GRETNA, SCOTLAND -- Pat Bryden has performed thousands of marriages, but yesterday's ceremony was different. It was her own.
Bryden, 58, is the marriage registrar at Gretna, the Scottish village known worldwide as the place where eloping couples crossed the English border to tie the knot.
For her marriage to ex-policeman Archie Smith, however, she chose to walk down the aisle in nearby St. Andrew's Church.
"Although I've married thousands of couples over the years, I never thought it would happen to me. I'm very, very happy," said the bride, who wore a blue suit with a pleated skirt and a pink hat.
About 100 well-wishers greeted the couple outside the church, which was filled with 200 guests.
"I was hoping for a quiet wedding, but it wasn't to be. Pat is too well known," said Smith, 59.
Smith's first wife died in 1988, and a few weeks later his home in the Scottish town of Lockerbie burned down in the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103, blown up in flight by a terrorist bomb. Bryden, a longtime family friend, went to console him and his two children, and love blossomed.
"He needed a lot of support at that time," she said. "I was there with him."
Changing laws and social mores have made it much easier to marry in Britain; young lovers no longer arrive breathless with angry parents in hot pursuit.
The romantic allure lingers, however, and Gretna still attracts some 1,400 couples a year -- making Bryden one of the world's busiest marriage registrars.
Bryden, who had never married, has worked in the Gretna registry service for about 40 years. Twenty years ago she was authorized to perform marriages, and she has officiated at about 10,000.
"The village's associations with love and marriage ensure their wedding will be something different ... something to remember all their lives," Bryden said.
Gretna's romantic associations date back to 1754 when an act of Parliament outlawed "irregular" marriages in England. No longer could couples simply declare themselves married in front of witnesses. They had to publish banns -- a declaration of the intended marriage -- and those under 21 needed parental consent.
The law did not apply in Scotland, so eloping couples headed up the main road from Carlisle to Glasgow, crossing the River Sark, which marks the boundary of England and Scotland.
Irregular marriages were banned in Scotland in 1940 but the marriage industry flourished as a registry office was opened in Gretna.
Until the 1970s, when England lowered the marriage age from 21 to 18, thousands of runaways came to Scotland.
There is usually a waiting list for wedding dates at the registry office, but work has started on a new office that will more than double the capacity to 3,000 weddings a year. The registrar intends to stay at her post.
"Gretna will always be a place of romance," Bryden said.