Getting married on Inchcolm Island

Jacqueline and Geoff made their commitments and vows to each other. They exchanged rings and in carrying out the handfasting ritual, they tied the knot! Nothing left to stop them sharing a kiss!

Reading from Lauren

Getting married at Inchcolm Abbey

Lauren reads Chapter One of One Thousand by O. J. Preston. I had looked out this reading for Lauren to read to Jacqueline and Geoff because they both love the water and they live beside a lakeside which has a special place in their hearts. This verse which is about marriage, also has a great water and nautical theme to it.

Wedding Certificate

Wedding Officiant Edinburgh

For another memento of their special day, I presented the couple with a certificate to commemorate their wedding at Incolm Abbey, signed by the couple, their two witnesses, Lauren and Stefan, and myself as their wedding celebrant.

Back down the aisle

Elopement at Inchcolm Island

With their ceremony having come to end, the only thing left to do was to pipe the happy couple down the aisle, and out of the Chapter House to the glasses of champagne awaiting them. The “big” pipes are needed for this part of a wedding, as is the big hat!

Photos

Geoff and Jacqueline wedding on Inchcolm Island

Donna took Jacqueline and Geoff’s wedding photos at to some of the many, many scenic spots on the historic Inchcolm Island. Note to Geoff: Kilt-wearing in windy places can be a risky business, and you’re sailing quite close to the wind in this photo!

Back onboard

Wedding aboard the Forth Belle

Everybody got back onboard the Forth Belle at later that afternoon. Refreshments were had, seals were spotted and I played a few tunes on the pipes as we made our way back on the Forth Belle to South Queensferry.

Final thoughts

It took some time for me to reflect on Jacqueline and Geoff’s wedding. Yes, going from being in a position three days earlier where I was only to be playing the bagpipes and conducting the couple’s handfasting, to suddenly needing to craft and deliver a full-blown wedding ceremony was a little frantic!

One thing’s for sure. It can be very difficult for overseas couples to visit a UK consulate and arrange all the paperwork and visas necessary to hold a legal marriage in the UK. Unfortunately, I’ve heard of this situation happening before. A little red tape can put a complete kibosh on a couple’s plans, and a registrar who’s job it is to deal with the legalities of a wedding simply can’t do anything.

I was so pleased that the ceremony I created and performed made the couple so happy. They were overjoyed at how I was able to make their ceremony all about them and why they were committing to each other for the rest of their lives, which was they didn’t get from the marriage officer who conducted their legal ceremony back home in the US. Like many people, they may have a had a pre-ordained idea that a wedding ceremony is simply a question of saying “I do” at the appropriate time and then signing their name.

A celebrant-led wedding is so much more than this!

Jacqueline said that she always wanted to get married in a castle… However, I think by giving her a wedding in the ancient Inchcolm Abbey on an island upon which a king of Scotland has walked and taken shelter, she got one better!

Review from Jacqueline and Geoff

★★★★★

Glyn was the absolute perfect choice for our wedding in Scotland!! He was easy to work with, very kind, came to meet us and made sure all our personal details were incorporated into our vows.

Glyn and his sister Donna, who did our photography, felt like family and helped us create our fairy tale wedding!

Thank you, Glyn!!

Google IconJacqueline Klosner, Oct, 2023

Would you like to get married or renew your vows on Inchcolm Island?

Inchcolm Island with its ancient Augustine abbey and panoramic views offers a breathtakingly beautiful and unique setting for your wedding or vows renewal ceremony.

While Jacqueline and Geoff were married in the Chapter House, there are two other indoor areas of Inchcolm Abbey used for weddings, which are just as spectacular, but can host larger wedding parties. And if the weather’s nice, there are countless outside areas to choose from, offering beautiful backdrops of either Edinburgh to the south or Fife to the north.

There are photo opportunities galore. The island isn’t only home to the abbey with its dramatic interior and exterior, and adjoining ruins. There are wartime fortifications including an accessible tunnel taking you to old North Sea-facing gun emplacements, a small beach, pasture and some rugged land.

The boat trip alone lends a feeling of adventure and anticipation. Whether you envision a small, intimate gathering or a larger celebration, this enchanting island offers a one-of-a-kind experience that you and your guests will remember for a lifetime.

Inchcolm Abbey on Inchcolm Island wedding location

Weddings at Inchcolm Abbey – Locations

the CHAPTER HOUSE

Inchcolm Abbey wedding location Chapter House

The Chapter House where Jacqueline and Geoff held their Inchcolm wedding may be small, but it’s spectacular. It’s ideal for small and intimate weddings. Access is via the equally spectacular cloisters.

Capacity: 20 people

the REFECTORY

Inchcolm Island Refectory wedding venue

The refectory is where Inchcolm Abbey’s monks would eat. This room which is on the first floor of the abbey has an impressive arched ceiling and due to its many windows, the refectory is flooded with natural light.

Capacity: 100 people

the DORMITORY

Wedding ceremony on Inchcolm Island Abbey dormitory

The monks’ dormitory is another room on the first floor of Inchcolm Abbey. It also has an arched ceiling, but has more stone work visible than in the refectory, lending an even more rustic feel.

Capacity: 90 people 

Getting to Inchcolm Island

Forth Boat Tours

Forth Boat Cruises’ largest boat, the ‘Forth Belle’ can carry up to 215 passengers.

Forth Boat Tours and Maid of the Forth Cruises are two long-established and reputable Inchcolm Island boat tour companies who operate from the Hawes Pier which is right beside the Forth Rail Bridge in South Queensferry.

You can join a public sailing, or you can privately charter one of either company’s boats for your wedding voyage to Inchcolm Island.

Access for people using a wheelchair is provided. As are toilets and refreshments.

Maid of the Forth Cruises

The ‘Maid of the Forth’, designed for Inchcolm sailings, can carry up to 225 passengers over two decks.

Further info

If you would like to renew your wedding vows, or elope to Scotland to hold a symbolic ceremony and have me officiate and play the bagpipes for you, I’d be most happy to help! See my Celebrant Bagpiper page for further details, and for information on how to get married in Scotland, see Getting married in Scotland.

Bagpiper for Wedding Vows Renewal