Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Lake ice an inch thick

It's been devilishly cold in Sussex for a couple of weeks now, with even daytime temperatures barely getting up to 5 degrees celsius, and night-time temperatures dropping below zero. That's not particularly extreme, of course; but Sussex usually has a mild climate, except on the high downs, and this chilly weather is a little exceptional. I understand it's all about the jet stream in the atmosphere meandering more than it normally does, allowing cold Arctic or Siberian air to dominate - shutting out warm, moist air from the Atlantic, or hot dry air up from the Sahara.

One effect is to sap the efficiency of car batteries, if the car is parked out of doors in the night frost and is denied any long daytime runs. Quick outings to local shops are not enough. After a short while it becomes urgent to charge up the car battery with a good run somewhere.

This was Fiona's predicament. I hadn't taken her for a long drive since before Christmas. The furthest I'd been was Eastbourne on Boxing Day. So two days ago I decided to go as far as the south-west corner of Surrey, to a favourite beauty spot - Little Frensham Pond. It's top centre, off the A287, in this map just below:

And here's a better map:

As you can see, there are two Ponds - lakes really - Great and Little. The nicer one is the Little Pond. You can park somewhere near its north edge, and walk all the way around. When I was last here - almost exactly two years before in January 2015 - I did the full circuit, taking in part of Frensham Common as well. This year's visit wasn't so comprehensive, partly because of all the people there - the sense of solitude I had last time was absent - and partly because I arrived too late in the afternoon to stay long, the sun already setting.

In January 2015, the air was crisp but not especially cold, and peace ruled. It was a Saturday morning, and the fishermen there almost outnumbered the other visitors:

I was wrapped up well, but I remember unzipping my jacket halfway round because the sun was making me too warm:

Not so this time, two years on. It was bitterly cold. The setting sun offered no warmth at all. And there was ice all over the surface of the Pond, except where people had tried to break it up at the shoreline. It made the lake look unnaturally serene. This time it was a Sunday afternoon, and half of Surrey was there. Somewhere over the far side children were running amok, shrieking their heads off. It wasn't the occasion for a solitary, contemplative stroll with just the breeze for company. So I walked only a short way down the east side of the Pond, concentrating on getting some nice pictures. And I think I succeeded.

A picture of me first, trying to ignore the hoards of intrusive Surrey folk, then some of the lake from various points:

At one point I was able to pick up a fragment of the lake ice. It was fully an inch thick. It would certainly support the weight of a duck or swan, but probably not a child, and certainly not someone like myself! It was thick enough however to make pummeling a hole difficult without an effective tool. (But I came across an iron bar by the lakeside - clearly the instrument employed) The ice was dirty with sand and vegetable matter, as you'd expect for the edge of a lake, but still remarkably transparent:

I didn't hold the piece of ice for long. It was much too cold for my fingers. I returned to Fiona, whose interior was thankfully still warm, and drove away before the Surrey people decided to leave en masse. Or before any wetness on the roads turned to sheet ice. I was sure my Michelin CrossClimate tyres would cope, but there was no sense in running risks. It would soon be dark anyway.

It was a round trip of about eighty miles. I'm sure it did Fiona's battery a power of good.


  1. Lucy, I seem to remember when I was south and we met five years ago at this time of year there was thick snow and ice everywhere for a whole week.

    Nice evening light on that pond.

  2. We do occasionally see a few days of snow. But for the last two years, the weather has been mild and very nearly snow-free. Frosty nights, yes, but generally warmer during the day than it is just now. I'm definitely having to wear warmer clothes.



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