We were here in the Cotswolds four winters ago. January was cold and it snowed once, but it melted the next day. In February we had spring-like weather. We were test-driving England in winter and it passed.
However, each winter since has been cold and snowy. This country is not prepared for snow. It seems like people hope these three cold winters are coincidence and not a change in weather patterns.
The snow falls and much of it does not get cleared up. The temperatures never go above freezing in December and the snow does not melt away. The main roads are plowed and gritted but the side roads are not. The local government (council) have barrels of grit (a mixture of dirt and salt) throughout the neighborhoods and people use this on the lanes. Home and shop owners do not shovel the sidewalks (pavement*) and walking in town is difficult.
Many people live in old stone cottages or brick row houses (terraces). We don’t have garages – we are lucky if we have a parking spot – so cars sitting outside are covered in ice and snow. Cars are parked in odd places along the lanes because they can’t get up their driveways.
Last week Heathrow airport, the busiest in the world, could not cope with the snow and cancelled flights for several days. Trains to Europe and within England were shut down. Drivers had problems on the motorways.
This bad weather changed the Christmas season this year. Concerts were canceled. People did not do the usual Christmas shopping. When we got a day with milder weather and clear roads, the towns and parking lots were packed. We made it to the Cirencester Christmas Market but did not make it to the one in Bath. I wanted to visit some of the other market towns to see their lights and decorations, but we only took the car out when absolutely necessary.
We live down a mile of narrow lanes, ending with the very steep and very narrow lane that we are on. It takes us 30 minutes to get the snow and ice off the car and get it warmed up. We don’t need to go out often and can walk into town to get groceries, so for most of the month the car sits in our parking spot. The doors froze shut, so now I open and close them once a day.
I stopped telling people that “we are from Boulder and Santa Fe and are used to real snow and this is nothing” when we got our car stuck in our lane and had to be pushed out by three people who happened to be walking by. I blame the steep lane and the gravity force-field that grabbed our car and dragged it sideways down the hill. We don’t have snow tires or even a snow shovel, although we are on the waiting list for a snow shovel at Brutons in Nailsworth (fabulous locally owned hardware store).
Our cottage has a very good heating system but it broke down at the beginning of the cold snap (is this a cold snap when it has been going over four weeks?). Our neighbor gave us some electric heaters and the boiler was repaired two days later. There is a lovely cast iron fireplace in our cottage living room. We drove to a wood yard in the Toadsmoor Valley near Stroud and filled the car trunk (the boot) with cut wood for about £20. The cottage keeps warm and we keep bundled up. I put on wool long underwear when we go outside.
Buddy (our cat) spends most of the day sleeping on the floor under the radiator. He goes outside but comes back in after a couple of minutes howling loudly in frustration. He races around the house, up and down the two flights of stairs, in and out of the rooms. Then collapses under the radiator or sits on my desk staring at me, as if I control the weather.
Am I complaining about this winter? A bit. Maybe this is the price we pay for that perfect summer that stretched from May to September. I am happy to be past the shortest day of the year. It is pitch black at 4:30pm now and the sun does not hit our house or garden on our north-facing slope. All the neighbors complain to each other about this. Every day I look across the valley to Amberley which seems to sit in never-ending sunshine. I keep watching for houses to rent in Amberley – none so far.
So, here we are, spending the winter in England again – this is our third English winter. This time we have been here for almost eight months. I miss all my “stuff” back in our house in Boulder. When I am scraping the ice off the car, I think about the garage and the four wheel drive car that we have there. When I start a new knitting project and have to purchase needles, I think about all my knitting things in a box back in Boulder. I bought a few household things in the winter sales today, building our nest here.
We are settling in. We know many of our neighbors – we all live close together on this hillside, almost literally on top of each other. People are very friendly and helpful. There is a sense of “we are all in this together” which makes daily life here very pleasant. Once people admit that winters have returned to England (like they were 30 years ago), they will take it on and deal with it well, as they do everything else. But then again, I am not buying snow tires – maybe it won’t snow again!
We had a lovely Christmas and I hope you did too. Christmas day was cold with daytime temps well below freezing but the sun was out. Our friends in Stroud took us on a wonderful walk through woods and farmer’s fields. We had views over the Golden Valley towards Rodborough and Selsley and back to Stroud. It felt more like a Colorado or Northern New Mexico winter with cold, crisp air, blue skies and fields of deep dry snow.
A day of snow followed by days of warmer temps are in the forecast for next week. Maybe this was our winter. The snow drops should be blooming soon and the days are getting longer.
* Yes, the British term for sidewalk is pavement. Makes no sense to me. Isn’t the road also pavement?