BACK in the 18th century, the village of Gretna Green was Britain’s Las Vegas – and the smithy there its Little White Wedding Chapel. Some of that buzz still endures. Last year’s leap year even saw a wedding surge that made Scotland's mini wedding capital break its record for Valentine’s Day weddings.

“I am going to Gretna Green,” wrote Lydia Bennett to her friend Harriet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, “and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton for there is just one man in the world I love, and he is an angel. I should never be happy without him, so think it no harm to be off. You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater, when I write to them and sign my name 'Lydia Wickham.' What a good joke it will be!”

READ MORE: Valentine's Day: Scotland's most romantic local walks

Though it’s been centuries since any English couple had to gallop across the border into Scotland in order to be wed by the smithy at Gretna Green, its allure as a place for rebel lovers endures. It’s as if we can’t, whether Scottish or English, throw off the idea that a proper passionate love story is one that is against the odds, Romeo and Juliet style. It also doesn’t help that Jane Austen, writer of some of the most loved romantic novels of all time, put Gretna Green in several of her books – and that even Bridgerton gives the village a mention.

There will be no weddings in Gretna Green this Valentine’s Day – though that has nothing to do with the popularity of the town as a destination for couples set on basking in the history and aftervibe of generations of lovers who fled there to tie the knot, against the approval of parents, and to escape English law. This year, of course, it's Covid-19 that has stamped its restrictions, and put the barriers up between true love.

Gretna Green, and its famous blacksmith’s became the focus of mass elopement, after, in 1754, changes were made to the marriage laws requiring those under 21 to have parental approval. In Scotland, there were no such restrictions – and boys over the age of 14 and girls over the age of twelve were allowed to marry without parental consent, provided they were not close relatives or in a relationship with a third party.


The idea of young lovers on the run might sound romantic – but not all the stories turned out well for the young women. There are examples of weddings which show them to be little more than abductions. In 1826, widower, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, kidnapped 15-year-old Cheshire heiress, Ellen Turner, spiriting her away from school by saying her mother was unwell and that he was required to take her to Kendal to meet her father, but instead taking her to Gretna to marry.

It’s extraordinary to think that it was not until 1929 that the minimum age for a girl to marry in Scotland was raised from twelve to 16.

Scottish beauty spot revealed as UK's most romantic place