My husband and I first met Carol Milnes on a wintry day in January 2015. We'd travelled all the way from London to view Warwick Hall, the one wedding venue which stood out to us after many hours of online research. We wanted something natural and very beautiful, without being pretentious, as well as the freedom to enjoy a colourful weekend of festivities with one hundred and forty guests who were travelling from as far as Nigerian and New Zealand as well as across Europe. We wanted our families to stay at our chosen venue from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning and our guests to stay in nearby hotels. All of this was possible at Warwick Hall and Carol assured us that the grounds would be nothing short of magnificent for our wedding weekend in early October. We committed to the venue on that day and I'm so glad of it.
We sat with Carol for several hours discussing our wedding ideas which included the blending of my husband's Nigerian heritage with my New Zealand-European heritage in a creative cultural fusion. She was warm, real, resourceful and entirely un-phased by anything we requested. We wanted a welcome party for all guests on the Friday night with Prosecco, chunky canapes and a cash bar. We wanted our marriage blessing to take place at a small stone chapel near Warwick Hall and for guests to be transported back to the venue in coaches. We wanted a wedding banquet in the marquee followed by a Nigerian-style buffet and dancing in the evening. We wanted to bring creative collaboration from London. I wanted my fourteen bridesmaids to meet at Warwick Hall for hair and make-up on the morning of the wedding. My husband wanted his groomsmen in an apartment-style hotel near the venue. Nothing was a problem.
Later that day, Carol took us to various Carlisle hotels to ensure we approved before recommending them to our guests. She made group reservations with a discount code on the spot for which our guests were grateful closer to the date. She then introduced us to Tracy, her vibrantly confident and energetic business partner and owner of The Andalusian bar and restaurant in the centre of Carlisle, which you really must visit. Great relaxed vibe in a stylishly casual atmosphere with excellent service and fresh fine food cooked by Johnny, who also oversaw all food served to our wedding guests.
Our wedding banquet began with beautifully prepared antipasti platters and rustic bread. This proved a great success as guests passed and shared across the tables. This was followed by a main of New Zealand roast lamb with fresh rosemary, bowls of new buttery potatoes and seasonal vegetables, homemade gravy and sauces. The team served our chocolate and vanilla five-tier wedding cake as dessert, prepared in London by a wedding guest, with salted caramel sauce and raspberry coulis.
Our Nigerian-style feast included an abundance of spit-roasted pork as well as a selection of traditional fish and meat stews and jellof rice. While our Nigerian guests noted that the jellof wasn't quite traditional, everyone had second helpings and needed to rest before hitting the dance floor.
It is important to note that we did not visit Warwick Hall again before the wedding and dealt with Carol entirely by email for the next ten months. We had a very difficult year and were often late to respond. It must have been frustrating but she was gracious and patient and continued to work with what she had in front of her at all times. We are so grateful for that.
We arrived to a warm welcome from Carol at the venue on Thursday with our families to follow on Friday afternoon and the welcome party in the evening. Carol did not leave us unattended all weekend. She saw any need and met it, dealt with oversights, laughed and joked with family and guests, worked flawlessly with Tracey to ensure marvellous table service with their team, stayed until every guest had departed the wedding in the early hours and then ensured that our families were comfortable and happy as they departed before midday on Sunday.
It is now seven weeks since the wedding and we are still hearing from our guests. The general consensus is that it was the most stunningly beautiful, warm-hearted, unusual, embracing wedding they have ever attended. The food, the thoughtful care, the venue, Carol and Tracey, the little touches left our guests in awe. It seemed they experienced a little bit of heaven.
Thank you, Carol, for everything.
Damola & Suzanne Onadeko