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Events | Lore & Legend | Rather Interesting | Cultural Britain

World Fen Skating Championships, Norfolk

With global warming the opportunities for this great Fen tradition to be practised have been few and far between of late – 1986 was a good year, 1997 and 2003 just adequate for some skating, and people got on the ice in early 2009 too. But the big chill of 2009/10 has proved a boon for skaters in the corner where Norfolk and Cambridgeshire meet.
It needs a hard winter to create the conditions necessary for the World Fenland Skating Championship, as one of three fens – Welney in Norfolk and Bury and Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire – has to be frozen beyond the point where there is any danger of participants disappearing into cracked ice as they race and turn around the traditional barrel marker. And the races are over very shallow water – frozen fields rather than flowing rivers, streams or deep lakes – great care needs to be taken with skating on ice, choosing the wrong spot could be fatal.
The first championships were held in 1879. Because of the climatic requirements the event is very much a movable feast, geographically and as regards time, the most frozen fen used on a date when the local skating club can organise the competition.
Skating matches pre-date the championships in this part of the world, emphasizing its links with Holland. Races for money may date back to the Middle Ages, but the 19th century was the golden age, with star skaters from the region including some spectacular names: Larman Register, Fish Smart and his father Turkey; and the winner in the best nickname stakes Gutta Percha See, many of these figures remembered in Welney’s Lamb and Flag pub , the unofficial centre of the sport.

More British Folk Customs?

2 Responses to World Fen Skating Championships

From Hobson on 29th November 2012
A folk song to celebrate Fen Skating and the custom of farm lablureres hiring a chair for the skaters to make a few pence during the harsh, no-working wintertime is "SKATING BLADES", found on the cd "FEN FOLK" by Fen folk group, HOBSON'S VOICE.. from Includes the tune "FEN RUNNERS AWAY"..."fen runners" being the name given to the traditional skate. All 23 songs are about Fenland heritage.

From The Mardler on 5th January 2012
The sport of Fen skating is in danger of disappearing. As more and more fens and Washes are bought by wildlife organisations and access restricted so birds are not disturbed, there are fewer places for people to skate. The few places where access is allowed are not always managed in a traditional manner with mowing and grazing so that grass and weeds are short enough to be covered by shallow water, which makes for a tricky skating surface. Not all traditional sites have water let on to them to freeze and public liability insurance worries private landowners. It is a shame that Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk County councils could not set aside funding or help to obtain lottery funding to support the local skating associations, whose members often have an ancestry of many good fen skaters, and who keep this sport and old tradition alive. It is a joy,when the ice freezes, to see Fen people of all ages, flock from miles around, don their long bladed speed skates and take to the ice.

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