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Ice rinks have become increasingly popular over the last few winters, and as well as the iconic settings of Somerset House, the V&A and the Winter Wonderland in London, most major cities and towns will have a frozen pond to twirl on in the Christmas holiday period. Despite, that, and the fact that more and more of us have enjoyed the experience of trying on some skates and going for a glide – followed by warming gluhwein or hot chocolates afterwards – very few of us can claim to ever have skated on natural ice. There's a good reason for that of course. Seldom do UK winters stay cold enough for long enough for ice to form that is so thick that it is 100% safe. It does in Sweden though.

Even though their lakes and rivers do freeze over, the Swedes are still cautious and careful when they go out to skate. Primarily, they use their ears. Very deep ice has a low groan to it, while thin ice will make a higher pitched squeal. Anyone venturing over from the UK would be best advised to go with a local guide who knows the tell-tale signs and can offer guidance and security. Once you have taken your first faltering steps onto a vast frozen lake, the local rink with its barriers, its awful music and its misbehaving teenagers will never have the same appeal again. Imagine the most beautiful scenery, scintillating cold fresh air, and mile after mile of endless frozen waterway to swiftly traverse.

A bit like surfers in search of the perfect wave, skaters have to go in search of the perfect ice. Too much snow on top is useless, and when it freezes, it becomes impossibly ridged and bumpy. Likewise, a sudden thaw is also disastrous. Wet slushy patches make the ice unusable. An ice skating odyssey might turn out a bit like a surf trip, jumping in the van to drive miles to the latest reported sweet spot.

All around the Swedish lakes are little huts called vandrehems, a bit like our bothies, where the rule is to leave them as you found them. It is almost always possible to find a room in one of these.

One of the great joys of "free skating" is the distances you can cover. It is not unusual to cover 150 miles in a day, uninterrupted by endlessly turning corners and trying not to trip over people in your way. It's incredible exercise. You will only ever come across wildlife, or possibly ice yachts, carving a fast trajectory over the smooth surfaces. One of the most famous lakes in Sweden is Vattern. It has a reputation for "glass ice", the very very best. Those who have skated there describe the sensation as somewhere between floating, falling and flying.

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