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Ice skating in 2007

PUBLISHED: 10:08 15 May 2010 | UPDATED: 14:57 20 February 2013

Ice skating at Hampton Court

Ice skating at Hampton Court

With several outdoor ice rinks opening for the festive season, ALEC KINGHAM dons a pair of skates and steps gingerly onto the ice at the Guildford Spectrum - which will be open for skaters on Christmas day this year - to get a bit of pra...

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2007

With outdoor ice rinks opening for the festive season in Surrey and beyond, ALEC KINGHAM dons a pair of skates and steps gingerly onto the ice at the Guildford Spectrum - which will be open for skaters on Christmas day this year - to get a bit of practise in...

Watching ice skaters whirl around their frozen arena, I've always had a romanticised notion of being able to join them and effortlessly glide across the shiny surface, pirouetting like a ballerina on tip-toes. Today, I'm here at Guildford's Spectrum Ice Rink to see if it's as easy as Torvill and Dean make it appear...

As I lace up my boots, it strikes me as curious that the people who invented ice-skating didn't design a shoe with caterpillar tracks on the bottom, or chains, similar to the ones fixed to cars for better traction on snowy roads. But no, the familiar ice-skating boot, like the ones I slip my feet into today, consists of a narrow blade upon which to balance, scarcely thicker than your average bread knife.

It's difficult enough staying erect on them when I hobble along the carpeted floor, but as I approach that cold sheet of frozen H20, I'm anxious I'm going to slip and slide like a cartoon cat running on butter. Surely our ancestors didn't come down from the trees to walk upright, only to end up scooting around a frozen lake wearing thin strips of steel?

Getting over cold feet...

My apprehension is short-lived once I step delicately onto the icy surface of the Spectrum rink. Initially grasping the side of the arena for stability, I soon begin to lose my inhibitions and strike out with increasing confidence. It helps that my companion is Andy Hemmings, skating instructor and professional ice hockey player, who is on hand to give advice.

Andy, who has been coaching for 10 years and first donned a pair of ice skates at the age of three, explains that you gain momentum by pushing out with your feet in a V shape.

"At the front of the blade is a small set of 'teeth'; jagged points that grip onto the ice and help propel you along," he explains, as we glide around the ice.

"If you feel precarious and begin to go wobbly, just lean forward and touch your knees to centre your balance and prevent stumbling."

The last time I skated was some 20 years ago, though I'm not sure it really counts as it was on a small seaside rink in a tin shack at one of Sydney's beach suburbs. At the height of summer, the place was deserted as most of the locals enjoyed the sand, sea and sun. Unfortunately, the warm weather had an adverse affect on the tiny patch of ice, and the edges soon melted into treacherous pools of water.

Skating on thick ice...

Needless to say, the Spectrum Ice Rink is the polar opposite; with an Olympic-sized arena, the ice is regularly polished and re-surfaced throughout the day by a special gas-powered leveller that resembles those bitumen-laying machines road builders use. One end is partitioned for classes of improvers, and access divided into special sessions so that beginners and family groups aren't on the ice at the same time as speed skaters and training courses.

Beneath the ice are curious markings: several small coloured circles and two half-circles at each end, which I soon realise are the reference points for penalty areas and goals in ice hockey games.

"The Spectrum arena is the home pitch of the Flames, Guildford's award-winning ice hockey team, and one of the best in Britain," continues Andy, who has played professionally with The Flames since 1992, though he confesses he has defected this season to join their arch-rivals, the Bracknell Bees!

"As well as providing a home for a world-standard ice hockey team, the Spectrum has hosted the World Speed Skating Championships plus trials and equipment tests for the Ice Warriors TV programme," he continues. "Comedian Jasper Carrot also filmed an episode of Detectives here and the ice was carpeted for the national launch of the
S-Type Jaguar."

Whilst chatting with Andy, I soon realise I've completed ten laps of the Spectrum without toppling or falling once. Not bad for someone who hasn't ice-skated for 20 years. Suddenly feeling self-conscious, I take a tumble, but the experience is painless and part of the fun, and I'm soon up on my feet again ready to give it another try.

The outdoor experience...

Over the Christmas period, there will be a whole host of outdoor skating venues springing up in Surrey and beyond. For those who want to get their skates on and give it a try, here we bring you our pick of the best


Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond
Sunday November 25 to Sunday January 6
The rink takes up its usual enchanting location in the shadow of the magnificent Temperate House.
Tickets are priced from: Adults 10; children (17 and under) 7.50; concessions 8; family ticket 30. Book online at www.kewgardensicerink.com


Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey
Saturday December 1 to Sunday January 13
Located on the banks of the Thames in front of Henry VIII's historic red brick palace, this makes for a spectacular Christmas experience.
Tickets are priced from: Adults 10; children (under 16) 7.50; concessions 8; family ticket 30.
Book online at www.hamptoncourticerink.com or call 0870 060 1778 (Ticketmaster)


Hyde Park, London
Saturday December 1 to Sunday January 6
Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park will feature London's largest outdoor ice rink, a toboggan slide, an authentic German Christmas Market and a 50m giant observation wheel.
Tickets are priced from: Adults 10; children (12 and under) 7.50; concessions 9; family ticket 28.
Book online at www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com or call 0871 231 0824 / 0844 847 1771


The Strand, London
Wednesday November 21
to Sunday January 27
By daylight or torchlight, for skaters and spectators, historic Somerset House sparkles again. Tickets are priced from: Adults 10; children (12 years and under) 7; family ticket 29.
Book online at www.somersethouse.org.uk or call 0844 847 1520 (via Ticketmaster)


Alexandra Gardens, Windsor
Saturday December 8 to Sunday January 6
Skating in the beautiful Alexandra Gardens, against the fairytale backdrop of the castle, followed by mince pies, hot chocolate and mulled wine.
Tickets are priced from: Adults 9.50; children (16 and under) 7; concessions 8; family ticket 28.
Book online at www.royalwindsoricerink.com
or call 0870 169 6892

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