Our guide on the best places in Britain to see snow and tips on how to stay safe, plus a brief look back at Britain’s coldest and snowiest winters on record
How many snowy days does the UK get on average each year?
According to the Met Office, the UK sees an average of 23.7 days of snow fall or sleet a year, with most of this is snow falling on higher ground where temperatures are lower.
History of snow in Britain
1908 – first ski lifts
Coincidentally, 1908 was the year that ski lifts were invented, which made the sport far more popular, at least in countries with regular winter snowfalls. History does not record whether this Northampton lady ever became a whizz on the Alpine pistes.
If your classroom or office is a little drafty, remember that a bit of cold never harmed anyone. Here a class learns about the structure of snowflakes, by actually freezing themselves solid.
In the 1930s, some educationalist were great believers in the benefits of fresh air – by the end of the decade, there were 155 ‘open-air’ schools across the UK, in which children were educated in classrooms that had roofs – but no walls. Even in winter, when sometimes the pupils’ first task in the morning was to sweep snow from their desks.
Winter of 1946-47
The winter of 1946-7 was one of the harshest on record – the following month saw heavy snowfalls, blocking roads and railways; power stations shut down for lack of fuel supplies, causing powercuts; there was no TV, and magazines stopped publishing. The cold spell lasted until mid-March – in the thaw, more than 100,000 homes were affected by flooding.
The ‘Big Freeze’ of 1963
Who remembers the icy blast of the notorious winter of 1962-3? This was recorded as one of the coldest British winters on record.
What constitutes a white Christmas in the UK?
According to official long-standing records kept by the Met Office, a white Christmas only officially occurs if a flake of snow falls on the ‘Big Day’. There doesn’t even need to be any snow on the ground.
Surrounded by the warming influence of the balmy Atlantic Ocean, we really should be grateful for every flake we count each winter. If it happens to drift to earth on a particular late-December day, it’s surely a rare bonus?
White Christmases are more common than you might think. In fact, at least one snowflake has fallen somewhere in the UK on Christmas Day 38 times in the last 55 years. Perhaps to most people, though, snow-covered ground is what really ticks the Christmas box. Using this measure it is, of course, more unusual.
The ‘Beast from the East’ 2018
Who could forget the bitter chill of the ‘Beast from the East’ which swept Britain in February and early March in 2018. Very cold temperatures and widespread snowfall brought much of the country to a grinding halt.
Wales’ climate is heavily influenced by the Irish Sea and snowfall – even at altitude is quiet rare. Snowdon typically gets snowfall on around 30 days a year, but it rarely lingers for more than a few days.
See the snow in Snowdon – but make it quick as it rarely lasts more than three days (Alamy)
Cairngorm Plateau, Highland
A genuinely extreme environment in winter, where snow falls on more than 50 days a year and temperatures regular drop to -10 degrees or lower and stay there for days on end. Heavy snowfall here will typically linger for several weeks and during the harsh winter of 2010-11 – the entire plateau was covered in snow from November to April.
A harsh yet beautiful environment, with snow falling more than 50 days a year/Credit: Alamy
Cross Fell, North Pennines
Sitting just to the northwest of Teesdale, this high-level plateau is the biggest expanse of terrain over 3,000ft above sea level in England, where temperatures are often as much as 10 degrees cooler than in the surrounding lowlands. Snow often lies on north-facing slopes here until June. In the neighbouring valley of the South Tyne, there’s even a permanent ski lift at Yad Moss, where the locals can enjoy a swift 600m descent of the snowy slopes of the 2,500ft high Burnhope Seat.
The North Pennines covered in snow (Cross Fell on the left; Great Dun Fell at center) – viewed from Kirkby Thore in Cumbria Eden Valley (Getty)
At 1,300ft above sea level, Princetown is one of the highest towns in Britain and although it’s only a few miles from the relative warmth of the coast, the town experiences some of the highest snowfall in the entire south of England.
Princetown is the highest town in Dartmoor at 1,300ft above sea level/Credit: Alamy
How to stay safe in the snow
Venturing out into this winter wonderland is a magical experience, but it’s also important to be properly prepared for the conditions.
Check the forecast before setting out and if there is a risk of further snowfall or blizzard conditions, don’t go onto the high fells. Be mindful of your abilities and keep within them.
Sunny conditions can change quickly so come prepared/Credit: Getty
Walking with crampons and ice axes require some training and practice, so seek advice before venturing into upland areas where their use is recommended.
Wear suitable clothing and take extra layers. In winter, this means:
- A thermal base layer
- Light fleece
- Heavier fleece or soft shell
- Waterproof jacket
- Down jacket
- Waterproof trousers
- Sturdy boots
- Hat and gloves
- Torch and spare batteries
- Take hot drinks AND cold drinks and extra food.
- Make sure your phone is fully charged and if you get into difficulties, Dial 999 or 112 and ask for ‘Police’ then ‘Mountain Rescue’