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March, 2015

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We were married at Gretna Green in 1979. Thirty Six years later we returned to rekindle happy memories and learn more about this picturesque area.

Gretna nestles in the southern Scottish hills in the county of Dumfries and Galloway – known for its spectacular coastline, great forests, and historical towns. Gretna, just minutes from the English/Scots border is a perfect base for exploring southern Scotland and beyond. It is known as The Gateway to Scotland.

Gretna’s Blacksmiths Shop made Gretna famous! The Blacksmiths shop has stood in the centre of Gretna Green since 1712 but it is its association with clandestine marriages that brought Gretna worldwide attention.

In 1756 the tightening of English marriage laws made Gretna Green in Scotland a destination for runaway marriages. The new English marriage laws meant marriage could only be conducted in a church for those over 21 without parental consent, whilst in Scotland marriage could take place, on the spot, for anyone over 16 without consent.

Those unable to meet English marriage law requirements travelled to Scotland, quite often these were people whose family objected to the marriage and so would not consent. Gretna, minutes across the border was the first Scottish town the runaways reached. The Blacksmiths Shop located beside five coaching roads was the first building they reached and the Blacksmith the first person they met. Often with relatives in pursuit, the need for quickness, meant the Blacksmith conducted the marriage. It has been said the marriage was similar to the metal forged – brought together in the heat of the moment, bound together for ever When the hammer was brought down on the anvil the marriage was sealed.

Controversy over clandestine marriages meant the introduction of further laws which created difficulty for runaways, such as the need to live in Scotland for 21 days before marriage, this was eventually repealed. Then anvil marriages became unlawful, then lawful again. Now the Blacksmiths shop is one of Britain’s most popular wedding venues, more for its history than for clandestine marriages today.

Today The Blacksmiths shop is a popular visitor centre, housed in the original ancient buildings. Its varied attractions provide an interesting visitor experience. There is the original Blacksmiths Cottage, Forge, The Repentance Stone, The marriage room to explore. The Gretna story is an excellent exhibition. Superb varied shopping facilities for the discerning shopper. An interesting Courtship Maze, A sculpture park, a large, spacious, modern restaurant offering traditional Scottish Food. There is good car parking facilities provided by the venue, Gretna railway station is just minutes away.

When we married in the 1970’s the laws at that time meant we were married at Gretna Registry office and had our marriage blessed at the anvil at The Blacksmiths Forge so revisiting it was a must. The original cottage and Forge remains as it was centuries ago. The low ceilings, clay walls and winding passageways add to the unique emotional atmosphere of this building. There is a saying “if walls could talk what tales they could tell”, well here it is as if they can talk, visitor can feel and almost hear the history through the emotionally charged atmosphere. The living room and bedroom are furnished in early 19th century style.

The Gretna Story Exhibition (charges £3.50 adult £2.75 concession, children free) is a fascinating and wonderful exhibition which so clearly tells the story of The Blacksmith Shop and the people who married there. There is a good insight into social history, with the difficulties of clandestine marriages in the 1800’s compared to the same in the 1950’s and 1960’s. There are photographs, pictures, documents, marriage licences, wedding outfits to view, as well as the history of English and Scottish marriage laws.

We then visited the lovely Coaching House, filled with beautiful colourful, perfectly restored and maintained carriages.

We enjoyed the Courtship Maze (admission £2 ) Measuring 70m x 40 metres this stone maze adorned with inspirational and romantic messages is in the shape of two interlocking wedding bands with a central bridge. Couples can see one another but the aim is to ascertain how long it takes to meet up.

The ancient black and white cottages which form this visitor centre are in a square with a central courtyard which is also known as The Sculpture Park, here romantic sculptures, potted plants and garden seating provide a nice place to sit and relax.

My husband enjoyed browsing The Whisky Shop known for its rare whisky’s, extensive range of malts, blends and liquers. There is a fabulous clothing shop selling quality brands,, a lovely food hall selling quality Scottish products, a hamper and gift shop as well as smaller shops. We rounded off our visit by a visit to The Blacksmiths Restaurant which provided us with a rather nice and welcome light lunch at a competitive price.

After leaving The Blacksmiths Shop, we travelled a few minutes to Gretna Gateway Village which is located on the edge of Gretna where the huge range of Brand outlet stores kept me occupied for hours. (there are cafes provided to refuel!)

Our stay in Gretna also included a trip to the Devils Porridge Museum a war museum illustrating Gretna’s involvement in the first world war by telling the story of HM Factory Gretna built to manufacture Cordite to be used as ammunition in the trenches in the first world war. The factory which stretched 9 miles by 2 miles straddled the English/Scots border, and employed thousands of people. I have written a separate review of this attraction

We enjoyed the countryside, Gretna is situated at the mouth of the River Esk and is surrounded by picturesque rolling hills.

The Gretna area is well served with hotels and self catering accommodation. We stayed at the 3 star Gretna Hall Hotel, because it was here that we had stayed when we married and because it is so close to all the attractions.

Gretna is certainly a good gateway to Scotland but it is worth pausing and staying a while at this gateway, it is a small town but has a lot to offer.

My separate reviews include:
“The Gretna Hall Hotel”:
“The Devils Porridge Museum”:

Pamela Walker

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