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A visitor's guide to Gretna Green UK

Updated on August 6, 2012

Gretna Green

The little village of Gretna Green in Dumfries and Galloway, is on the border of Scotland and England near the River Esk. It was famous for runaway weddings dating back to the 18th century.

Marriage Laws

In England in 1753, Lord Hardwicke's Marriage act came into force, which meant that both parties to a wedding had to be 21 years old or over before they could marry without the consent of their parents. In Scotland at this time, boys could marry at 14 years of age and girls at 12 years old with or without parental consent. Many young couples fled England into Scotland to marry in the first place they could, which happened to be Gretna Green. The local blacksmith would marry the couple in the Old Blacksmiths Shop and his anvil was used as a symbol of the wedding ceremony. The blacksmiths later became known as the "anvil priests."

Since 1929, the law was changed as it was felt that at 21 years old, the age limit was too high to be married with parents consent. Subsequently, the law was altered in both countries. Nowadays, in Scotland a couple can marry at age 16years of age without parental consent, but in Wales and England the couple can get married at 16, but must have parental consent of both parties and 18 years without consent of parents.

Gretna Green Visitor Centre

Gretna Green has become a huge and very popular tourist attraction, with over 5,000 weddings being conducted each year. One in six Scottish weddings are held here. The centre attracts around 700,000 visitors per year. There is a lot to see and do at Gretna Green.

The famous anvil.
The famous anvil.

Old Blacksmiths Shop

Take a look around this famous black and white house which has been used for centuries to marry eloping couples. It is open every day of the year with the exception of Christmas Day from 9am til 5pm (a little longer in the summer). They also offer full or part wedding packages starting from around £300. You can also arrange to renew your wedding vows here too.

The Old Blacksmith's shop at Gretna Green.
The Old Blacksmith's shop at Gretna Green.

Coach Museum

This is a fantastic exhibition which unravels the story and history of Gretna Green. Transport yourself back to the 18th century and discover what life was like as a young couple wanting to marry. You can see a collection of beautiful old horse drawn coaches that were used, keep an eye open for the actual coach used by Queen Victoria's aunt.

A 19th century coach on display in the museum.
A 19th century coach on display in the museum.

Shopping

There are several shops in the Centre selling a wide selection of gifts, souvenirs, clothing, shortbread, tartan, household items, whisky and food/gift hampers. Boutiques offer some great fashion clothing and accessories for adults and children, ranging from suits and kilts to less formal t-shirts and hats. There is also a foodhall which has a wonderful stock of freshly baked bread, scones, and mouthwatering cakes and shortbread, tablet and toffee. Mmmm. Jams and preserves can also be purchased in beautifully presented glass jars.

Inside the foodhall.
Inside the foodhall.

Cafe

Relax in the cafe after all your shopping and you can enjoy lunch or snacks with tea, coffee or a soft drink. Don't forget to try their melt in the mouth shortbread, or a warm scone with butter and jam.

Visitor Centre

Breathtaking scenery surrounds the Gretna Green Visitor Centre. There are sprawling fields grazed by highland cattle. Just before entering the centre, why not stop and have your photograph taken in the sculpture garden. You may even be lucky enough to see a real bride and groom having their wedding pics taken here. There are two childrens play areas for the little ones to explore near the car park, which has ample parking spaces and is free to visitors.

Highland cattle at Gretna Green.
Highland cattle at Gretna Green.
The sculpture gardens
The sculpture gardens

Staying at Gretna Green

At the heart of Gretna Green, there is a fantastic 4 star hotel which is warm and friendly, offering various sized rooms and fabulous food. It is informal and children are well catered for. Built in 2005, it has won awards every year since 2008.

About a mile away in the town of Gretna, there is a generous choice of guest houses, holiday cottages and bed and breakfast accommodation.

There is plenty to do in and around Gretna Green, and has become very popular as the obvious honeymoon destination. Birdwatchers have lots to see in this beautiful spot which is a haven for wildlife. In February, thousands of starlings take to the skies in their migration process. Cycling, walking and fishing are all very popular here. There is something for everyone, with lots to do in a town steeped in tradition, history and romance. See it for yourself.

Smiths Hotel - Gretna Green
Smiths Hotel - Gretna Green
The nearby River Esk
The nearby River Esk

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    • jacqui2011 profile image
      Author

      jacqui2011 6 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      Hi Majjhima. It certainly is a very sleepy little town and very peaceful. I didn't get married there, but I wish I had. Would have made some beautiful photographs.

    • jacqui2011 profile image
      Author

      jacqui2011 6 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      Hi Nell Rose. Thanks for your comment. I love the place, when I drive up to Scotland every few months to visit my parents I always make a point of stopping here. It's such a romantic place.

    • MAJJHIMA profile image

      MAJJHIMA 6 years ago

      hi jacqui, thanks for sharing. I have never been to Scotland before, from your photos it seems to me that Gretna Green is not only beautiful town but peaceful and lovely too. Did you hold you wedding ceremony there?

      cheers.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

      Hi, What a famous place! I seem to have grown up hearing the tales of Gretna Green, in fact one of my old boyfriends wanted me to run away there! lol i ran the other direction! great info about this lovely place, thanks nell

    • jacqui2011 profile image
      Author

      jacqui2011 6 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      I love visiting Gretna Green, its in such an idyllic setting. I know what you mean about the cattle, they look so cuddly, but those horns tell a different story! Thank you so much for your comment.

    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 6 years ago from The Shire

      Jacqui,

      I love this hub. I grew up on Georgette Heyer novels and often imagined what Gretna Green looked like, since her heroines often went there (or threatened to). It's lovely. I want one of the cows, too. They look like oversized sheepdogs.

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