Thousands gather on the streets despite big freeze

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The Independent Online

Severe winter weather, with temperatures dipping as low as minus 12C (10F), failed to disrupt traditional New Year's Day celebrations.

Severe winter weather, with temperatures dipping as low as minus 12C (10F), failed to disrupt traditional New Year's Day celebrations.

More than 30,000 people lined the streets of central London for a New Year parade featuring international troupes of entertainers to mark the start of the Queen's Golden Jubilee. The biggest cheer came for the 3,500 participants from the United States.

A spokesman for the parade said: "We are totally delighted with the turnout. It's given London a real lift. I think everybody was desperate to see the back of 2001."

Hours earlier thousands of revellers had packed into Trafalgar Square to see in the new year, ignoring police warnings to avoid the area. Despite an alcohol ban in central London, the cold and the absence of organised events, an estimated 80,000 people created a carnival atmosphere.

In Scotland, the two largest Hogmanay street parties were declared major successes. In Edinburgh about 100,000 people attended the Royal Bank Street Party, on Princes Street. Organisers of Glasgow's celebrations described the event, which brought about 95,000 out on to the streets, as the "biggest and most successful ever".

Yesterday around 60 people plunged into the icy waters of the Firth of Forth in Scotland for an annual New Year's Day charity event.

Swimmers from across Scotland, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada took the plunge under the shadow of the Forth Rail Bridge. Cameron MacQueen, 24, from Australia, said: "I've run into the Southern Ocean off Victoria before. I think it was winter then too and it was absolutely freezing, but this is just ridiculous."

Temperatures in Britain last night were as low as minus 8C in Birmingham and minus 2C in London. The coldest reading, of minus 12C, was at Sennybridge in south Wales.

Temperatures remained below freezing yesterday in many areas but forecasters predicted an improvement, particularly in the west. They could rise as high as 8C in Cornwall today with a further rise to 10C there by the end of the week. They should also reach 7C in London by the weekend.

The cold weather also caused mayhem in the sporting programme. The Premiership football match between Arsenal and Leicester was called off after a 2pm inspection of the frozen Leicester pitch by the referee David Elleray.

The lower reaches of the Nationwide League faced a near wipeout from the weather.

Rugby league also suffered from the freeze, and the only race meeting took place on the all-weather track at Southwell following the abandonments at Cheltenham, Plumpton, Catterick, Exeter and Leicester.