As you approach Grantchester Meadows on the path out of Cambridge, your eye is attracted to a sheltered water-meadow curiously dotted about with the rusting stalks of antique gas street lamps. It is a puzzling sight until you discover that they once illuminated a natural skating rink. When the north wind blew across the fens in the first months, the shallow flood would freeze readily, and night-time has always been favoured by ice-skaters because the ice is harder, faster, and more romantic.
Fenland skating is one of the last great hidden subcultures in our land. And it goes back well past the Middle Ages. It is mostly hidden because the conditions for it’s open expression only occur from time to time, but all across the fens, pairs of cobwebbed skates still hang optimistically in sheds and attics waiting for the next big freeze. And in the isolated pubs strung out along the horizons of the Hundred Foot River and the Ouse Washes, the oldies still sit and tell stories of the en skaters and their rivalry beneath photographs of some of the legendary aces.
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(That was the first two paragraphs of a piece from our book, ‘Caught By The River – A Collection of Words on Water‘, written by the late Roger Deakin. It was originally published as an article for ‘The Countryman‘ magazine and was offered to us by Robert MacFarlane in his capacity as the executor of Roger’s literary estate. It was one of the first pieces confirmed for inclusion in the book and we consider it a real honour to have have it in there.)