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Winton Castle Weddings | Intimacy On A Grand Scale

Winton Castle Weddings are something special. With a bevvy of surprises just begging to be discovered, Winton Castle near Edinburgh hosts just a small number of exclusive weddings per year. If you’re seeking an intimate wedding venue on a grand scale, you need to shortlist Winton Castle and discover what’s in store for your one of a kind wedding.

Listen to Rae on the Wedding Espresso Awesome DIY Wedding Planning Podcast…


Rae Mcgonigle, Winton Castle


James [00:00:05] Hello Rae. 

Rae [00:00:07] Hello. 

James [00:00:08] Thank you so much for joining me. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show. 

Rae [00:00:10] Oh thank you very much. 

James [00:00:12] So you are Rae McGonigle and you are from Winton Castle. The thing I really, really, really want to talk to you today about is…

Winton Castle Weddings, intimacy on a grand scale.

And it’s one of my favourite things because I love that feeling of intimacy. I think that’s everything that we wanted for our wedding up in Inverness. We also wanted the grand scale so the chance to talk to you today about Winton Castle, I’m really excited. So let’s get stuck in. Winton Castle is a proper Scottish castle which we absolutely love. It’s an exclusive use wedding venue which is right up there on our list of important things. It’s also steeped in history. So do you want to just tell us a little bit about Winton Castle, its history and what brides and grooms can expect from the venue as a wedding venue. 

Rae [00:01:04] OK.

So the history kind of dates back to the 1400’s when the first castle actually stood here.

Not much of that castle remains. We have one room downstairs called the cellar. That’s the only bit of that original castle that is still standing, because it was burnt down in something called the “rough wooing”. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that? 

James [00:01:25] I’m not familiar with it. 

Rae [00:01:27] Yeah I’ll give you a brief idea and I’m sure if anyone’s into history I’ll probably get some of this wrong but never mind. So essentially King Henry VIII wanted his son Edward to marry Mary Queen of Scots. At the time she was an infant and her family obviously weren’t very happy with that idea. So they pretty much turned that down. Any family that was closely linked Mary Queen of Scott’s family was punished for that. This castle was owned by the Seton family. Mary Seton, when she was older was actually one of Mary Queen of Scots handmaidens. So that gives you an idea about how close the Seton family were actually to Mary Queen of Scots family.

King Henry VIII armies came up and they burnt Winton to the ground and left what is now our cellar.

The Seton family being persistent as they are, they built the 1620 half which I’m sitting in at the moment. And they built that on top of the ruin. So this back half of the castle 1620 Jacobin, decorated in the style of the French Renaissance. I don’t know if you can see, but there’s some amazing ceilings up there. 

James [00:02:38] Yeah it’s stunning, I could just see that poking out of the top there. 

Rae [00:02:42] And so the back half is probably the more intimate, cosy part for Winton Castle Weddings. And the Seton family unfortunately lost the castle after the Jacobean uprising. Because they where Jacobite supporters. And it was then bought over by the Hamilton Nisbet family who owned quite a lot of East Lothian at the time. And then they added on quite a large extension at the front which, if we wizz around right there, just through that door is the extension, through there. So that’s kind of our main dining room bar area and front hall. So the rooms through that side are much more open. More reception areas, a lot more people can sit in there.

And the Hamilton Nisbet family married into the Ogilvy family who are the current owners. So they actually live on one half of the castle, and we have use of the other. So it’s kind of a semi-detached house kind of scenario. 

Rae [00:03:36] But our unique selling point is that because it is a family home, we kind of piggyback off of that family home feel, which is where the intimacy comes from. So it feels lived in and there’s constantly housekeepers kind of keeping it up to date. The owner Sir Francis Ogilvy does actually work in property himself. Anything that we make on the events goes straight back into the building.

Quite a lot of the time, every couple of years there will be like a big refurbishment project. The most recent was the bridal suite, that was redone two or three years ago now. So it’s just kind of constantly evolving. The next project is to add two more bedrooms in as well. So at the moment we’ve got eight bedrooms, but we’d like to get up to that magical number of 10. So hopefully in the next couple of years that’ll happen. 

But yeah back to the family home feel. Frances and Dorothy, they love the fact that people use the castle.

Obviously it’s far too big for them, they’re a family of six. But there’s no chance that they can make use of these rooms. So it was about 15 years ago that Frances decided to open up the castle for exclusive use events, and he just loves the fact that it’s used. And although they don’t really get involved with the planning Winton Castle Weddings, which some of us might say is a good thing. Quite often when the weddings been and they’re having breakfast the next morning, he’ll come in and just say hi to them, and see how everything was. 

James [00:05:11] Oh lovely, yeah. 

Rae [00:05:11]

They still get a touch of that family home feel like “welcome to my castle” and just checking that everything was all right.

But another unique thing is that the team that works here, myself included, we’ve been here for such a long time. So I actually grew up on the estate. I started working here when I was 14 years old. So that’s 18 years now that I’ve kind of done different jobs and I’ve been in the role of Wedding Manager now for nine years.

So we’ve got a vested interest in the property, it’s not just a venue that we work in. It’s almost like a second home for me. I know about the history. I’ve got my own history here. So when we’re selling it there’s a lot more personality to it. So we just try and get that family home feel throughout the process. The fact that it is a family home, the fact that most of the staff are pretty much from here, and see it as a second home themselves. 

Rae [00:06:11]

Another thing that we do is that we only do 20 weddings in a year.

And we’re quite unique in that sense. And there’s actually three reasons why we do this. Because it is a family home, we obviously have to maintain that balance between a home and a business. We don’t want the Ogilvy’s to feel like they live in a wedding factory as such. So that’s one of the reasons we do it. But it’s kind of a best of both worlds for everybody, the fact that we do limit it, because as you can probably see behind me, there’s quite a lot of old antique furniture.

We’ve got a library just through the door behind me there. Books dating back to 120 years, very old.

And we want to be able to offer the venue as the full package. So if people want to pick up the books and read them, they’re very welcome to. When people want to sit on the furniture, that’s absolutely fine. We don’t have any don’t touch or don’t sit on signs on anything. It’s here to be used as a home, it’s not a museum. So if you can imagine if we had a wedding every week, it would start to take it’s toll. 

James [00:07:19] Yes, yes. Absolutely. I can see it starting to be difficult.The stress on the system, I can understand that. 

Rae [00:07:25] Yeah. So that’s another big reason that we we limit it to the 20. And also just for the couple, it offers much more of a personal service, a lot more flexibility. So we get to know our couples quite well. So on the day itself we’ve probably met them a good two or three times. Probably met most their family already as well. At menu tastings. So when they actually arrive for the weekend, they see whoever has taken their booking from the first initial inquiry, right through. We don’t pass it over at any point to somebody else to run it.

We do everything right through to sending them off, waving them off the next day at the door.

So it just means that they trust us, they can relax, they know that everything’s in hand when they arrive. So yeah those are the three reasons why we do the 20 weddings a year. 

James [00:08:19] Yeah I think I can totally understand why you’re focussed on intimacy and what it means to you. Because it’s really, really clear that you know intimacy is there at every single level of what you offer. 

Rae [00:08:30]

Yeah we’ve got the intimate side but also we do have a genuine castle here.

So we can get up to 100 for a ceremony and dinner in the dining room. We can also offer the option of doing 140 dining in the castle, but for that we do have to split over three rooms. So some people automatically go “oh gosh, no I don’t like that idea”. Because they want everyone in the same room together. But we usually do about three or four weddings a year that are quite happy actually to split over the rooms. And we’ve had it where the bride and groom have just kind of done… 

James [00:09:08] Absolutely, hovering between the rooms. 

Rae [00:09:11] Exactly. So they’ll have the starter in one room, the main in the other and end with the dessert in the third room. So none of the rooms kind of feel like they’ve been left out as such.

And because it’s an exclusive use venue, and all the rooms kind of lead into each other, you just get a bit of a host party vibe.

So yeah we’ve done it quite a few times as I said, and we don’t ever feel like it has a weird atmosphere, when we do it. It’s done quite well in my opinion. But we also have the option of doing marquees outside and everything like that, so we can kind of do numbers up to 250.

So yeah we can do intimate affairs, so I think the smallest wedding we’ve done was 13 people. So they took the castle and all the bedrooms, and just kind of had a really nice chilled family, intimate Winton Castle Wedding. And then the biggest one that I’ve done in the last couple years was 180. So that was a wedding ceremony and meal out in the marquee, drinks reception in the evening in the castle. So we can do the small things, we can do the big things. We’re pretty flexible. 

James [00:10:20] And thank the heavens that people aren’t roaming the countryside burning these places down now, because that would be awful, thankfully things have changed. Things have changed a lot over the years.

So when couples come to see you then, what do they typically go “wow I love this”. What is it that gets them really excited?

Rae [00:10:38] The first one is probably the Octagon Hall which is the room just kind of that direction to here, so that is part of the Hamilton Nisbet’s extension from the 1800’s. It was refurbished five years ago. So I don’t know… I can probably take you through if you want to see it? 

James [00:10:58] Hee hee, shall we go have a look. Would that work? OK. Why not.

Rae [00:11:00] So this was redone five years ago. So as you can see it’s a beautiful octagonal room. We’ve got a cupular up there. And if I turn around, you can actually see the original stone of the older half of the castle. So I don’t know if you can see the door down there? That was one of the original front doors of the castle, before the extension was added. And that’s our new bar area.

So quite often when people come into the Octagon Hall, that’s the first wow because it’s an unusual shape, and the way that the Ogilvy’s re-did it, when they refurbished it, brought a bit more of the castle element back in with the natural stone that we found. 

Rae [00:11:52] The second one would be the bridal suite. So as I said that’s one that we just did about two or three years ago. And similarly they tried to get quite a lot of the exposed stonework back in there and then they added in an en suite bathroom shower room into that room as well. Which is fairly large so guaranteed if I’m ever showing a couple round from London, that the words every one of the mutters is “this is bigger than my flat”. 

James [00:12:22] I can almost picture it, yes. 

Rae [00:12:25] But yeah that’s probably the second wow but to be honest, I don’t think we’ve got any room that doesn’t have a little bit of a wow factor to it. So that’s quite good. 

James [00:12:36] I mean even the grounds, I think the setting is wow, isn’t it? Yeah, fantastic. 

Rae [00:12:43] Well the garden is just on the side of me here. We’ve got a balcony that looks out onto the terrace gardens.

So there’s three different layers that lead down to a loch that we actually added about 18 years ago.

So it’s a handmade loch. But it’s fed by the river Tyne that runs just behind it. And the story behind that was that Francis was in his kitchen one day when it was just a field and the Tyne had flooded into the fields, and he looked down and thought it looks quite nice. So he put in a loch. That’s quite a popular photo spot down there. So there’s a nice pier that juts out onto that. 

James [00:13:19] Yes I’ve seen the photos they look incredible. Magic! So couples then, what sort of questions do they normally have for you? What are they asking? 

Rae [00:13:31] It’s usually food and drink. Yeah that’s probably the main question that they ask. And also about accommodation. So the more practical questions. I usually add in history of the castle as I go. But to be honest that’s not really why they’re here most the time. They want to know about the food, the drink and accommodation.

So accommodation wise we’ve obviously got the eight bedrooms in the castle, hopefully becoming 10 shortly.

We also have three self catering houses on the estate. So in total we can sleep 56. 

James [00:14:05] That’s a good number, that’s a really good number. 

Rae [00:14:08] Yes. So it’s usually more than half of the guest numbers for most of the weddings that we do. Because most of our weddings are usually about 80 to 100 people. So more than half can stay on the estate itself. 

James [00:14:19] And to be fair you’re not actually that far from Edinburgh are you? So options are plentiful. 

Rae [00:14:24] Exactly. Yeah I mean most of them, if they don’t have people staying here,

because we are so close to Edinburgh, it’s a half hour coach ride straight back into Edinburgh city centre after the wedding, so not far at all.

Exactly. And then food and drink wise, yeah, obviously it’s very important for people to kind of know the scenario there. So again we’re kind of unique in the way that we work with the catering side of things here. So we do work with three caterers. They range from kind of your restaurant quality, bordering on fine dining, right through to your more rustic kind of sharing boards. We can you can do hog roasts on buffets and that kind of thing. 

Rae [00:15:05] But the way that we work is slightly different from other venues that use outdoor caterers. So a lot of places will essentially bring the catering to run the event for you. So they’ll manage it, they’ll provide all the staff, they’ll do the food and that kind of thing.

Here we like to keep quite tight control of the staffing of it, again because it is the family home. We prefer people to know the venue and to kind of have a link to the venue.

So our caterers will bring in the chef, they’ll bring in the food. But all of the staff and the event managers are our own, so they’re in-house. So when I’m not actually hosting a wedding, quite often I’m ops managing it for one of the other weddings managers. And vice versa, so they’ll do that for me. And again it just means that if people want to ask questions about the history of the castle, they can ask any member of staff and they’ll be able to kind of tell them a bit about the castle itself. So yeah you’ve got the flexibility of having the choice of caterers and what style you like, but you also have that benefit of staff who know the venue and know about the history of it as well. 

James [00:16:14]

So just to put you on the hot spot then, what’s the most surprising thing that’s ever happened to you at a wedding at Winton Castle? 

Rae [00:16:21] Gosh I don’t think I’ve ever been surprised on the day. 

James [00:16:26] That’s a good sign.

Rae [00:16:27] I’ve had some funny requests. So we’ve had quite a few people bring horses along. Which is great. However I am highly allergic to horses. I cannot go near them. 

James [00:16:42] Had they informed you prior or was this just a surprise? 

Rae [00:16:44] They did ask permission and that was fine. We did have a wedding actually in May, who were staying two nights. And on the Friday night, the fire alarm went off, just before bed time. We had the fire brigade out but they got some really great photos with the fire engine. That was a bit of a story to tell after that wedding. So luckily it wasn’t on the day itself, it was just when the overnight guests were staying. And luckily they were all quite… 

James [00:17:20] Make an event out of it. 

Rae [00:17:21] Yeah. Yeah. They made the most of it. And I think that was just a case of soot from a chimney. I think it got into one of the sensors. We’ve had a few interesting ideas.

So I did a wedding last December where the groom’s family actually built a chalet, because the Bride was German and the groom was Scottish.

So they built a German style chalet like the ones that you get at Christmas Markets. They built that on our Peacock balcony. And we were serving mulled wine and hot chocolate from inside the chalet. 

James [00:17:59] That’s very unique. That’s cool. I like it. 

Rae [00:18:00] Yeah it’s a shame we didn’t keep the chalet but never mind. 

James [00:18:06] Sort of wheel it into the stock room and pull it back out when you need it. 

Rae [00:18:09] Exactly and we also do quite a lot of fireworks out along the balcony at the back. That’s obviously a really nice addition to put in. But yeah I think those are probably the most different. 

James [00:18:23] It’s a good mix. So brilliant. Just before, because we’re running out of time here. But just before we go, do you have any planning tips that you can share with brides and grooms who are currently planning their Winton Castle Weddings or weddings at other venues? 

Rae [00:18:38] Do everything in good time. Write lists, take lots of notes.

It’s always helpful these days to have a wedding website. I know these are just taking off. But we’ve had quite a few weddings who’ve had them, and we’ve been given access to them.

And for things like getting RSVPs back, if you’ve got a choice menu, it’s so much easier just for your guests to go on your website and choose your menu. That saves you from chasing people by phone or by email individually. So yeah I think if you are at all techie, in that you can make a website, I would definitely recommend doing that. But try and be relatively organised and if you do have a venue like us who will do a lot for you, just make sure that you keep them in the loop about everything, so that there aren’t any kind of surprises on the day that aren’t expected. And enjoy it. 

James [00:19:43] Best tip of all that, isn’t it. Enjoy it.

Rae [00:19:46]

It’s a once in a lifetime hopefully experience. So make the most of it.

If you’re getting stressed, ask why you’re getting stressed. And maybe the thing that you’re getting stressed about you should maybe try and resolve in a less stressful way. 

James [00:20:01] And it’s probably something really small, if you actually boil down to it’s probably something really insignificant that you could just cross off the list. 

Rae [00:20:07] Exactly. You’re making mountains out of molehills and things like that. Yeah just keep everything in perspective. 

James [00:20:14] Brilliant. Well Rae thank you so much for sharing with us today and the virtual tour. I really enjoyed it. Never had one of those before, so that’s a special for today. Yeah and if anybody wanted to grab any more information on Winton Castle where would they go to find it?

Rae [00:20:34] You can go to our website that’s www.wintoncastle.co.uk and on there there’s pages for weddings, there’s pages for the self catering accommodation. They’ve got their own pages. And there’s also pages about activities.

So we also do quite a lot stag and hen groups as well. So we do clay pigeon shooting, Highland Games, that kind of thing.

Yes that’s a one stop shop, the website. 

James [00:20:58] Excellent stuff. Right well Rae thanks again so much for sparing the time to share that with us. I really, really appreciate it, it’s been lovely to have you. Yeah maybe we can catch up in the future and see how you guys are getting on and all the exciting weddings that you’re having. 

Rae [00:21:11] Yeah and if you’re ever in East Lothian, pop in. 

James [00:21:14] Yeah we’ll pop in for a coffee, that would be awesome. We’re always up in Scotland so why not, we’ll just do it on the drive up. Brilliant Rae, thank you so much. 

Rae [00:21:23] You’re welcome. 

James [00:21:24] We’ll speak to you soon. Take care. 

Rae [00:21:26] Thanks James. Cheers, bye.

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  • Reply
    October 11, 2019 at 10:47 am

    It was great to speak to you James and thanks for your time. If you’re ever up in East Lothian pop in and say hi.
    Rae 🙂

    • Reply
      James Pearson
      October 11, 2019 at 10:52 am

      Thanks so much Rae, this was absolutely great! We’ll absolutely pop in to see you when we’re next up in the East Lothian area… the Edinburgh Christmas Market is calling 🙂 Thanks again and speak soon! 🙂

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