A stone castle on the precipice of sheer cliffs overlooking a harsh cold ocean. The relentlessly pounding winds roll across the emerald green fields as the birds above need not flap their wings- simply redirect the winds to their advantage much like the castle redirects the landscape to its own. Situated in the northern reaches of Scotland, Wick is a small city whose Ackergill Castle has always occupied my mind’s eye for what Scotland would look like. It is only on arriving and seeing it for the first time did imagination and reality intersect for me. I couldn’t dream up a better backdrop for the wedding of our friends Brandon and Rachel.
Mandy has known Rachel since they were little kids and I honestly look at Rachel as family to Mandy. I had the distinct pleasure of staying with Rachel and Brandon for a few days when I was visiting in Phoenix. I had no doubts up to that point that it was to be a successful marriage, but watching them interact with each other just days before their wedding when knee deep in planning and stress really drove home how perfect they were for each other. Being around them has a calming effect and I was so eager to watch them take this next big step in their relationship. The longer I have known them the fonder I become of them individually and as a couple – I can’t wait to see where life takes them.
The venue for the wedding, Ackergill Castle was built in the early 16th century and was owned by one of the powerful clans of northern Scotland. The most famous story of Ackergill is about a young woman Helen Gunn, who was abducted by the castle owner at the time John Keith for her beauty. She fled in the castle and flung herself from the highest tower to her death to escape her abductors advances. Supposedly her ghost is still seen. This abduction and suicide is said to have kicked off a feud between the Gunn family and the Keiths leading to the Battle of the Champions which ended in a massacre of the Gunns by the Keiths just to the east of the village. The Keiths castle was subsequently destroyed and you can still see the castle foundations if you stroll just a few miles down the coastline. To stay in a place with so much history just added to our wedding experience and sharing it with our friends made it all the more distinct.
We spent the weekend at the castle along with the rest of the wedding party. I love weddings where everyone stays together on the same property because the amount of time you get to spend with not only the bride and groom, but the other guests leads to a closeness not possible in a typical wedding format. The weekend was filled with festive activities. Cocktail hours, tea time, the rehearsal dinner, karaoke, archery, target practice, the Caber toss, and an outing into town – it was a constant party. I felt like I was at an adult camp with all my best friends - I wish I could do it all over again. Brandon and Rachel had a beautiful outdoor ceremony where the clouds literally parted and the sun shined down on the event – a rare occurrence that weekend. The reception went late into the night with plenty of dancing and no shortage of drinking. The scene was so perfect I had to take a few breaks from the action and walk out to the cliffs edge, gaze over the water and reflect on how lucky I was to be there for such a beautiful event. As the party died down and the staff took their leave, they made us a bonfire and supplied us with plenty of booze and smores – enough to last into the morning. I will never forget that scene. The bonfire burning with friends gathered around, music playing and the ocean as a backdrop. The grey sky never turned black and the sun’s presence was felt just over the horizon until it began to rise again in the morning. I went to bed late that night knowing I had gained some memories I would always hold onto.
Beauty is a funny thing in that it comes in so many forms. I found Ackergill Castle all the more beautiful for its powerful and at times harsh environment. Incomparable to a serene tropical beach, or to a sunny mountain pass, the beauty here was more complex in that the conflict between an unforgiving environment and a stunning landscape served to accentuate the wonder of adaptation and of nature’s ability to sprout beauty in all places. To focus too much on the beauty of bright colors and sunshine misses an opportunity to appreciate the full spectrum of natural beauty and human existence. A grey sky over a dark blue ocean and a sun that refuses to fully drop below the horizon belies a different human experience – one of endurance. The inherent light in endurance is like the summer sun that never quite sets in the northern reaches and what we all wish for in a marriage. // Jeff