Wedding Planning Top Tips and a Unique Devon Traditition

This wedding planning blog has a few top tips to give you some inspo! It’s all about Charlotte and Gav’s wedding that took place in August this year. They wanted to focus on two things.  First – make sure that everyone was well entertained.  As well, from the start, the styling for this wedding was always going to be steeped in a unique Devon tradition. It’s called ‘The Flaming Tar Barrels of Ottery St Mary’.  It takes place on 5th November every year. Some say it’s linked to the gunpowder plot of 1605. You know the one – Guy Fawkes Night.  Bonfires, fireworks and the burning of the Guy.

While the rest of us might look forward to a few fireworks and sparklers, something very different is included in this small East Devon market town. It is the unique, centuries-old tradition of carrying burning (yes  – I said ‘burning’) (!) barrels around the town.  People travel from far and wide to witness this astonishing spectacle.

The groom is shown at a previous Tar Barrels fastival carrying a flaming tar barrel at the Ottery St Mary Flaming Tar Barrels Festival

Only a few individuals can participate in the burning barrel tradition and gain the label of being a ‘barrel roller’.  This groom, Gav, is one of them!  From the tender age of only 6 years old, Gav has been proud to call himself a ‘roller’. If a ‘roller’ marrries – he or she (and his or her bride or groom) get to walk under a ‘presentation barrel’. This has to be held up by other barrellers.  It is not for the faint-hearted!  So – clearly not exactly your average wedding tradition!


‘I’ll Walk You Home’

For this lovely Devon couple – Charlotte and Gav, it all began with a friendly ‘I’ll walk you home’ after an evening at their local. These walks home were destined to become a regular event.  What a great way to get to know each other, become good friends and to gradually fall in love. Sigh!

Fourteen years later, capenter Gav decided that getting married to accountant Charlotte should be top of the list. It was November 2020 and non essential shops were closed (do you remember?).  Gav went on eBay, got a stand-in panto-style ring for £2.99 and waited for the right moment.

On a family walk along the River Otter, Gav found the perfect spot.  He proposed while Charlotte was halfway across on some stepping stones. This meant that she couldn’t easily run away! This led to a stepping stone game with their two little girls. It was quite tricky to get them home! The next challenge was to find a local venue and get married as soon as the lifting of restrictions allowed.  They chose Higher Holcombe because of its welcoming feel, the elegantly rustic barn (so easy to style) and countryside setting (these are Charlottes’s words – by the way)! They wanted the children to be able to run around safely so everyone would be able to relax and enjoy themselves.

Tar Barrel Traditions and Wedding Style Inspo

Wedding Planning top tips and wedding tradition

Specially decorated barrels were the main styling feature – of course! One of Charlotte’s wedding planning top tips is to head to Pinterest (who doesn’t love Pinterest?)! They used barrels to line the outside ceremony aisle leading to the willow cathedral. Others formed a table to serve the welcome drinks, to display the wedding cake and another as a postbox (adapted by carpenter Gav) for wedding cards and gifts.  Charlotte chose  soft dusky blues, pinks and white for the flowers which were arranged by Dilly’s, the local florist in town. This was the  perfect choice to provide a  feminine balance for the bold statement wooden barrels. Blue organza runners anchored the tables and the window sills were decorated with paper pompom pops of pink and blue.

Top Tips for Entertaining Guests at Your Wedding

Wedding Planning top tips to entertain your guests

Charlotte and Gav wanted to ensure that everyone was well entertained as their wedding day progressed. After the ceremony, and as their guests were mingling, a local caricaturist got to work!  She expertly captured the essential elements of each character.  Everyone enjoyed seeing the caricatures taking shape. These were great take away souvenirs – as well as being a good ol’ giggle!

wedding planning top tips entertain children at weddings

For the children, the engaging Professor Bumble delighted the younger ones with jokes, juggling and general trickery.  His shenanigans were perfectly timed to keep them all happy during the speeches – which the adults could then enjoy in peace! Chloe, the couple’s eldest, also got involved with the wedding planning. She designed a photo booth sign and joined in making the props.  What great initiative for a six year old!  Such a great idea to get the whole family involved in wedding planning and preparation!  More wedding planning top tips please!

Local Pub Grub Top Tips

The team at their local pub ‘The Volunteer Inn’ was aksed to supply both the catering and drinks service for the whole wedding. This was a simple, one-stop decision that made the wedding planning super-easy.

Charlotte and Gav went for a traditional choice of sumptious roasted meats and veg followed by a trio of desserts.  These included a delicious home-made stawberry cheesecake (Gav’s choice); chocolate brownies (for Charlotte’s sweet tooth) and mini fruit pavlovas (because the pub’s chef likes making them)!

After the evening guests arrived and everyone got the munchies – a hot and cold buffet was informally presented.  The relaxed ‘help yourselves when you’re peckish’ approach went down really well with everyone. Having just the one caterer also meant that there was just one set of bills to pay as well as having no worries about the flow of food and drink.  I love this top tip!

wedding planning top tips for cake decoration and using traditional barrels to display

The gorgeous cake was made and stunningly decorated by Sarah.  She specially made the colours to match the blue and pink schema.  And of course, a barrel was involved!  This time a barrel from Charlotte’s sister’s home was used as a very ‘on theme’ cake table!

Wedding Planning App to Try

Another wedding planning top tip is fiind a wedding planning app that suits you.  They vary quite a lot. Charlotte loved using the BrideBook App.  It was an aide memoir to her natural organisational skills – and very handy if you like working on your phone.

Last Minute Wedding Planning Details

Whichever app you go for – there will always be a certain amount of ‘in person planning’.  The shopping restrictions meant that Charlotte had very few options. How can you choose your wedding dress if all the shops are shut?  Luckily, she fell in love with a dress at Exeter’s Bridal Emporium on her one and only visit! Although she had ordered it in December, it wasn’t until only 2 days before the actual wedding that she was able to do the final fitting! Yikes! For the bridesmaids, it was managed with online shopping / trying on / and sometimes, sending back. . .What else is a girl to do?


So – the dress was delivered.  The day arrived.  A beautiful outside ceremony took place under the natural green arches of Higher Holcombe’s unique willow ‘cathedral’.  I was so excited to see how the centuries-old tar barrel traditions of our local town, Ottery St Mary were so beautifully enmeshed.  It was really a rather wonderful twist of traditional meets bang up to date for a very special Devon wedding.

Thank you to Charlotte and Gav – Mr and Mrs White – for sharing your wedding planning top tips!

Photos by Dan Prettejohn

Caricaturist Sarah Baily Cartoons

Cake Sarah’s creations – Devon