Ice age returns to Hertfordshire

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The Independent Online
The Good burghers of Rickmansworth do not warm to the special qualities of the place at this time of year.

The icy truth is that the Hertfordshire commuter town is one of the coldest towns in England, writes Vanessa Thorpe, with a climate similar to that of Braemar in the Aberdeenshire plateau, and a growing season five weeks shorter than neighbouring towns.

Rickmansworth might be only 17 miles from London's West End, but it lies in a "frost hollow". It sits in a steep valley at the foot of the Chiltern Hills, which are one of the highest points west of the Urals, and when cold air sinks down into the town it stays there, trapped by a railway embankment the Victorians built in the valley.

A spokeswoman at the London Weather Centre confirmed that the area suffers particularly badly from a nip in the air. "We don't actually take temperatures there but at this time of year an average of 0.5 Celsius would be quite possible."

Around Batchworth Lock yesterday, where the River Chess meets the Grand Union Canal, it was easy to believe that this part of Hertfordshire was once a gigantic ice lake before the end of the last ice age. For five days the 30 families living there in barges have been frozen in while the water in the locks has formed large cubes of ice.

"I found out that this was one of the coldest places in Britain last year after I had moved into the boat," said mooring warden Sandy Jardine. "But it's not too bad once you get a fire going."

In MacKay's, a clothes shop in the centre of town, assistant Sally Smith said the shop's supply of cold weather gear had been almost exhausted. "We have sold a lot of hats and scarves this week and the first thing people look at are the jumpers."

Local historian Peter Waters believes the people of "Ricky" are quite proud of its frosty reputation. "A lot of people don't quite believe it, but the frost spots are dotted along the valley road next to the railway. It's actually quite nice for the town to be mentioned nationally. We're usually just thought of as a place full of dyed-in-the-wool old colonels."

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