Best of British: Britain on Ice

Anna Walker

As the colder weather closes in, we've sought out activities that will make you want to embrace the frost

Ice Village
Cathedral gardens, Manchester

Featuring an ice sculpture cave, ice bar, ice rink and woodland market complete with winter games, Manchester’s Ice Village is the ultimate frosty destination.

Designed by the renowned Hamilton Ice Sculptors—who have undertaken commissions for Chanel, Beyoncé and the Royal Family—the project will see an entire village carved from some 250 tons of solid ice. Highlights include a steam train, arctic animals and the frozen history of Manchester, including nods to famous local figures such as the suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst.

Says Manchester City Councillor Pat Karney, “The Ice Village is the first of its kind in the UK and it will transform our family-friendly area in Cathedral Gardens. We waited for months to announce the incredible event and I can’t wait to be transported to a magical land of ice!” If you want to experience the icy kingdom for yourself, act fast—the attraction closes on January 5.

 

Ice Skating

Skylight Rooftop, London

Europe’s only rooftop ice skating rink offers stunning views across London—especially by night. Situated atop the Tobacco Dock in Wapping, the Skylight project includes three floors of bars, street food and live entertainment, so there’ll be plenty more to do once you pull off your skates.

Larger groups can book out elegant “igloo” spaces to warm up after a stint on the ice, with plenty of mulled wine, blankets and delicious raclette on offer.

Says events director Scott McVittie, "While Skylight might not be the largest ice surface in London, it is certainly the most unique. Being able to see the full London skyline out in front of you as you glide around the real ice really does bring out that special kind of feeling you can only find in London."

 

Ice Climbing

Lochaber, Scotland

For those with a taste for adventure, this is as up close and personal as ice experiences get. Challenge yourself to progress from novice to ice-wall-climbing daredevil at this unique experience day hosted at Scotland’s renowned National Ice Climbing Centre.

Made from around 500 tons of snow and ice, the wall is a dizzying 40ft high, with graduated routes for beginners through to professionals. Says Dave Macleod, one of the world’s top climbers, “This is your one and only opportunity to experience what ice climbing really feels like without waiting ages for the right weather, walking miles up snowy mountains, or serving your apprenticeship in winter mountaineering skills. You just step in a big fridge and start swinging some ice tools.”

 

The Ice Academy

Torfaen, Wales 

Ever admired the detailed beauty of an intricate ice sculpture and wondered just how they do it? Keen visitors can discover the tricks of the trade for themselves with a guided taster class in ice sculpting at Cardiff’s Ice Academy.

Working in -10°C, visitors are wrapped up in ski-wear and offered plenty of hot drinks to keep warm as they learn the various chisel and power tool techniques required to create their own icy masterpiece, during a two to three-hour session.

The Academy also offers bespoke workshops for clients who wish to create their own ice sculpture for a special event—the perfect activity for a couple before their wedding day or to create a memorable centrepiece for an anniversary or birthday party.

 

Curling

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Fenton’s Rink, located just outside of Tunbridge Wells, is England’s only dedicated curling rink, and the perfect place for beginners to try the sport for themselves.

Originating from Scotland in the 16th century, curling was first played by rolling stones across frozen ponds and it has been recognised as a Winter Olympic sport since 1998.

Fenton’s Rink features a full Olympic sized ice pad, friendly coaches and space for up to 30 players on the ice, although bookings can start from as few as eight. For solo players, senior groups offer special curling cues for those with bad backs and rubber ice-gripping shoes for those less certain on their feet.

Says the rink's owner, Ernest Fenton, “Our 170ft-ice rink has been specially designed for curling, so everyone gets to try the real thing, complete with curling stones, brushes and shoes, just as you would see on televised games.”

 

Sled Dogs

Cairngorms, Scotland

It’s a scene you might expect to stumble across in Lapland—not Scotland—but there's a surprisingly thriving sled dog scene in the Cairngorms.

Centre has a top-class team of snow dogs who are constantly in training for international events and mountain excursions. It’s the only daily working sled dog centre in the UK and one of just five in wider Europe.

Guests on the sled dog safari can enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the Cairngorm, passing herds of red deer and panoramic views of two mountain ranges, before stopping off at a camp for tea and snacks for the hardworking pups. More adventurous guests can also opt for an overnight experience using state-of-the-art night vision goggles to take in the spectacular surroundings of Scotland’s most remote forests.

Says owner Alan Stewart, “Visitors get a real insight into how my family have lived and trained Alaskan Huskies at the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains for 17 years.”

 

Ice Hockey

Alexandra Palace, London

Already beloved across Canada, Russia and the United States, ice hockey is winning over more and more fans here in Britain. In terms of live attendances, it has now become the most watched indoor sport in Britain according to the UK’s Elite Ice Hockey League.

The sport is dramatic as well as skilled, with players colliding for vicious tackles at speeds of up to 35mph and pucks hitting the back of the net at up to 100.

Book tickets to cheer on the venue’s home team, the Haringey Huskies, in the beautiful surroundings of Alexandra Palace, or cheer for your own local team, with opponents travelling to compete from places as far afield as Cardiff and Southampton.