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Renewed hopes of ice skating in the frozen Fens

PUBLISHED: 12:55 01 March 2018 | UPDATED: 14:50 01 March 2018

Crowds would gather in large numbers on Well Creek, Outwell and Welney Wash to enjoy ice skating on the frozen surfaces. Picture  taken 21st February, 1978 . Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Crowds would gather in large numbers on Well Creek, Outwell and Welney Wash to enjoy ice skating on the frozen surfaces. Picture taken 21st February, 1978 . Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

The Beast from the East brings renewed hopes for ice skaters in keeping a centuries-old tradition alive.

Welney Wash ice skaters. Picture: Helen Drake Welney Wash ice skaters. Picture: Helen Drake

Skating over the frozen flooded fields and meadows of Welney, on the Norfolk/Cambridgeshire border, forms a big part of the region’s heritage.

The tradition dates as far back as the 19th century, when ice-skating competitions would be held and thousands of people would travel from as far as Holland to watch and even have a go on the makeshift ice-rink.

In the 1890s, Fen Skating produced some of the world’s fastest speed skaters including Turkey Smart and Gutter Percher See. Crowds would flock to the Fens to watch them practice on the ice.

The Fens proved a popular spot for champions in the sport, including Olympic speed skater Cyril Horn, born in Wisbech, and champion Fens skater Philip Doubleday, from Downham Market.

Fen Skaters take to the ice on the flooded fields around Welney, as conditions go below freezing. Picture: Matthew Usher Fen Skaters take to the ice on the flooded fields around Welney, as conditions go below freezing. Picture: Matthew Usher

But in recent years, warm winters has meant ice skaters in the Fens have not been able to practice the sport since 2010.

As temperatures plummet to -5C in West Norfolk this week, Fen Skating enthusiasts are hoping the ice on the flooded Welney washes will be safe enough to skate on.

Keeping a close eye on the ice is Fen Skating member Roger Giles, from Welney, who has been updating the group’s Twitter page to let skaters know when the ice is safe for a spin.

But Mr Giles warned followers that the condition of the ice has not quite reached optimum levels for skating, as patches of water and thin ice is being covered by the snow.

Fen Skaters take to the ice on the flooded fields around Welney, as conditions go below freezing. Picture: Matthew Usher Fen Skaters take to the ice on the flooded fields around Welney, as conditions go below freezing. Picture: Matthew Usher

“You can’t see what you are skating on so you have to be very careful,” Mr Giles added.

He said the Fens forms one of the biggest natural ice rinks in England, stretching for almost 20 miles long.

80-year-old Mr Giles said he first learnt to skate in 1959 “in order to fit in with the local population”.

To keep Fen Skating alive, Mr Giles said Britain is in desperate need of a 400m ice rink, as professional Fen skaters are having to travel more than 200 miles to Holland for the nearest one.

Ice-skating on the Welney Washes. Picture: Ian Burt Ice-skating on the Welney Washes. Picture: Ian Burt

“With Fen Skating, the general feeling is we’d like to see Britain compete in the Olympics speed skating again,” Mr Giles said. “We need a 400m track to keep Fen Skating going.”

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