What is a fairy-tale wedding? For the owners of Branxholm Park House in the Scottish Borders, it’s what they offer guests every time they visit, says Nik Hunter.

For Deb and David Knaggs, the goal was always to live in a big country house. However, to sustain a family in today’s fast-paced world, they both ended up working in sales and living in suburbia.

With a passion for the past, Deb studied English and Victorian literature at university while David studied history. “We had always thought it would be nice to ditch the day job and live in the countryside in a big house and eventually we decided to see if it was possible,” Deb recalls, admitting that the couple spent several years looking for a property.

Country Lifestyle Scotland: Brankholm Park House.Brankholm Park House. (Image: Newsquest)

“Some we really liked, some we offered on and didn’t get, and then we were so glad we didn’t because we found Branxholm.”

... everyone in the wedding party gets the Branxholm treatment whatever their age, and four-legged friends are welcome too.

For Deb, Branxholm really was meant to be. “There was a set of Victorian illustrations by Richard Doyle which I fell in love with as a child,” she explains. “He was a Victorian artist who drew for Punch magazine, but he also did some fairy illustrations which became quite famous.

“Andrew Lang, a Victorian author, took these illustrations and turned them into a fairy tale. He was also the uncle of the children who were living at Branxholm Park when the house was built. Andrew fell in love with the grounds at Branxholm and dedicated his book, The Princess Nobody: A Tale of Fairyland to the children.

“Inside the book there’s a poem dedicating it to Branxholm Park. Knowing Branxholm was linked with my favourite pictures when we saw it on the market, we just had to view it.”

Situated near Hawick in the Scottish Borders, Branxholm originally belonged to the Duke of Buccleuch. It was built in 1878 and had been rented out for much of its life. However, when Deb and David viewed, it had been empty since its last tenant, the managing director of knitwear company Pringle.

“Being Scandinavian, he had it all stripped and whitewashed, but it was still a gorgeous, romantic, Victorian country house. It hadn’t been lived in for years and it was like it was asleep akin to Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

“We just thought ‘we’ve got to wake this up’ and it’s been an absolute delight doing it.”

The couple bought the house 15 years ago and haven’t stopped since they walked through the door. “When you have so many rooms, so much space and such large gardens, it never stops,” says Deb.

... everyone in the wedding party gets the Branxholm treatment whatever their age, and four-legged friends are welcome too.

“Within six months we were living in the wing which is the old servants’ quarters and then the house started to develop. We opened up the servants’ rooms in the attic, converted the basement to create more social spaces and did more work outside.”

As an artist with a fascination for interior design and a love of travel, Deb wanted to ensure that Branxholm was a wedding venue like no other. “We’ve purposely gone out of our way to make sure the entire property is unique.”

The evolution was gradual with inspiration taken from an interesting piece of furniture, a sample of wallpaper or some beautiful fabric. “From a bed or a French settee we loved, we’d take a room and work from there.”

Deb and David also do all the decorating work themselves. “We hang every piece of wallpaper and curtain and paint every wall,” she points out. “Everything has been handmade and it’s just so much better than my old sales job. We both work six days a week here and it’s such a pleasure.”

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The couple’s initial plans were to use the house as an exclusive-use holiday let but guests soon started asking if they could hold their weddings at Branxholm.

“Guests asked and we said yes, so we launched a wedding package like no other,” notes Deb. “It’s a three-day holiday: Branxholm is all yours and you have an all-inclusive wedding. Everything is done on the premises for you for one price and it’s BYOB so no scary bar prices either.”

There are various options as to where to host the actual nuptials – inside or out – but it’s not only the newlyweds that Deb and David go all out for. Everyone in the wedding party gets the Branxholm treatment whatever their age – and
four-legged friends are welcome too.

“We put in an adventure playground, a castle, tennis courts, and the children can use the outdoor hot tub under supervision,” says Deb. “However, we also have an adult escape zone with a hot tub, spa, gym, and a cabin with a water massage bed. And, of course, there’s a pretend pub and a karaoke room!

Meanwhile, there are plenty spaces in which guests can congregate, too. There’s a charming BBQ hut, a storytellers’ circle with its giant 12ft chair, a fire pit area with swing gazebo seats and the loggia, which is an inside/outside room.

“The idea for the loggia came from a restaurant in London,” explains Deb. “It’s a bit like a pagoda that you can eat under. It has a roof with plants and fairy lights climbing up the side and, of course, like we do in all the outside areas, we provide throws, rugs, cushions and pashminas to keep everyone cosy.”

Branxholm is continually evolving but living in the wings of such an amazing place does the fairy dust ever wear off? For Deb and David, it hasn’t so far. “When there are no guests, I often sneak into the red bedroom, run a bubble bath and luxuriate in it with all the fairy lights twinkling outside. It’s truly magical. It really is like a fairy tale.”