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Looking back to the Big Freeze as snow falls across Wiltshire

Posted on 18th January 2017

Snow at Liddington, Wiltshire

The UK has been hit with some particularly wintery weather this week, as forecasts for towns across the country predict snow. Reports have cited everything from flurries to ‘thundersnow’, and in the past couple of days Wiltshire itself has become covered in a blanket of white. But, far from despairing, Wiltshire residents have been making the most of the seasonal turn by getting out into the countryside.

Some areas saw overnight snowfall on the 12th, with the Swindon Advertiser describing “a sprinkling in Swindon, Devizes and Trowbridge with Corsham and Chippenham missing out almost entirely.” The snowfall is being caused by a polar air mass that originated over northern Canada, which is spreading south across the UK creating everything from a flutter of non-settling sleet in the South West to heavy showers Scotland and Ireland. The Met Office described the weather as a “real taste of winter”, which is set only to increase in the coming days.

Although the smattering is small, residents across the county are making the most of the unusual weather. In fact, presenters Ben and Mel from Heart Radio even went out in Wiltshire on Friday morning to participate in that age-old activity of making snow angels, as can be seen in this video.

Whether the snow will become heavy enough to cause disruption is yet to be seen, but for now locals are enjoying the weather by getting out for winter walks and having miniature snowball fights outdoors. 

In the past, Wiltshire has seen significant periods of weather that would more typically be expected in a more Alpine environment. The year of 1963 is dubbed as ‘Wiltshire’s Big Freeze’, and although the blizzards occurred over fifty years ago, older residents still tell stories of their memories today. Just after Christmas, on the 29th and 30th of December, six inches of snow fell. Families had to dig themselves in and out of their homes, yet in the streets snowmen were built, snowballs were thrown and many more snow angels were born on the whitewashed pavements.

The freeze lasted through January, with some snow still on the ground in March. Several areas reported amazing levels of snowfall, with 16 inches cited in Trowbridge. As the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre explains:

“Some people in villages dug out sleds and skis from their attics and brought food and fuel into their villages; it was estimated that millions of small birds only survived because of food put out in gardens. Foxes, squirrels, and other wild animals apparently became ‘tame’, appearing in gardens in search of food”.

Whilst it is highly unlikely that we will see anything close to the conditions on 1963 in the near future, this story is a testament to the spirit of the Wiltshire community. With a reasonable and charming scattering of snow set to cover Wiltshire in the coming days, now is the perfect time to enjoy wintery jaunts and warming log fires on a Wiltshire cottage holiday!

Image Credit: Brian Robert Marshall (Wikimedia Commons)