Page last updated at 11:22 GMT, Saturday, 10 January 2009

Skaters flock to frozen Fenlands

Skaters have been flocking to the Cambridgeshire Fenlands after freezing conditions provided a rare opportunity to take part in a traditional sport.

Low temperatures have made skating possible each day this week for the first time in more than a decade.

Although not yet cold enough for the British and Fenland Skating Championships, about 60 skaters were out on the ice on Saturday morning.

The ice is thought to be an inch thick but not strong enough for competitions.

'Perfectly safe'

Roger Giles, 70, of the Welney and District Skating Club, said: "It's been the best week for Fen skating since 1997.

"The ice is about an inch thick and is good enough to skate on. But it wouldn't be strong enough to hold the number of people needed to take part in the championships.

"It's perfectly safe as long as people use their heads and only skate on the fields - where the water is only a few inches deep."

This is the beauty of the Fens and it's great to make the most of it
Roger Giles
Welney and District Skating Club

Mr Giles said the makeshift ice rink was likely to thaw by the end of the weekend, although he hoped a further cold snap could lead to its return.

"It's still early in the winter so we've got a chance," he said.

"This is the beauty of the Fens and it's great to make the most of it."

Competitive skating began in the Fens in 1879 and since then speed skaters have vied for the world or Fenland title whenever a Fen has frozen long enough to allow the championships to be staged.

Mr Giles said some skaters trained in Holland and Austria but hoped to take advantage of SnOasis, the indoor winter sports resort planned for Great Blakenham, near Ipswich, when it opens.

"It's hard to keep the interest when there are such long gaps between the competitions but SnOasis would help with that," he said.

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