In the mild midwinter

LORNA MARSH It is traditionally the season of bleakness with frosty winds and iron-hard earth.But scenes in East Anglia yesterday were a far cry from the Christina Rossetti poem - as the region basked in soaring spring-like temperatures that have even forced temporary closures at Norfolk's two outdoor ice rinks as they struggled with melting surfaces.

LORNA MARSH

It is traditionally the season of bleakness with frosty winds and iron-hard earth.

But scenes in East Anglia yesterday were a far cry from the Christina Rossetti poem - as the region basked in soaring spring-like temperatures that have even forced temporary closures at Norfolk's two outdoor ice rinks as they struggled with melting surfaces.

And with no sign of frost, let alone In the Bleak Midwinter's “snow on snow”, the prospect of a white Christmas has been put on ice for the time being as highs matched those in southern European cities like Madrid.

Retailers are struggling to shift cards and gifts as they become the only markers of the festive season while blossom blooms on trees, snowdrops and violets adorn gardens and shoppers shed their coats and woolly jumpers.

Leading naturalist Percy Trett said he had “never known anything like such a prolonged warm spell” warning that the mildness, while welcomed by most, could cause havoc for fauna and flora, including farmers' crops.

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However the clement spell was set to end at the weekend when temperatures return to a more normal 7C to 8C. Until then we are expected to continue with the 13C to 14C we were enjoying yesterday and over the previous few days.

Phil Garner, duty forecaster at UEA-based WeatherQuest, said while temperatures might not yet have reached all-time records they were extremely mild for December.

“It is down to areas of low pressure coming across the Atlantic from the Azores, which make it more like autumn than winter. Sea temperatures are very high, well above the average. We have had a warmer summer and autumn and it seems to have continued on.”

While many of us might be grateful for the kind climes skaters at the Sandringham estate had to hang up their boots after rink bosses closed for the day yesterday as they struggled with the meltdown.

Rink manager Helen Walsh said: “It's ridiculous, it's so warm. The ice basically isn't icy enough.”

But she said that experts would be working overnight to install equipment that should help keep the ice frozen and hoped that it would be back in full use today.

And at the EDF Energy rink at the Forum in Norwich occasional sessions were cancelled.

Spokesman Mark Hand said: “The vast majority of sessions have run and people are still enjoying themselves on the rink. Unfortunately nobody can control the weather but there is a huge amount of effort going on to keep the rink going.”

One winner was Kerri Watts, of Aldous Ices stall on Norwich market, who said sales were booming.

Meanwhile the British Retail Consortium (BRC) revealed in its latest report that Christmas on the high street got off to a slow start with the warmth curtailing shoppers' festive mood.

To check if Sandringham rink is open call 01553 612909. For information about the Forum rink contact 01603 727962.

A long-awaited ice spectacular has been cancelled due to the “unpredictable” weather.

The Fantasy show by Holiday on Ice, which was due to take place at the Norfolk Showground at the beginning of February will now not go ahead.

A spokesman said: “The show was due to be staged in a temporary ice theatre structure within the Norfolk Showground. This is an exposed site which, when subjected to high winds and heavy rain such as those the region has experienced recently, could put the infrastructure under an overt amount of pressure which may then result in cancellation of performances.

“With the unpredictability of the weather so far this season it was felt necessary to make this decision now, rather than to run the risk of disappointing people at the time of the show dates.”

Bosses said they are seeking an alternative venue for the dates and hope to be able to bring the show to the region if at all possible.

t Ticket agents and the Forum will be contacting customers who have booked through them to honour refunds but if people have any queries they should refer to See Tickets on 0870 165 2005 for individual sales, or 0870 899 3342 for groups bookings.

Holiday on Ice will also honour its donation to the Radio Broadland Kidz charity.

t Tours of both Fantasy and Peter Pan on Ice will continue around the UK in January and February 2007. For further information on these shows and for tour venues and dates please visit www.holidayonice.com/uk