Get me to Alton Towers on time

Farewell register office, hello theme park. From April, you can choose the venue of your dreams to tie the knot, says Sophia Chauchard- Stuart. And (right) Asda has its own ideas about finding your mate
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The Independent Culture
Why not say your wedding vows in the gothic splendour of Oakley Court Hotel in Windsor where The Rocky Horror Show and the Hammer House of Horror films were filmed? Or pledge your troth at Newstead Abbey in Northamptonshire, swooning among the Japanese gardens and tangled monastic ruins of Lord Byron's family seat. Well, from 1 April you can.

Under the Marriage Act, 1994, civil weddings can leave the factory line of register offices and be conducted in any venue of your choice, provided it is approved by the local authority.

The delicious decadence of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton is already set to be a hot favourite for weddings, and many stately homes and hotels are anxious to cash in on the new rules. In August, the National Trust is planning to release a comprehensive list of their properties that will be allowed to officiate wedding ceremonies. But there's bad news for those who want to tie the knot in a Victorian folly. The Landmark Trust, which restores and administrates most follies in the UK, is unlikely to allow large gatherings, wedding ceremonies or receptions.

Many couples already fly abroad to get married in style with Antigua, closely followed by Barbados, as the number one destination for weddings and vow renewals. Some travel companies employ wedding organisers at selected resorts. The Westin Hotels and Resorts company will sort out blood tests (necessary to get married in Hawaii) and its branch in Japan is building two wedding chapels to accommodate both European and Oriental- style weddings.

Americans have long enjoyed a free market in weddings. Last month Pamela Anderson from Baywatch got hitched on a beach wearing little more than a bikini. Some couples in the US get wed on rollerskates or horseback; pop in for a swift service at a Las Vegas wedding parlour or dive down to a coral reef in wetsuits and exchange vows under water.

Charles Kidd, editor of Debrett's Peerage, is aghast at the prospect of British couples following the US example. "I don't think these new regulations are in keeping with the tradition of marriage," he argues, "and it does seem as if we are heading down the Hello! magazine route, with marriages under the sea and so forth."

Don't start planning to get hitched over the cliff of Dover in a balloon though. The Act is clear that marriages must be solemnised in fixed premises that are open to the public. Marquees, private addresses, balloons, jumbo jets and the back garden are not allowed. Strip joints are out, too, since the Act states that a building would be unsuitable "if that use could demean marriage or bring it into disrepute".

Samantha Penn, an advertising manager, would have loved the freedom of the new Act when planning her wedding: "We wrote our own ceremony with family and friends and held it privately in our garden - we then sneaked off to the registrar to make it legal on our way to Sainsbury's."

England and Wales are just catching up with Scotland, which already allows civil ceremonies in many settings, and couples take advantage of the country's magnificent castles and idyllic hideaways. Edinburgh Castle had so many applications for wedding ceremonies that now only members of the British Army are allowed to be married there. Most venues are waiting to see how many requests they receive before applying for a licence, but here are a few suggestions.

Last year a soccer-crazed fan, who changed his name by deed poll to Arsenal Millwall, had his marriage to Theresa Wilkinson blessed in the penalty area on the Millwall FC pitch. Although under the new Act sports fans cannot legally be married in the open air, club houses could be used. Mr Blow from Lord's Cricket Ground says he would be surprised if anyone wanted to be married there, but he can't foresee any problem with it.

Unfortunately, a wedding among the mummies in the Egyptian Room at the British Museum is out because the museum forbids smoking and dancing. But fans of Sixties pop could approach The Beatles Story Experience or Cavern Club in Liverpool. Architecture lovers might go to Bath, where the imposing Assembly Rooms, built in 1771, are applying for a licence, or exchange rings under the gaze of the gods of antiquity at the Roman Baths.

If you met your beloved at an opera or ballet performance, there are venues all over the country that you could approach. Keith Cooper from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, says: "We would certainly consider applications but they couldn't take place in the auditorium as it's in use day and night. We have quite a lot of wedding receptions in the main Crush bar so I'm sure we could accommodate ceremonies, too."

Cineastes might want to tie the knot in a projection box while a glorious silent movie plays on a screen behind. The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford, with its five-storey IMAX screen, will consider requests. Sarah Jones from the museum suggests that for wedding photographs with a difference, couples might use the chroma-key which would make them appear to be flying on a magic carpet.

Actors can marry at the Shakespeare Hotel, dating from 1637 in Stratford upon Avon, while budding spies could try for a discreet arrangement at the library in Trinity College, Cambridge, where Anthony Blunt, the infamous Fourth Man, spent many a night studying.

Erica Davies, director of the Freud Museum in London, is considering opening up the dining room for weddings. Cyberists could be married in a steel and glass docklands conversion at Bristol, Liverpool or London.

Claire Silliton, 19, would like to be married in Castell Coch in Wales - not that she's identified a suitable partner yet. Castell Coch will consider applications for real fairytale weddings. The castle was built in the 13th century and restored into a gothic fantasy during the late 1890s.

Liz Greenwood from Alton Towers is looking forward to the new regulations: "It will be interesting to see how many people approach us to hold their wedding ceremonies. We organise a lot of receptions already."

At the Bluebell Railway, in Sussex, couples will be able to indulge their love of steam trains and marry in the Victorian station house from next year. The wedding itself cannot take place on the 1920s Golden Arrow Pullman but it can accommodate 118 guests for a lavish reception.

One enterprising couple has already booked the Hacienda Club, Manchester for their nuptials in May. John Drape, the production manager, has planned a mammoth celebration for Todd Nelson and his girlfriend Alison. "Guests will arrive at 3pm, the couple will exchange vows on the main stage, followed by a buffet lunch. We've planned a few bands to play in the evening, the whole club will be open and fully decked out to go into a club night until 2am."

Sandra Boler had her wedding in 1969 at the journalists' church, St Bride's, Fleet Street. Boler is now editor of Brides and Setting up Home magazine and thinks the Marriage Act is a great opportunity. "Fifty per cent of Brits marry in secular services now and this regulation means couples can choose the place that suits them. It will be interesting to see if people who traditionally wanted to marry in church now move to a secular ceremony. Places like Cliveden and especially Goodwood would be perfect."

With half of all marriages these days expected to end in divorce, you might as well make it a lavish affair to remember.

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