‘It’s much scarier to face winter here’: Britain’s coldest village braces for freezing weather | UK cost of living crisis

On the first day of November in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, there is a bitter chill in the air and the temperature hovers around 6°C. It’s balmy autumn weather for the village, nestled at the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains and holder of the unenviable title of Britain’s coldest place, having Record low temperatures recorded -27.2°C twice in the past 40 years. Last year the village experienced Britain’s coldest night since 1995, when temperatures dropped to -23C in February.

Braemar’s temperatures are believed to reach such extremes due to its geography, with the surrounding mountains essentially transform the village into a “bowl” in which cold air descends from mountain tops and becomes trapped. Over the next few months, residents can expect temperatures in the -20s accompanied by heavy snowfall, freezing rain and storms. But while the people of Braemar are well prepared for the weather, little can protect them from energy price outbreak here as in the whole country.

Hazel Williams, director of the Braemar Highland Games Centre, says people are worried. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose/The Observer

“When I was little you ate your tea with the Calor gas stove on and no lights on to try and save energy – I can’t believe we’re actually going to go back to that,” says Hazel Williams.

“Not having your heating here in the winter would be very dangerous, so you don’t have much choice,” adds Williams, manager of Braemar’s Highland Games Centre.

“I think people feel a little stuck and a little stuck. They are certainly worried about heating their house this winter.

The cold can be so extreme in Braemar that the buildings are designed accordingly. The Highland Games Centre, completed in 2018 and home to the Braemar Gatheringhas heated pipes and drains to prevent heavy snowfall from weighing down the roof and to prevent icicles from pulling the gutters down.

Newer homes are also built with metal grates in their roofs to ensure snow collection cannot fall and damage cars. But the village is also home to a number of historic buildings and houses, many of which are listed and therefore single glazed and uninsulated.

Braemar, Cairngorms

“Here you wake up in the morning and there’s ice inside your windows, and there’s only light between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.,” Williams says. “You have to have the lights on; you need to heat your house. It’s much scarier to face winter in Braemar at the foot of the hills than in London, for example.

While Braemar, nearly 100 miles north of Edinburgh, is a relatively affluent town with a reliable turnover of tourists, it is also home to a number of council tenants who have found themselves at center of a line this year when Aberdeen Council announced now-suspended plans to replace coal fires with central heating to meet environmental targets.

Coal fires remain the cheapest way to heat a home and are standard in many older Braemar homes, but the price of logs and coal has also risen. Last month, a new “log bank” was announced in which surplus wood donated by local landowners will be distributed through a food bank.

“I think a lot of people are very nervous about what they’re going to do,” says butcher Gareth Johnston. “I’m worried – we’ve already left about a month later than usual to start putting the heating on and I don’t dare put it on at peak times.

“But I don’t know what else people are supposed to do other than swallow and see what happens when the bill comes. You can’t just freeze to death.

Severe weather has become less predictable in recent years, Johnston says, with reliable snowfall giving way to short, fierce storms that often arrive without warning.

“It’s almost like stepping back in time,” he says. “When I was a kid my mum always had candles, torches…basically a storm pack set up for the winter. We never needed it until last year. Everything is supposed to be better, the technology is supposed to be better, but it’s like we’re going back to the 50s or 60s.”

Butcher Gareth Johnston in his shop in Braemar
Butcher Gareth Johnston says people are cooking up storms before frost. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose/The Observer

Dave Evans, owner of the Braemar Brewing Company, in a building shared with his wife’s patisserie and, upstairs, their family home, is also feeling the effect of rising energy prices on his small business .

“My energy bills have increased fivefold from around £450 to over £2,000,” he says. “I had to raise my prices because prices went up in all areas – not just energy but deliveries, products, everything.”

Evans’ wife’s patisserie is now closed for the winter, with declining tourist numbers making it impossible to keep the space’s heating and lighting at the same level during quiet months. But there’s no option to just shut down some buildings and heat others instead, Evans says. “When it drops to -20 and below the pipes start to freeze and then you have much bigger issues to deal with so you have to keep pushing things forward.

“There will be people in difficulty this winter. There are already,” he said. But, hopes Evans, the community will take care of those in need. During last November’s storm Arwenthe Fife Arms Hotel in the center of the village has used its emergency generator to provide hot meals and a warm place to those who have been without electricity for days.

Dave Evans of the Braemar Brewing Company
Dave Evans of the Braemar Brewing Company says his energy bills have increased fivefold. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose/The Observer

“People here are very resilient and everyone pitches in, whether it’s food, shelter or shoveling snow,” says Evans.

“People will take care of each other – it’s just small village life.”

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