Seegfrörni 1963

That is Swiss German for the great lake freeze of 1963.

Many of us will have memories of that epic January. I recall being caught out in the first gigantic snowstorm, returning with my family from an ill-judged outing in the car to Bristol. We got stuck about three miles from home and had to trudge through waist-high snow drifts in the pitch dark, clad for my part, in a flimsy but fashionable coat that my mother had just made me for Christmas and a pair of highly unsuitable shoes. Our village was completely cut off for weeks. The snow was four to six feet deep in places and, since the weather continued very cold, a thick crust formed on top, over which my sister and I could walk to the nearest farm to get milk.

Markus grew up in a big old house, right on the lake of Zurich and although it is rare for the lake to freeze, it did so to celebrate his birth, enabling his proud father to skate to the hospital in the next village to visit his wife and baby son.

Then came the Seegfrörni of 1963, when the lake froze over completely for the only time in living memory, transforming it into a giant skating rink.

Markus was by then old enough to get out on his skates and enjoy the fun. Here he is in the brand new stripy anorak his mother made him (rather more appropriate for the weather than my mother’s effort, although I notice that no one is wearing gloves).

Whilst Markus zoomed about, laying the foundations for his future skill at ice hockey, his two older sisters, who belonged to the local skating club, brought a wind-up gramophone down to the ice so that they could practise their numbers.

The Zürisee stayed frozen solid for weeks and Markus remembers the stands that sprang up, selling hot food and drinks, and the signs giving directions to the various islands and villages.

There were also barriers to protect certain areas and wooden ladders at the ready in case someone ventured onto a dangerously thin patch of ice and needed rescuing.

There was another, less spectacular freeze the following year, but there has never been a repetition of 1963. All 25 miles of the lake froze solid right the way to Zurich, where this policeman is keeping a benevolent eye on proceedings . . .

. . . and where this lady at least was obviously determined to keep up her elegant standard of dress! Those HEELS!

It’s not quite that cold here, but Philibert Froideveaux, whom you may recall from this post, is thinking about investing in (two pairs) of skates!

All lake photos by Adrian Stückelberger

PS We went for a circular walk round our nearest lake, le lac de Devesset up on the Ardèche plateau yesterday. It was -8C and absolutely magical.

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