Judith Wilshaw remembers a time when it was so cold that Windermere froze over so completely that skaters and cyclists traversed the lake and an ice yacht appeared.

In November 1962 a very cold air current streamed down over England from Siberia. At the time I lived in Bowness on Windermere, and in southern Lakeland the temperature hovered around freezing from November to March, but we had lovely sunny, dry weather most of the time. Our house was built on a rocky hill and the water supply pipe was close to the surface. It soon froze up and we had to resort to collecting water by the bucket from neighbours not yet afflicted. A somewhat amusing social activity was going round to your friends who still had running water to beg for a bath! We did not have central heating, and thick layers of frost flowers decorated the bedroom windows, while getting dressed under the bedclothes became an art form to put off the moment when you had to emerge into the aching cold of the early morning.

Windermere was frozen over by just after Christmas. The ice felt rock solid and people were walking all over it. I had been a keen ice skater in my early teens, and went to seek out my skates, dashing back to try out the wonderful pristine surface. Skating in the spring sunshine with a backdrop of Fairfield definitely had the edge on a Manchester ice rink!

A few days later a storm blew in, breaking up the ice, but then the wind dropped and the very cold water rapidly froze again. After that, cold calm conditions prevailed and the ice got progressively thicker. Soundings in Bowness Bay registered it at over a foot thick and it became a really great attraction. Many came to skate, and an ice yacht appeared, though there was so little wind it was not very successful. Cycling on the ice had its amusing side, and one afternoon a friend and I walked right across the lake via Rampholme Island, something that few can claim to have done.

It began to warm up in late March after four months below freezing. The prolonged cold and dry conditions caused hardship, discomfort and damage. Many farms and outlying villages relied on springs and streams for their water supply, and when these froze in the ground, water had to be brought by tanker, sometimes for weeks. Currents in the lake water continued flowing, causing the thick ice layer to push the piles of boat jetties bodily through the gravel and clay of the lake bed, moving them anything up to a foot so decking planks split, and many jetties had to be replaced. As the temperature rose, it began to rain and when the water hit the still frozen ground it turned into black ice, making a most unwelcome skating rink on every pavement and road. No shoes could keep out the cold and I suffered with chilblains for weeks.

It is rare for a lake as large and deep as Windermere to freeze so completely and for as long as it did in 1963. The last time it had happened before that was in 1895, so it is unlikely that I will experience it again in my life time. It was worth putting up with the intense cold, the chilblains and the inconveniences of doing without running water for the joy of going skating on Windermere, and to feel the crystal cold of the frosty air on your face. I count myself fortunate indeed to have had such a unique experience.

By Judith Wilshaw, Friends member