are some place names that instantly evoke an image in your mind and Gretna
Green is definitely one of them for me.
Ever since I read my first Georgette Heyer books, some of which feature
elopements across the border, I had a picture in my mind of the place where
such clandestine marriages were performed.
However, it doesn’t quite correspond to the reality …
went to Gretna Green about twenty-five years ago on a very bleak and rainy autumn
day. My husband and I had been on a
week’s holiday in Scotland and on the way home I insisted we stop at
Gretna. Having read so much about this
romantic location, I just had to see it for myself, but I was sorely
disappointed. The blacksmith’s shop itself
was sort of the way I’d imagined it, but the surrounding buildings had been
turned into a tourist attraction and all I remember of that visit are busloads
of people milling around and shops selling tartan. I went home thoroughly disillusioned.
forward to the present - last week I happened to be in that area again,
visiting a friend in Dumfries and I thought I’d take the opportunity to go and
see whether things had changed in Gretna.
I figured perhaps I’d been a bit harsh in my judgement all those years
ago. Also, last time I went, I wasn’t an
author, and I wondered whether I could now recapture more of the romance by
using my imagination a bit better. Fortunately,
this turned out to be the case.
it’s still very “touristy”, I really enjoyed my visit this time. In my mind’s eye, I stripped away all the
shops, souvenirs and people and imagined myself as a runaway heiress, arriving
in Gretna after a long and no doubt nerve-racking drive north, my irate father
or brother hot on our heels. The old
smithy (situated in the rooms which now house the exhibition that tells the
story of the marriages) would have seemed like a very welcome haven, and after
a hurried ceremony performed by the blacksmith, I could see myself and my new
husband staggering to the nearest inn to celebrate. The relief of success would have been
sweet! Or perhaps I’d wake the next day
to a mountain of regrets and a lover who’d only wanted me for my money? Either way, I’m sure I would never forget the
place where it all happened.
weather was lovely, bathing the buildings in sunshine and dispelling some of
the gloom I’d encountered last time. I
enjoyed wandering round the exhibition, reading all about how these marriages
first began after the 1754 Marriage Act was introduced. The strict laws this brought scuppered many
plans and it’s no wonder young couples in love chose to defy everyone and run
away to Scotland, where a marriage by ‘handfasting’ (declaring your intent to
wed in front of two witnesses) remained legal until 1940. I was amused to see no less than three
anvils, although the one in this photo claimed to be the original Gretna
anvil. And although you have to marry at
the registry office first these days, there are still ceremonies performed in
the blacksmith’s shop, as I saw firsthand.
A bride wandered around outside while a piper, complete with kilt and
bearskin hat (!), played the bagpipes.
It felt very special and I almost regretted my own conventional marriage
in a church.
all, I came away feeling much happier and I’ll now be able to use this location
in my stories, should I need it, because I can imagine it as it once was.
there any places you’ve visited, which completely ruined your imagined picture
of them? Or others that were just as
you’d thought they would be? I’d love to
Labels: anvil, clandestine marriages, Gretna Green, handfasting, marriage laws, Old Smithy, runaway brides