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Woks, Yachts and Life under the Ice – Unique winter activities

9 August 2018

Winter brings some truly wonderful things to the table from Christmas markets, to shimmering snowscapes across the world. Some people however, take the deep mid-winter as an opportunity to indulge in some eccentric, bizarre and downright marvellous activities which we are going to explore here!

Ice Fishing

I don't know about you guys, but there are precious few things I prefer to do with my time than spending several hours in the arctic tundra, gazing at a small hole in the ice with a fishing rod in one hand and presumably frostbite in the other. Tranquillity reigns supreme in the blank canvas of the snowscape, and time freezes in place, much like I do, as the cold takes away the feeling from every body part I've ever known. Good luck catching any fish too because ice fishing, as this pastime is helpfully known, is notorious for not yielding any catches and any that do materialise is usually a matter of fortune over skill. As the Official Travel Guide of Finland (www.visitfinland.com) puts it: 'There seems to be no point in this peculiar wintery past-time. None whatsoever'

But as any seasoned ice fisher will tell you, it was never about the fish. Ice fishing offers that which is in such rare supply these days, the unfettered, incalculably beautiful feeling of serene solitude. Setting down against a white backdrop where the horizon is barely visible, the wispy snow covers the tracks laid down by the hours you spend in this mindful vigil. Sink back into a blanket of crisp silence which stretches across this gap in civilisation's ever-reaching encroachment into nature's majesty, and let your mind skitter above the ice and into the maritime kaleidoscope below.

You get the idea.

Wok Racing

Get that stir-fry out of that wok and onto a plate! Throw out that curry, and get the wok washed and ready to go! It's time to get wok and roll with our wintry activities!

This is the absurd, hilarious and absolutely fantastic sport of wok racing! Pioneered by a German television host, this sport sees modified woks taken to Olympic bobsleigh tracks and raced down to the finish line. What makes for a modified wok is beyond me, and a question to ask a more seasoned wokker (wokkist? wokkie?), but what's for sure, is that wok racing is a spectacle to behold. Events are split into individual participants on a single wok, or teams of four on a four-wok open sled, and when featured on television tend to have b-list celebrities taking part against each other. Tournaments have been held each year since 2003, after the idea was conjured up based on a bet.

The highest speed ever recorded in an individual wok race was over 65 miles an hour, while the highest speed achieved in a four wok sled was 71 miles an hour. Participants have included an Irish musician, the Jamaican bobsleigh team, and various professional athletes - but really, the availability of the equipment and the simplicity of the activity makes this sport open to people from all woks of life.

Ice Yachting

Now this is one of the most elegant entries on our list. Take one sailing yacht, add two beams on either side, place skates under each beam, and you have yourself an ice yacht.

This fantastic pastime stretches back hundreds of years, created by daring pioneers across northern Europe as far back as the 18th century. Unsurprisingly, this is still a popular sport across most Nordic countries and honestly, it looks like an absolute ball. These yachts zoom across frozen lakes and seas, picking up some impressive speeds as the glide effortlessly with the razor sharp wind. Most yachts are one-man vehicles today, especially in the competitive worlds, with the contestant lying as flat as they can so as to minimise wind resistance. These 'scooters' pick up serious speeds, reaching up to 31mph as they compete in sprints to designated markers. A race with these zippers is a true spectacle to behold; remember that next time you're out for a stroll on a frozen ocean somewhere in Scandinavia.

Ice Diving

No, I don't know why they do it or even how they do it. This has to be the most extreme of our activities on this list, and with good reason. Ice diving is the last on our list of bizarre winter activities, and leaves a lasting chill even in these heady summer temperatures.

The act of ice diving is actually fairly self-explanatory but I'll give it a quick run-down for anyone who would rather not believe anyone actually takes part in this hobby. Ice diving is the act of diving under a hole and swimming under the ice, taking in the aqua beauty of the below-zero water. Unsurprisingly, this is an enormously dangerous pursuit and one which puts the participant in several risky situations. From getting stuck under the ice by forgetting where your entry point is, to succumbing to hypothermia, ice diving is frankly bizarre. Divers undergo serious training regimes, are accompanied by a surface team who keep them tethered to the shores, and wear specially designed suits to maximise the odds of survival, but for various reasons including self-preservation, we at Great Rail Journeys would like to suggest that you maybe don't try this at home.

Having said that, the reward of ice diving is spectacular, revealing the gorgeous blues and marine life which lies just below the surface. The courage of these divers is truly to be commended, as is their dedication to a cause and hobby which boggles my mind personally!

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