Advent 7: Cheap and cheerful winter sports for the adventurous
The upside of bitter weather while growing up in the 1950s and 60s was that we could go skating for free.
By the time we became teenagers almost all of us could skate. We spent our Saturday mornings at the skating rink in the nearby town. This involved a journey on the local train, a bus ride and finally a walk to the rink, but we made the trek on a regular basis.
Skating rinks were rough places. I imagine they still are. Daring boys on speed skates wove dangerously in and out of circling youngsters wobbling on blunt, well worn, hired figure skates. Dire warnings were issued about the necessity of wearing stout gloves, because if you fell and somebody skated over your bare hand, they would cut your fingers off!
Pop music blared out of echoing loud speakers. The refreshment area served up unhealthy treats in grubby surroundings. You had to stumble there on your skates across ancient stained felt carpeting torn by generations of blades.
It was great fun.
Our ambition was to have our own skates. I got a pair for my combined Christmas and 13th birthday present. Once you had your own skates, you could skate outdoors when the ponds and fields froze.
The pond where we skated was a private duck pond in a walled estate, surrounding a large house.
Local children were allowed access in freezing weather. The impressive front entrance gates to the estate were at the very far end of the village from our street. It was a long walk after a day at school and a hurried tea, carrying your skates. There was however a much shorter back route.
This involved following the single track railway line which ran across the fields. It wasn’t that dangerous. There weren’t that many trains and it wasn’t far. You could time your walk to ensure the track was clear. In any case you could hear and see a steam train coming miles away.
At one point, where the field ended beside a road, I seem to remember we had to climb over quite a high back gate into the estate. In the dark. (It must have been the gate in the photo). But it did cut out a long, boring walk, so we didn’t mind, it was worth it.
At weekends in the daylight there was another place you could skate when the circumstances allowed. One of the fields in a dip some distance behind the village was prone to flooding. When this froze you had a natural ice rink, which was smooth and unrutted. We only managed to get there on rare occasions, but it was a bizarre experience, skating in the middle of quiet, frosty, deserted fields, with no houses or other people in sight.
The only image I could find of anything approximating to it, was of winter in Lithuania, where people are apparently still in the habit of creating their own homemade ice rinks wherever the lie of the land allows.
Your own private winter playground, for free.