Sunday, 4 August 2013

GRETNA



For the last 21 months and a bit I have been blogging my way around the coast of Scotland - 6,000 miles of it, including all the islands and sea lochs of the west coast - and I have finally arrived back at the border with England.  The Solway Firth gradually narrows after Annan until by the time it reaches Gretna it effectively becomes the mouth of the River Esk.  Gretna used to be a customs post in the days when England and Scotland were two separate countries, the main purpose of which was to collect taxes on the cattle crossing the border.  Near the town is the Lochmaben Stone, a megalith which was an established meeting place on the border.

Just to the north of Gretna is Gretna Green, which is famous throughout the world for its role as a place where eloping couples could go to get married.  It all came about as a result of Scotland's relatively lax rules for the age at which a couple could marry compared with its next-door neighbour.  Marriages were conducted at the Blacksmith's Shop, with the blacksmith's anvil as the focal point of the ceremony.  There used to be a rule that a couple had to have been on the Scottish side of the border for 21 days before a marriage could be declared legal.  In 1930 one Helen Sefton-Toms went to Gretna Green from London to get married, but the marriage took place shortly after her arrival, breaking the 21-day rule.  The marriage was declared null and void by a London court, which was rather unfortunate for Sefton-Toms since she had a £200,000 fortune riding on the legality of the marriage.  However, the repeated attempts to deter the elopements did not have the desired effect: in 1938 it was reported in the Glasgow Herald that "the advent of legislation to stop irregular marriages of the Gretna Green type in Scotland has apparently served to stimulate English interest in them".  The weddings were finally declared illegal altogether in 1940, and this continued until 1985.  Today, however, the appeal of a Gretna Green wedding has been revived, with around 4,500 weddings taking place each year.  There are several venues in the Gretna Green area offering a range of wedding packages for couples who want something a bit different. 

Map of the area. 

File:Old Blacksmiths Shop, Gretna Green - geograph.org.uk - 573063.jpg
Photo by Alexander P Kapp, via Wikimedia Commons

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