Bluffer’s Guide to Ice Skating

Ice skating is not for the faint-of-heart. In some forms it might even qualify as an ‘extreme sport’ (speed skating, ice hockey, para-skating, skating-on-thin-ice etc.) In other various disciplines, such as figure skating, it might be less obviously dangerous but no less extreme. (Have you seen some of those twirly moves?)

The closest most of us are likely to come to skating is floundering about on an ice rink and wondering why helmets and full Kevlar body armour don’t come as standard. If nothing else it teaches us that good skaters are few and far between and other people are extremely bad. But fear of ‘wiping out’ and having the tips of your fingers removed by a passing pair of blades shouldn’t keep you from playing the game.

When did Ice Skating take off?

Ice skating is sometimes traced back 4,000 years ago to its origins in Northern Europe, although no one’s quite sure of the details (apparently it was too cold to keep meticulous records). But it wasn’t until c.1660 that the English caught up.

Dutch engineers, who had been employed to help drain the Cambridgeshire fens (they’re awfully good at that sort of thing), brought their skating shoes over with them (shoes, especially clogs, are something else they’re good at) and suddenly speed skating took off.

About 20 years later (1683), the River Thames froze over for 2 months and (because the underground was still 200 years from opening and the chaos of TFL line closures was as yet an unknown evil) London celebrated the ice with The Great Frost Fair. Cue the upper echelons of society tentatively taking to the ice.

So how do I display my sporting prowess?

Not everyone can glide out onto the ice as if they were the lovechild of champion skating duo Torvill and Dean. If you’re closer to Dancing on Ice dropout Gareth Thomas, don’t be disheartened. Instead, find a happy medium and blame your ‘uncharacteristically’ restrained performance on the crowds and a respect for the safety of others. After all, skating is a risky business.

Um, can I make up for my lack of substance with style?

Naturally. What sort of a bluffer would you be if you couldn’t? If you have absolutely no faith in your ice skating ability then adopt an air of expertise instead. This means no clutching on to the edges, no Catherine wheel arm flailing and definitely no cutesy alpine headwear.

It’s also a good idea to pair up with someone of inferior ability. Their panicked cries and will-they-won’t-they-stumbles are great at disguising your own inadequacies. As they windmill about squawking like chickens, you can shake your head wearily and increase the tension of your vice-like grip on the rink side.

Maximum bluffing value

In between your perfect circuits of the rink, mention that in 1841 Prince Albert had a hairy experience on the ice which Queen Victoria recorded in her diary of that day: ‘the ice cracked, and Albert was in the water up to his head, even for a moment below. In my agony of fright and despair I screamed and stretched out my arm… My Dearest Albert managed to catch my arm and reached the ground in safety.’ This might rank as one of the greatest life-saving feats ever carried out by a reigning monarch.

Do say: ‘Bring gloves, a tolerance for cold children and enough cash for the overpriced mulled wine.’

Don’t ask: ‘Is that the tip of your finger on the ice over there?’

Five top outdoor Ice Skating venues

  1. Somerset House wins hands down in the atmosphere stakes. Lovely buildings, great lighting, great central London location.
  2. It’s a close run thing, but National History Museum in South Kensington is also stunningly gorgeous.
  3. Kew Gardens (west London) also takes some beating
  4. And if you fancy a quick turn on the ice to celebrate finishing your Christmas shopping, head over to Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush.
  5. But the daddy of them all isn’t in London. If money and time are no object hop on a plane to the Big Apple and head to Central Park. There’s nowhere else quite like it.

Happy Bluffing from Bluffer’s!