Sunday the 19th was scheduled to be the "frostbite" polo training session. However, Saturday night, it began to snow. And it snowed, and it snowed and it snowed. Awaking bright and early to go paddling, we were greeted by acres and acres of glistening white. A plan began to form.
Not only is paddling on a frozen canal very cold, ice on the ball tends to upset even the best players throwing ability so the session was cancelled, or rather it migrated into something more suitable to the conditions. A 'frostbite' sledging session was hastily organised. However, being a canoe club, there was only one way to do it, in canoes.
Meeting at Watley's Yard at 11.30, a discussion ensued as to the most suitable boat. Eventually we settled on plastic pool bats. They have the advantage of being small, light, tough, flat bottomed and relatively cheap. Three of said boats were loaded onto the car and we set off to find a hill. Nearby Alton Barnes obliged and we parked Rowan's car at the bottom of the slope, Andy's 4x4 at the top and unloaded. Initially, those wearing full mountaineering equipment (Rowan, Tarv and Sam) looked a bit out of place next to the less elementally protected. Having pulled the boats up to the top of the first slope, Andy volunteered to go first.
Sat in a boat, helmet on head, ice axe in hand, he made a fantastic sight. With a shout Tarzan himself would be proud of, he launched down the slope. The speed was greater than we would have predicted and with an axe to brake and steer, we had a surprising amount of control. When he had finally come to a halt, some 50 yards down the hill the grin on his face said it all. After that it was everybody for themselves. We started from higher and higher up, gaining more and more speed.
The longest run definitely Sam's who slid for a good 250 yards, steering up and down banks like a slalomist. He was only cut short by a wooden fence, necessitating a spectacular ice axe arrest. Tarv gained the most air, flying about 4 feet and also successfully (and not entirely deliberately) managed a 180 degree spin in mid air. Even Anna was seen to have a go, declaring it to be "great fun" but declining to have a second attempt. None of the passers-by, many on conventional sledges wanted a go, despite our kind offers, but many stayed to watch a while.
All was going well, we had mastered steering and were going over some pretty steep drops, when Andy hit a patch of ice and went into a spin. The resulting impact with a solid bank of snow made us all wince. The boat had flown up on a edge and cracked into his ribcage on the left hand side. He was winded and chose to rest for a while. After 15 minutes when he was obviously still in pain, he retired to the car.
We tried a few longer runs, one of which ended with a 12ft drop onto a barbed wire fence for those tardy with the ice axe and another 'Tarv special' which involved sitting on, rather than in, the boat. Anna took some photographs of us on the shorter runs and shortly after this Andy returned, looking slightly the worse for wear and requesting a lift to AE. We took this as our cue to leave and departed, leaving only a bizarre combination of ice axe marks and snake like tracks behind.
A fantastic day, only slightly marred by Andy's injury. What's next?
Article by Sam Moore. Sam retains copyright on this article and the accompanying photos.