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!
We don't know about you, but there are precious few things we prefer to do with our time than spend 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. But if you're more interested in tranquillity than a fish supper, then you've come to the right place! This is probably a preferable motivation to be honest, as this pastime is notorious for not yielding any catches, and any that do materialise are usually a thanks to fortune not 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 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 covering the tracks you made before you began this mindful vigil. Sink back into a blanket of crisp silence and let your mind swim as freely as the marine creatures below your feet will stubbornly remain.
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!
We're talking about, of course, the absurd, hilarious and absolutely fantastic sport of wok racing. Pioneered by a German television host, this activity sees modified woks taken to Olympic bobsleigh tracks and raced to the finish line. What makes for a modified wok is beyond us, and is a question to ask a more seasoned wokker (wokkist? wokkie?), but what's certain, in our opinions, is that wok racing is a sport much more entertaining to the spectator than the participant. Events are split into individual contestants on a single wok, or teams of four spaced out on a four-wok open sled (whatever that may be) 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. Racers 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 - if they dare!
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 speed as the glide effortlessly aided by the razor-sharp wind. Most yachts are one-man vehicles these days, especially in the competitive world, with the contestant lying as flat as they can so as to minimise wind resistance. These 'scooters' pick up serious speeds, reaching up to 31 miles per hour as they compete in sprints to designated markers. A race between these zippers is a true spectacle to behold; a tip worth remembering the next time you're out for a stroll on a frozen ocean somewhere in Scandinavia.
No, I don't know why they do it or even how they do it. This has to be the most extreme of the activities on our list, and with good reason. Ice diving is not only a bizarre winter activity but can be downright dangerous, and leaves a lasting chill just contemplating it.
The act of ice diving is actually fairly self-explanatory but we'll give it a quick run-down for anyone who finds the principle a little far-fetched. Defined simply as the act of diving under a hole and swimming under the ice, taking in the aqua beauty of the below-zero water, it has unsurprisingly resulted in some risky situations. From getting stuck under the ice by forgetting where your entry point is, to succumbing to hypothermia, ice diving is an extreme, adrenaline fuelled pastime. 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 body temperature, 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, not many people in the world get to experience the gorgeous blues and marine life which lies just below the surface and the courage of these divers is truly to be commended, with many of them working as professional rescue divers as their 9-5.
We bet you're all counting down the days until winter now, when you can crack out the fishing rods and woks, but if you fancy something more sedate then get in touch about our range of relaxing (mostly!) winter holidays.