Highlanders in High Hampton

The sun shines on a childhood friendship

Lindsey and Craig Mahaffey

Fairy-tale stories abound about couples who grew up in each other’s orbits — running into one another at weddings, family events, and homecoming weekends — only to discover, as young adults, that they are perfectly suited for each other. For Frances Ellerbe and Bo Bryan, who tied the knot at High Hampton Inn in Cashiers, North Carolina, the fairy tale was reality.

The story began before anyone knew it had started. Two families, the Ellerbes and the Bryans, had been friends for years. The children — Frances; her sister, Caroline; brother, William; and Bo and Wills Bryan — had all known each other for as long as they could remember through school, church, and other activities.

Years went by, and though the families stayed in touch, Frances and Bo did not. Frances went to California to attend Stanford and decided to stay on to get her master’s degree, while Bo was away at medical school. However, in 2012, at a Christmas party hosted by siblings Caroline Ellerbe and Wills Bryan, Frances and Bo ran into each other. “I was still living in California and would be for another six months or so, but had come home for Christmas,” says Frances. “It was great to see Bo, but I couldn’t see myself in a long-distance relationship at that point.”

Fate interceded soon after Frances moved back to Columbia. She unexpectedly ran into Bo. “He asked me out, I accepted, and we started dating,” she says with a laugh. “It seemed very normal and natural.”

Caroline Ellerbe agrees. “From the very beginning there was no question that this was a meaningful relationship,” she says. “They were both established in the world and knew each other well. If they were making the decision to date, it was because they knew they’d be spending the rest of their lives together. I suddenly had higher expectations for this friend I’d had my whole life. He passed with flying colors.”

In 2015, Bo completed medical school and moved to Greenwood for his residency. Although the move took the couple a bit farther away from each other, Frances knew it would be manageable. “Since they’re all so busy during residency, it would have felt like a long-distance relationship even if we were living in the same city,” she says.

By 2017, the couple had discussed marriage, but had not made firm plans, which provided Bo with a wonderful opportunity to surprise Frances. “Bo is a substantive person and a thinker, so he really gave the proposal a lot of thought,” says Helen Zeigler Ellerbe, Frances’s mother. “After he called to set up his meeting with Frank, who, of course, gave his blessing, the hardest thing for both of us was keeping the secret!”

To ensure that both families would be on hand, but in a way that would not make Frances suspicious, Bo planned the proposal for the evening of his birthday party at Lake Murray. “It was on a Wednesday, so it really threw me for a loop,” says Frances. “I had been in Greenville all day, so I drove straight to the lake from there. I was so focused on the presentation I had just given that it never occurred to me to suspect anything.”

Following the proposal, Frances and Bo put their minds together for the wedding details. “The original plan was to marry in July,” says Helen. “It made sense since Bo would be finished with his residency.” It did not take long, though, for the family to realize that July in “famously hot” Columbia might not be the best idea.

The North Carolina mountains, though, are 10 to 20 degrees cooler during summer months. Plus, both Frances and Bo had fond mountain memories. The Ellerbe children grew up attending mountain camps and visiting their paternal grandparents at their second home in Highlands/Cashiers area, and the Bryans spent much time in Hendersonville. It was Frances who first came up with the idea to throw a destination wedding. “My parents were in the beginning stages of building a home in Cashiers,” she says. “We’d spent a lot of time up there looking at lots, so it was really top of mind.”

Helen’s first attempts at securing a location failed. “We’re not the only ones who love the mountains,” she says, laughing. “Many families have vacationed in the same place and during the same week for generations. It was impossible to get a block of rooms any time in July.”

So they changed tack, choosing the latest date in May that they could without running into Memorial Day weekend. The venue would be High Hampton Inn, a gracious and historic lakefront lodge set on a hilly 1,400-acre estate. Weddings are held on a stunning emerald lawn surrounded by mountains and sheer granite rock faces.

“It’s all so dramatic, filled with the wonder of nature,” says Helen. “But it also provided both lodging and event space, which made it easier for our guests. They invested their time in traveling, so we wanted them to be able to enjoy the locale.” Frances adored it as well. “It feels like summer camp,” she says.

What many people don’t know, however, is that the reason this part of North Carolina is so lush is that it is actually a rainforest and that couples who hope to marry outdoors must have a Plan B. “Luckily, the Church of the Good Shepherd, which is right across the street, was also available,” says Helen. “So we booked that as well.” Ready to roll on and get all the details sorted out, the Ellerbes hit a second brick wall: high season in Cashiers. Says Frances, “We were told that we really wouldn’t be able to nail things down until late fall 2017.”

While they waited, Helen and Frances planned their first outing: shopping for a dress. “I was really excited about the whole process, which I assumed would take months,” says Helen. “Fortunately for Frances, but unfortunately for me, Frances fell for the first dress she tried on at London and Lace here in Columbia. I was thrilled, and we all adore the dress. But, truth be told, I was sort of looking forward to a longer search and spending that time with Frances.”

For Frances, an engineer who plans down to the last detail, the dress hit all the right marks. “I’m traditional, and Bo and I love to dance, so I fell in love with the dress’s full skirt,” she says. “It had a low back, was the right color, and had a matching veil that went to the floor. From the moment I put it on, it just felt right.” For her seven bridesmaids, Frances chose long chiffon gowns in a sophisticated blush tone. “It reminded me of the color of mountain laurel when it blooms,” she says.

Finally, fall arrived, and with it the time to plan the rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony, and reception. At the top of the list was the desire to show guests a good time and ensure that everyone at the reception would eat. “Frances spent a lot of time in California, so it was very important that she offer choices for vegetarians and vegans,” says Helen. “Since we had a wide range of ages attending, I wanted the food set up in different ways around the room. That way, no matter their preferences, everyone would be comfortable eating.” Helen also made smaller plates available for those who preferred to snack a bit while standing. Finally, just off the extra-large dance floor, she set up “grab and go” food that could be eaten without a plate. “We wanted to encourage the young people to eat, and this seemed like a good strategy,” she says.

Flowers were created by Kirk Moore, who owns Oakleaf, a floral design company in Highlands. After speaking with Frances and Helen, Kirk decided that he wanted to include elements so special that he would grow them himself just for the wedding. “Frances is so taken with the region, and there are so many gardeners in the family, I really wanted the flowers to help establish a sense of place,” Kirk says. “To do that, we used mostly native species — unusual hostas, softly colored peonies, hydrangeas, rhododendron, and Solomon’s seal — and arranged them to look like they’d been found just so and placed in a bowl or vase.”

As the date of the wedding drew closer, it became apparent that rain would be an uninvited weekend guest. “We ended up ordering a tent for the rehearsal dinner at the Orchard Restaurant, and we’re glad we did,” says Barbara Bryan, Bo’s mother. “Although the venue was indoors, we had so many people for the after-party that we needed the outdoor space for overflow. It rained and rained, but they danced and danced, and no one seemed to notice.”

On the day of the wedding, it was still raining, but Frances would not give up hope for the outdoor wedding of which she dreamed. At 10 a.m., her deadline for a decision, she took one last look at the radar and saw hope. “She said to me, ‘Mom, the forecast drops to 40 percent right around the time of the ceremony,’” says Helen. “Frances is an environmental engineer who tracks weather for her clients for a living. If she was confident, I concluded I could be confident as well.”

By 2 p.m., the family was thrilled to see that the weather report showed a 0 percent chance of rain for the rest of the evening. “I was so stressed about the weather, but, in the end, I realized that what really makes a wedding successful is filling the room with people who love and support the bride and groom,” says Helen. “They create the spirit of the gathering and the connections with friends and family.”

In a nod to the family’s Scottish heritage and their alma mater, Heathwood Hall, Frances and Bo decided that the processional and recessional would be performed by a bagpiper. Plus, they both wore tartan sashes as they left the reception. In keeping with that theme, Frances’s nephew, Wilke, performed his ring bearer duties in the kilt and Bonnie Prince Charlie jacket that comprises full Highland dress. “He might have stolen the show if Frances hadn’t been so stunning,” says Helen.

The wedding also incorporated other family traditions. The flower girl, Nova Smith, a cousin of the bride, represented the fourth generation of Zeiglers to serve in the next generation’s wedding. On the Bryan side, the acolyte was the grandchild of Bo’s godmother, whose three children had served as acolytes in Barbara and Tom Bryan’s wedding.

But the real blessing arrived near the end of the ceremony. “The moment they said their vows, the clouds opened and the sun shone down on this couple,” says Helen. “I can’t imagine a more joyous moment. It was the fairy tale we all thought it would be.”