Arrive by boat at new Norfolk wedding venue

A bride in a boat being rowed by a man

At the Woodyard at Worstead you can arrive for the wedding ceremony by boat - Credit: James Rouse Photography

Nestled within 300 acres of beautiful parkland, you couldn’t get a much more romantic setting for a wedding than new venue The Woodyard. 

A Georgian thatched barn and former sawmill on the Worstead Estate have undergone a complete transformation, creating a very different kind of buzz among couples eager to say ‘I do’ in an idyllic rural location.

There’s a walled garden and a lake – and you can make the ultimate entrance to your ceremony and arrive by rowing boat. 

A bride in a boat being rowed by a man

At the Woodyard at Worstead you can arrive for the wedding ceremony by boat - Credit: James Rouse Photography

The Paterson family has farmed the estate for three generations – it is now run by Gavin Paterson and his brothers.  

His grandfather travelled to Norfolk from Scotland by train, accompanied by his herd of cows, and ended up settling at Worstead as a tenant farmer. 

Gavin says that they first started talking about transforming the estate’s redundant sawmill into a wedding venue back in 2015. 

“I think we’ve always felt, and our father felt as well, that Worstead Park was something that should be public facing. It’s quite a special place with a man-made lake and a lime tree avenue,” he says. 

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With a vaulted ceiling, exposed brick walls and striking chandeliers, the Thatched Barn is the heart of The Woodyard and the perfect setting for a first dance. 

Wedding parties have exclusive use of The Woodyard at Worstead for three days

Wedding parties have exclusive use of The Woodyard at Worstead for three days - Credit: James Rouse Photography

The Mulberry Room, where the original sawmill was housed, is now a light and airy blank canvas which couples can turn into their own bespoke space – they could choose to say their vows there or use it to host the wedding breakfast. 

The newly restored Summerhouse and Lake Island creates an open-air space to say ‘I do’ - and there’s also the opportunity to arrive at the ceremony in You and I, a 1920s rowing boat. 

“We did an open day in 2018. When I did the tour I went down to the lake and I asked brides and grooms what they thought of the idea of arriving by boat,” says Gavin. 

“Everyone seemed to love it, so that’s when we decided that it needed to be a big part of what we are doing. It’s a good USP and also I think it gives the bride and her father, or whoever’s giving her away, a few quiet moments together without the hustle and bustle of having people around.  

“I think those sorts of moments can be quite special.” 

A bridge over a lake on the Worstead Estate, Norfolk

The grounds of the Worstead Estate have lots of beautiful locations for wedding photos - Credit: Contributed

The West Terrace is an ideal location for raising a glass of Champagne to toast the happy couple and the picturesque West Lawn can be used for garden games and group photographs 

And the centuries old Walled Garden could make an alternative venue for an outdoor ceremony. 

As Gavin explains, The Woodyard can be booked for exclusive use of the wedding party for three days and there is also lots of guest accommodation on site as well. 

“We can accommodate up to 31 people on the estate, some in the part and some close by, so you can make a weekend of it. 

“The Georgian Estate Cottage has been restored and turned into bridal accommodation. It has got its own walled garden, hot tub and log burner and is a great place to entertain guests the night before the wedding.”   

There is also Holly House, an eight-bedroom Grade II listed property a short drive from the wedding venue, which is also licensed for smaller ceremonies in the orangery and the cosy, thatched two-bedroom New Lane Cottage. 

Wedding venue The Woodyard on the Worstead Estate

A sawmill on the Worstead Estate has been transformed into wedding venue The Woodyard - Credit: Richard Jarmy Photography

When it came to renovating the sawmill, preserving the building’s charm was uppermost in their minds.  

They worked on the project with an interior designer, architect and builders who they had collaborated with on previous renovations on the estate. 

“We’ve tried to strike a balance with keeping some of the historic features and character, but obviously making sure that it’s got all the amenities that everyone expects from a wedding venue,” says Gavin. 

“It’s been added to and built over many years, probably hundreds of years, so it’s quite nice how it’s evolved over time and you can see how that arrived at the current building today.” 

Like any historic building, the team also quickly discovered that it had plenty of hidden quirks to surprise them. 

“Yes, loads, I don’t know where to start,” laughs Gavin.  

“The building doesn’t really have a square corner in it – it was a real challenge for our builders.  

“Even now you can see the roof is slightly on the skew and we’ve tried to keep some of that character.” 

They also wanted to make sure that it was as accessible as possible.  

“It’s on quite a slope so there’s a lot of different levels and we wanted to make it wheelchair friendly, so there are four lifts in various spots around the venue. 

“We had a really good interior designer called Kate Alston who helped us bring the character of the building out in some of the interior design elements,” says Gavin. 

“The architect was Rebecca Barringer, The Rural Architect, who has done a lot of work with us. 

“She’s very good at bringing contemporary elements into traditional buildings, she’s done a lot of barn conversions and has done some beautiful conversions of more industrial buildings for us in the past as well.  

“And we use Allard and Son builders. Again we’ve worked with them a lot.” 

Apart from temporary shortages of building materials, the pandemic didn’t cause too many delays to the project.  

Their first wedding of the year is scheduled for mid-April, with 14 booked so far for 2022 and 24 already in the diary for 2023. 

“Since Christmas we’ve probably had seven or eight bookings in a week. I think people are seeing the end of the pandemic and thinking ‘right, now I’m confident we can get married without interruption’,” says Gavin. 

As well as being excited to see their wedding venue open fully in the spring, Gavin is also looking forward to several other projects coming to fruition. 

The farm is carefully managed in order to provide a haven for nature as well as create local products, including Norfolk’s first Wagyu beef herd. 

They’ve just received planning permission to convert an old dairy unit and expand the facilities at their equestrian centre and they’re continuing their on-going project to convert domestic properties on the estate into holiday lets. 

And they’ll also be welcoming Wildcraft Brewery on to the estate. 

“We’re just finalising the interior of an old cow yard that we’ve converted,” he says.

“We already grow barley for them and we serve their maltings, the by-products from their process, to our Wagyu cattle, so the idea is that we’ll plant some hops as well, so they’ll be able to source everything they need from the estate and we’ll be able to benefit from the by-products of that process. 

“Hopefully we’ll be able to perhaps be able to brew some of our own white label beer that we’ll be able to market under the estate branding as well, so that’s quite an exciting prospect.” 

A showcase event is being held at The Woodyard on Saturday February 12 from 11am-3pm. To find out more and register visit worsteadestate.com