It's a long time since there was a frost fair on the frozen Thames or Sir Henry Raeburn painted The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, but for many families outdoor ice skating is now almost as synonymous with the UK winter as mulled wine and mistletoe. Across the UK, the winter festivities have begun with the opening of numerous temporary outdoor ice rinks in cities from Glasgow to Exeter.
Yesterday, Kew Gardens unveiled a 1,000 sq m rink at the Royal Botanic Gardens - the latest in a number of themed ice spectaculars across London and other major cities. Situated directly in front of the majestic Temperate House, for the next six weeks, the rink offers a chance for up to 250 people at a time to skate under the stars amid a sparking landscape transformed with Christmas lights and decorations designed to create a winter wonderland.
A similar scene is being created across the country as, each year, more and more private companies and local authorities discover the attractions of outdoor skating as either a promotional aid to lure shoppers or money spinning entertainment venues in their own right.
There are now more than two dozen temporary ice rinks erected across the UK each winter as rival cities compete to entertain hordes of Christmas shoppers.
Although the first rink with artificially frozen ice, the Glaciarium, was opened in London in 1876 it is only in the past 10 years that temporary ice rinks have become part of Britain's winter landscape and a new pastime for many families eager to keep their youngsters amused during the long, dark winter months of November to January.
Ever since the first skaters used animal bones to cross the frozen wastes of Scandinavia more than 1,000 years ago, ice skating has become a regular winter activity and, despite recent fears of global warming and warmer winters, the number of new skaters continues to increase each year.
"Temporary ice rinks are more popular this year than ever," said a spokesman for BaseLine Sports International Ltd, a Norfolk-based company that supplies rinks of different shapes and sizes across the UK. "We have doubled the number of rinks we supply this year with venues in places as such as Bromley, Southampton, Norwich and Oxford as more companies and local authorities want to create a magical entertainment venue for families.
"All our rinks are themed to make it an exciting place with sound and lighting to create a fun atmosphere. We have been supplying rinks for the four years and demand is getting greater each year."
Around the UK on skates
* SOMERSET HOUSE
The first big temporary ice skating venue in London, above. Just off the Strand within the courtyard
Open: 22 November 2006 to 28 January 2007
Adult £10-£15, child £7
In the shadow of the castle, top right, the rink at East Princes Street Gardens, probably enjoys the best backdrop.
Open: 24 November 2006 to 7 January 2007
Adult £8.50, child £7.50 Off-peak tickets cheaper
* TOWER OF LONDON
History repeats itself as skaters can enjoy the ice close to the Thames
Open: 25 November 2006 to 14 January 2007
Adult £10, children £7.50
A winter wonderland in an rink outside Cardiff City Hall, above left, providing visitors the opportunity to skate or watch from a heated terrace
Open: 16 November 2006 to 7 January 2007
Adults £7.50, child £5.50
Another historical location in the shadow of Clifford's Tower. Open: 18 November 2006 to 7 January 2007
Adult £7.95, child £6.50
An Ice rink and Britain's first ice slide under the castle ramparts
Open: 2 December 2006 to 7 January 2007
Adult £6-£10, child £5-£7