Locals played socially-distanced ice hockey near UpwareBen Phillips

The recent sub-zero temperatures locally have allowed locals to carry out the tradition of fenland Ice Skating, a form of ice skating that dates back to at least the 19th century, when people would travel from as far as the Netherlands to Cambridge to watch races on the Fens. It is not known when the first skating matches were held, but by the early 19th century they had become a feature of cold winters in the Fens. The National Skating Association was set up in Cambridge in 1879 and is the origin of English bandy, a sport that was popular up till the First World War. The fenland tradition has produced some of the country’s best speed skaters, such as Cyril Horn, who competed in the 1924 and 1928 Winter Olympics.

In more recent times, due to warmer winters, it’s rare to see the flat marsh fields of the fens freeze over. This is the first time locals have been able to skate on the fields since 2018, and no organised speed skating races have happened since 2010.

On the rare occasions when acres of the fens and wash land become natural skating rinks, people from far and wide don old-fashioned skates and come together to have fun on the ice. As soon as a stretch of ice is declared fit & safe to skate and the farmer is happy for people to access his fields, word spreads locally like wildfire.

Ben Phillips

Fenland Skating is relatively safe as you skate over meadow rather than open water. There is safety in numbers, and local people are always around to point out potential hazardous areas like deep drainage ditches or broken up ice.

Around 30 skaters braved the freezing conditions on Sunday morning (February 14th) on the vast marshy plains near Upware, a small village about 15 miles north-east of Cambridge. Groups of friends who have not been able to see each other due to the pandemic played Ice Hockey, while families skated around socially distanced getting their daily exercise.


Mountain View

The Hazy History of Cambridge Ice Hockey

One onlooker told Varsity: “It’s great to see local people out enjoying themselves again, in what has been a difficult time with the pandemic. The last time this part of the fen froze over and was cold enough for skating was around 2010. It’s great to see people carrying on the fenland traditions and skating”.

Roger Giles, a member of the Fen Centre, part of the National Ice Skating Association, said: “We only get a short window due to the weather, and this year has been touch and go due to the weather”. “We haven’t been able to be as informative though as recent years due to the pandemic and have not managed to organise any racing like previous years”.