Thursday, 21 January 2010

A bet on the Eleven Cities Tour or the Winter Olympics being held?

The worst seems to have gone and the possible horrors of a repeat of the 1963 winter of frozen discontent have all but abated. A couple of stories came to light which generated memories of that winter and the fact that ponds, large and small, some rivers and the sea in places were all frozen solid, remaining so for weeks on end. It was probably my first memory of skating across frozen water – a childhood thing – and we had at some stage taken up ice skating as a hobby at one of the local rinks.

This year frozen swathes of meadows, rivers or canals brought surges to the hearts of Fenland Racers and the hardened tour skaters in Holland. Wilma, who now lives in New Zealand, commented on my recent post that:

I love the winter pictures and yet I am so pleased I am not living in a place where it can get that cold. In Holland they always get excited when it gets cold as every year they hope for a certain event to happen. It is the 11 cities skating event, where people skate from city to city, covering all eleven. The whole country is involved. It hardly ever happens though as it requires a continuous below zero temperature to produce strong enough ice that can carry the masses of participants."

So I had to find out more ..

The Fens, East Anglia -
on the Benelux map to the right,
Holland is depicted in stone-brown;
while the bump creeping in is East

Then the BBC mentioned that the Fenland Skating Centre hoped to stage some competitive speed skating events on the shallow flooded meadows in the Fens, as long as the temperature remained at or below sub-zero for a while longer, as had happened in the particularly icy winter of 1963.

Thousands of years ago the Netherlands and the Fens of East Anglia were joined but now both exhibit similar landscapes – hardly above sea level – water meadows, marshlands, lakes, canals and rivers with their rivulets; the Fens becoming a drained agricultural landscape; Holland with its extensive inland canal and waterway system, where any arable land is used for intensive agriculture, including horticulture and greenhouse agri-businesses.

Those cold winters so well recorded in the paintings by the Old Masters, as well as recorded in literature: both Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn recording seeing skating on the canal in St James’s Park in London during the winter of 1662. Pepys wrote: “... over to the Parke (where I first in my life, it being great frost, did see people sliding with their skeats which is a very pretty art) ...

The Skater, 1782, a portrait of William Grant by Gilbert Stuart

It is thought that the Finns were first to develop ice skates some 5,000 years ago from animal bones – leg bones of horses, ox or deer, which were attached with leather straps. A pole with a sharp spike was used to propel the skater forward.

Early Fen skates came across from France or Holland in the 1600s and were called ‘fenrunners’ with the footstock being made of beechwood, then screwed into the heel of the boot, while three small spikes at the front kept the skate steady, with leather straps providing extra fastenings.

Fen Runners

Fenskating became extremely popular in the regularly severe winters of the 1600s – 1900s – so much so .. that skating matches were held in towns and villages all over the Fens. In these local matches men (sometimes women or children) would compete for prizes of money, clothing or food – for example joints of meat being hung outside the village pub, to be skated for on the morrow.

In the late 1800s skating boots appeared and were adapted to the different disciplines, eg ice hockey boots, figure skates; tour skating uses special long blades attached, via bindings, to hiking or cross-country ski boots and are used for long distance skating on natural ice. The length of the blades makes touring skates more stable on uneven natural ice than skates with shorter blades.

Wilma’s mention of the Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Tour) as the world’s largest and longest speed skating competition and leisure skating tour, is held irregularly in Friesland, a northern province of the Netherlands. The tour, almost 200 km (125 miles) in length, goes along frozen waterways between eleven historic Frisian cities.

This rare event creates a huge buzz across Friesland, a northern province of the Netherlands, because since its inauguration in 1909 the tour has only been held 15 times, as temperatures do not fall enough to provide the required thickness (15 cm or 6 inches) of ice along the course.

About 15,000 skaters take part, amateurs and pros, cheered on by almost 2 million spectators, one in eight of the whole population. The winners are hailed as national heroes. In the mythical 1963 race, just 136 crossed the line out of 10,000 who set out in a raging blizzard – due to the extremely low temperatures (-18 deg C / 0.4 deg F) and a harsh Siberian wind.

Wilma’s description that the whole country gets excited, with a huge momentum of media attention – as only climate expectation really brings on .. the “will they be able to hold the event” .. or “not”? It looks unlikely .. but so near & yet so far for the Elfstedentocht 2010 .... I suspect we’d better put our bets on the certainty of this year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver from 12 – 18 February!!

Thank you Mr Postman - at least the weather has warmed up a little. My mother is ok, but has an infection of some description that we're trying to resolve - not easy with her condition: but she is just very tired and sleeps lots.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hello Hilary,

What great information on ice skating and how it began. Amazing the skating between all those cities in such really cold weather. Those are the days that I want to stay inside not go out and watch people skate.

Hope that your mother gets feeling better. That is a concern for you.

Sorry we have not visited much in the past few months. 50 hour work weeks do not leave much time for anything else. Over two months of that, it is getting old. It is starting to get a little better so that we can come visit with you more often.

Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna .. thank you and good to see yo back .. me too - except it is exhilerating once one is out, if it's playtime!

Mum is ok and being well looked after - thank you. You have been busy .. and completely understand the time away - good to have you back.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Linda Bob Grifins Korbetis Hall said...

I enjoy watching ice-skating games,
glad to see you fresh post,
which is packed with informative stuff..

take care,
cheers, ;)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Ji .. thanks for coming back and so pleased to hear you enjoy the ice-skating games ..

Glad you've enjoyed your visit and been able to learn something -

Have a good weekend - cheers Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Jannie Funster said...

I could have been a champion speed skater, I am sure. I was faster than all the girls, even many of the boys.

Here in Texas I miss the winter skating more than I miss the summer bonfires and beach frolic.

As Joni Mitchell, I wish I had a river I could skate away on (but not because I made my baby cry and say good-bye.) Just because I miss flying for miles over the iced fields and back to grandmother's house for cookies and tea.

Yes, we can skate in rinks here. And on-lookers regard me with awe and wonder, but they do not know what a caged bird I am on that fake ice.

But not to depress you too much over my skating wanderlust today, Hilary. I am very content at my computer with all your beautiful blogging types.

It is expected to reach 22 C here today. And sunny. Wanna pop over for lemonade and chicken pie??


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie .. oddly enough I think that would have suited me too .. the thought of just setting off across the frozen fields sounds so exciting and so wonderful - brilliant memories for you - snow houses, now skating release .. I can imagine the caged bird ...

Sorry if I've given you a bit of a wanderlust desire to go back 'a few' years .. as far as we're concerned .. we're just pleased we're all here together & I love it .. it's been so helpful to me ..

& yes Hardwick and I will be over shortly through Blue Bunny's burrows and warrens .. could do with a warm up!! C U sooooon .. 22 deg C here - just about max at summer here!!

Have a good weekend especially with the lemonade and chicken pie ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I love watching ice skating.

Once again a very interesting and well written post. It does make me shiver a bit.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Teresa (JW) - yes so do I .. - so I suppose a little time to be set aside for the Winter Olympics, thinking about it - until I looked for the post I hadn't realised it was next month.

Too much cold is not good - unless it's the norm and you're used to it .. certainly we're not here in the UK ..

Have a good weekend - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Jannie Funster said...

Oh no, I am quite fine now. Just a quick nostalgic glitch.

Luckily caged birds get to sing their little hearts out.


Liara Covert said...

Something about the winter inspires people who live in these climates to get out and take part in winter sports. I recently introduced a very good friend to cross country skiing and this experience is full of surprises for teacher and student. The individual continues to say it is not downhill skiing and finds he is unable to use how downhill ski techniques in cross country skiboots and skiis. When it comes to skating, this is a childhood love of mine nurtured form a very young age.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie .. I'm sure - just those nostalgic memories creep up occasionally. Now with Kelly around - you can both express your "not normal" selves together and have such fun - as good as or better than (as it's in the now) you had rushing those frozen fields.

Singing - the week has come - little bird's CD must be nearby!! Looking forward to it ..

Cheers H xoxo

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. I suppose they had to and also had to amuse themselves - hence the sports developed over the centuries. Different techniques for different disciplines, let alone boots and skis - glad you were both able to experience it.

I used to love skating too - but just for the love of it .. I guess most people in countries with lots of ice used to do it .. and again in centuries past - if it was easier to travel that way, then as we all do - we take a quicker route.

Thanks for being here ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

BK said...

Hilary, that must have been some race; with about 15,000 participants and around 2 millions spectators cheering them on. I can't imagine the joy of being involved in such a huge event. The feeling of racing across countries must be a fantastic experience too.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi BK .. Wilma mentioned it and it must be some race .. especially when it happens so rarely - can't believe it'll happen this year = well I hope not as here in England we will get the same weather! Must be great though to stand on the side encouraging all the skaters, like the marathons we have. But as you say just skating across the country must be fantastic too with all that camaraderie ...

Thanks for being here - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord said...

While reading that made me cold, I do love the idea of celebrating - rather than retreating from - winter. Those early skates were something else, from the looks of it, too!

Today in the Northeastern US, it's gray, rainy and rather springlike. I'll take it!

Happy Monday to you, Hilary!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Megan .. yes me too - just very glad I was born 300 years later, when it's slightly warmer most of the time. I loved that picture .. because the gentry always did dress well - they wouldn't step out of the house without being properly dressed.

Here too - grey or gray and damp .. yesterday was lovely slightly spring like & sunny = bliss! Yes - you keep your weather .. we're about to get another dose of Siberian/arctic weather - just hope it's not too severe!

Go well - have a good week ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sara said...

Hilary -- having lived in Florida almost all my life, I've never had the pleasure of ice skating. I do love to watch the skating events in the winter olympics, though:~)

I also found it interesting about where the ice skates came from and about the Eleven Cities Tour. I can see how this would exciting in that it takes just the right timing for it to happen.

This event reminds me of a flower we had when I growing up. It grew on a tree and would only bloom occasionally and at night. It had a very beautiful bloom and was a special event for us.

I enjoyed this post very much:~)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. so you're looking forward to a bit of skating magic in three weeks or so. We didn't do much - but it was interesting to have learnt .. the rink was some distance away.

The Dutch or Friesians seem to have encompassed a peculiar and special event .. which as a nation they obviously love.

I wonder what your flower tree was called - it sounds unusual .. did it have a rich scent?

Thanks for the thumbs up ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wilma Ham said...

Hi Hilary, you have a knack of really making history alive and interesting.
All special outdoor adventures have magic in them, it so shows the spectacular beauty and specialness of what nature can do.
And I love how we then play with it, it sure brings out the best in us.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma - I'd have never known about the eleven cities tour .. and these country events - eg the London Marathon, the New York Marathon, Comrades in South Africa (double marathon), Eleven City tour- bring those interested within the country & elsewhere can follow along, either by watching or by sitting by the tv!!

Hope it brought back memories for you of your old home country ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Liara Covert said...

To remember we are positive creators invites people to stand strong in that awareness. You create your reality with the nature of your thought energy. Ongoing experience reflects where your being exists. To relfect on the possible origin of skates as being made of animal bones is intriguing. Human beings are ingenious and resourceful. Everyone makes a difference in this physical world.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. good to see you here .. I think I like quirky things .. the skates made of animal bones just stood out as interesting. As you say humans are ingenious and resourceful.

Thank you - Hilary

Terro said...

Thanks for your wonderful stories, Hilary. I was startled to learn Gilbert Stuart had spent the time of the American Revolution in England. Growing up in Rhode Island, I'd learned about him as the artist who had portrayed our founding fathers without realizing he spent so much of his early career abroad.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Terro - you're welcome .. particularly because you told me something I didn't know - ie that Gilbert Stuart was American. I just loved that picture of the skater - representing Georgian England and the freezing weather we had then. (I was lazy and hadn't looked him up - not like me!).

I've never been to Rhode Island - so next time I know to look out for his cottage and some more history of that time .. thanks for alerting me.

We both learnt! Go well and have a good weekend .. Hilary