Puppy love: Earl of Erne pops the question to his girlfriend in castle grounds... with a little help from beloved pet
The recently engaged 7th Earl of Erne and Baron of Fermanagh, John Crichton, has said he cannot wait to tie the knot.
Lord Erne, who owns Crom Estate, proposed to Harriet Patterson, his girlfriend of five years, with a "family ring" in glorious sunshine at his ancestral home on Saturday.
And he revealed that, prior to getting down on bended knee at the boathouse, he travelled to her native Scotland to ask her father for her hand in marriage.
Speaking yesterday, the 46-year-old property tycoon also told how he'd sworn his fiancee's parents to secrecy ahead of his proposal.
"Her father was absolutely delighted when I asked for Harriet's hand in marriage about three weeks ago," Lord Erne said.
"I don't know whether he had an inkling... I had warned him I was going to Scotland to do some business and asked if I could pop in and say 'hi'.
"I asked him before dinner. Then we told her mother and I asked them to keep it quiet until the bank holiday weekend."
Meanwhile, Harriet, who's 33 and works for a private art dealer in London, was blissfully unaware of his covert visit to the Patterson family home in Berwickshire in the Scottish borders.
"She knew I was going to Scotland but I had to fob her off about why I was going," he said.
Now that she's said yes, Lord Erne couldn't be happier about getting married - although he's staying tight-lipped about the finer details of the big day.
"I'm greatly looking forward to it," he said.
"She's absolutely wonderful. We're the best of friends. She'll be an amazing support to me, and me to her."
He added: "My dog Piglet, the Jack Russell, was very much involved with the proposal; she came with us for a walk on Saturday."
The couple first met in London five years ago when Harriet was invited to a dinner party by Lord Erne's then flatmate, with whom she worked.
"We've been the best of friends for five years and gradually that has become a romance which has ended in an engagement," he said. So was it love at first sight? "I always liked her... the romance blossomed and this is where we've ended up," he replied.
Lord Erne said the first people he shared the good news with were his stepmother, the Countess of Erne, and his four older sisters - Lady Cleone Versen, Lady Divina Crichton, Lady Katherine Townsend Rose and Lady Tara Loyd.
"They are all very fond of her so there was a wonderful reaction from my immediate family," he added.
He's the baby of the family and the only boy, and although he lived and worked in property in London before his father's death in December 2015, he now devotes his time completely to Crom.
"I've still got my toe dipped in the water (regarding property) but my life now is running the business at Crom Castle and the West Wing where we do weddings and holiday rentals and bespoke tours, lunches, dinners and all the things one does in a stately home," he said. After losing his dad, the 6th Earl of Erne, over two years ago, Lord Erne's mother, Mrs Anthony Gray, sadly also passed away in December 2017.
"They would have been utterly delighted for us and I'm very sad that they're not here to see it but I'm sure they're looking down in happiness," he said.
Plans for the big day are, understandably, at a very early stage, with no date having been set as the two of them focus on enjoying their recent engagement.
So was Harriet - whom he hopes to persuade to combine her job in the art world with helping him run the castle and the business - shocked by his proposal? "She probably hoped...but she certainly wasn't expecting it that weekend and I could tell by her reaction that she was wonderfully surprised and delighted," he said.
"She has a very important job in London and I am encouraging her to continue with that as well as playing an integral role supporting me at Crom. In this modern world I believe she can do both.
"I very much want her by my side. She is going to be a big part of my life and I know that she loves Fermanagh and she loves Crom."
The happy couple will soon plan the details of their forthcoming nuptials but the only thing the groom-to-be will divulge at present is that he's "very much hoping that Fermanagh will play a role in some way".