St Hilary’s Day – the Coldest Day of the Year? January 13th

Hackney Marshes, Jan 2022, Chris Sansom

St Hilary’s Day is traditionally the coldest day in the year. Of course the coldest day varies but it is normally in January, or February but sometimes in December and occasionally in November, or March.

In 2023 it was;

-16.0C, recorded at Altnaharra on the 9th of March.

At the bottom of the post are the coldest days in the UK since 2000.

Hilary & the Arians

St Hilary (born 315) was the Bishop of Poitiers in France where he died around 367 AD. He was a vigorous opponent of the Arian Heresy which swept through the Catholic world in the late Roman period. Catholic doctrine was that God – the Father, Son and Holy Ghost was a Trinity. Arius took the view that: “If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows there was a time when the Son was not.” So Jesus was not equal with God. A question at the time was, ‘Was Jesus divine?’

Eventually the ecumenical First Council of Nicaea of 325, declared Arianism to be a heresy during the reign of Constantine the Great. It was very strong in the East and was accepted by Constantine’s son and continued as a major influence especially among the Goths and Vandals.

The Church takes the position on the Trinity which is one God existing in three coequal, coeternal, consubstantial divine persons (wikipedia). Its sobering to think how many people were martyred over these arcane attempts to maintain what they considered a coherent monotheism despite this difficult idea of three entities being one God.

Hilary Term

Hilary was a scholar and is one of those rare early Saints not to be horrifically martyred. We remember him in the UK with the dedication of a few Churches, particularly in Wales but he has also given his name to one of the terms of the academic year. At least for Oxford, Hilary Term is their name for the ‘spring term’ and this year Hilary begins on the 14th January.

The legal establishment also uses ‘Hilary.’ This year the legal year is:

Hilary: Thursday 11 January to Wednesday 27 March 2024
Easter: Tuesday 9 April to Friday 24 May 2024
Trinity: Tuesday 4 June to Wednesday 31 July 2024
Michaelmas: Tuesday 1 October to Friday 20 December 2024

Oxford shares the nomenclature of Michaelmas, Hilary and Trinity. Cambridge and London School of Economics share Michaelmas but call the next term ‘Lent term’ and then ‘Summer Term’ Most other universities split the academic year into three terms (autumn, spring and summer) across two academic semesters. 

The legal term is quite interesting in so far as for most of us ‘terms’ are a thing of our youth. We then participate in the hard slog of what might be called ‘real life’ or work, work, work, separated by a few short breaks. But not for the High Court and the Court of Appeal. Too much like hard work, and not enough time off!

As I travel around Britain I find a lot of ‘Stately Homes’ which were bought by eminent Judges or lawyers. At the same time the legal establishment in London is based at the four Inns of Court: Lincoln’s Inn, Grey’s Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple. These were founded in the medieval period and one of the reasons they have stayed as important institutions is that they provided homes and well as offices for the lawyers who would only come to London during the three terms, about 30 weeks out of the 52 available. Then they would go off to their country estates to recuperate and enjoy the fruits of their privileged position.

Coldest days in the UK (according to and in centigrade.)

2000 -15.0 Dalmally (Argyll) 30 December

2001 -21.7 Kinbrace (Sutherland) 3 March

2002 -16.1 Grantown 2 January

2003 -18.3 Aviemore 7 January

2004 -15.2 Kinbrace (Sutherland) 19 December

2005 -13.2 Ravensworth (North Yorks.) 29 December

2006 -16.4 Altnaharra 2 March

2007 -13.0 Aboyne 22 December

2008 -12.9 Aviemore 30 December

2009 -18.4 Aviemore 9 February, Braemar 29 December

2010 -22.3 Altnaharra 8 January

2011 -13.0 Althnaharra 8 January

2012 -18.3 Chesham (Bucks.) 11 February

2013 -13.4 Marham (near Norwich, Norfolk) 16 January

2014 -9.0 Cromdale (Morayshire) 27 December

2015 -12.5 Tulloch Bridge, Glascarnoch 19 January

2016 -14.1 Braemar 14 February

2017 -13.0 Shawbury (Shropshire) 12 December

2018 -14.2 Faversham (Kent) 28 February

2019 -15.4 Braemar 1 February

2020 -10.2 Braemar 13 February and Dalwhinnie (30 December)

2021 -23.0 Braemar 11 February

2022 -17.3 Braemar 13 December

If you look at the long list you will see that Braemar is, far and away, the most common place to host the coldest day in the UK.