Ice skating has a long and fond history in Bournemouth. Residents and visitors alike still remember the Ice Follies skating troupe and formidable Bournemouth Stags hockey team who were once local superstars. While the once splendid Westover Ice Rink has sadly been closed since 1991, there are still plenty of opportunities to brush up on your axels and barrel rolls in the town.
The Ark, Poole Park
Beautiful Poole Park, just 10 minutes from Bournemouth beach, is home to Dorset’s only permanent ice rink. The Ark, a modern facility also housing a café and kids soft play centre, is ideal for families, groups and birthday parties. The £5.95 admission fee for adults (£4.95 kids) includes skate hire and for a nominal sum you can enlist the help of a drag-along seal or push-along penguin to help the kiddies if they are struggling to find their feet. The rink is open 7 days a week, every day of the year except Christmas Day. With options for private lessons, family discos and deals on dining and soft play packages, you can tailor your trip to the ice any way you want. The hire skates start at a child’s size 10, with two-blade ‘sledges’ which fit on toddler shoes for even tinier trotters.
Bournemouth really goes to town turning itself into a winter wonderland during the Christmas season. If you can drag yourself away from the Alpine market and Moose bar selling mulled wine by the china boot-ful in the Square, a stroll through the lower gardens bound for the beach will take you straight to this striking all-weather outdoor rink.
Ice and refreshing
Set in the magical ‘Gardens of Light’, you’ll feel all festive doing freezy laps on real ice while smug spectators huddle in the ‘Apres-Skate’ chalets with a warm beverage or snack. Expect to pay £10 per adult and £8 per child for an hour’s ice time with an unbeatable backdrop. This rink has its own population of penguins and seals to prop up less-savvy skaters. The rink arrives with the Christmas light switch-on at the end of November and stays put for two months.
Skate of the art
Bournemouth International Centre, aka the BIC, has hosted its own Cool Coast winter ice rink for a number of years, transforming its usually formal Purbeck Hall into a shimmering festive rink. You’ve got 2.5 months to master the sport in this decent facility complete with penguin-populated teaching area for less confident skaters. You pay £8-9 for 90 minutes of ice time with skate hire and there are themed nights including Fire on Ice DJ sessions broadcast by the local radio station. The rink is open from 4pm daily except in school holidays, when doors open at 11am.
Ice skating has a rich history in Bournemouth and visitors and locals still talk fondly of the Westover Rink, latterly Bournemouth Ice Rink. It once had pride of place on upmarket Westover Road and you can still see evidence of the signage along the swish shopping parade. Westover Ice Rink was an eye-catching art deco building established in 1930 and over the years hosted many shows by its very own troupe, the Ice Follies. It also attracted big names like John Curry, Robin Cousins and Torvill and Dean.
Ice hockey team the Bournemouth Stags played its first match against Streatham in 1933, this event astonishingly followed by ice speedway (yes, on motorbikes!). The rink was a second home for many generations of figure skaters, hockey players, ice dancers, club skaters, barrel jumpers and the general public and locals have yearned for another permanent facility ever since it closed.
A lasting legacy
Bournemouth Ice Rink’s fixtures and fittings including the plant room machinery were shipped across to the Isle of Wight. And the Island’s Ryde Arena (recently saved from threat of closure) remains one of nearest decent-sized, permanent ice rinks today. Hampshire also has Gosport (50 miles from Bournemouth) and Basingstoke (60 miles) rinks. If you’re travelling east, you could also try Guildford, Surrey (75 miles away) and Swindon rink isn’t a terribly massive haul, at 90 miles away.
Get your skates on!
If you’ve been inspired to try Bournemouth’s ice skating facilities, there are still many ways to ensure this beautiful sport can be enjoyed locally and by many. With a wide range of hire skates at all sites, push-along penguins and seals for hire and dedicated sessions for toddlers and older customers at the Ark, why not channel your inner Jayne Torvill or Christopher Dean and give skating a try? Be sure to wrap up in several layers which can be discarded as you warm up and wear gloves and an extra pair of socks. The key to skating is confidence – glide rather than hobble / run around the rink and try to let go of that barrier as soon as you get your nerve – you won’t regret it! You are likely to slip over at some point, you’re on ice after all, but the main thing to remember is to protect your hands, feet and head when you hit the deck.
All the rinks in Bournemouth and Poole have ice stewards on hand to help you back on your feet after a fall or give you skating tips. They might even take your children on a few laps of the ice to save your back and give you precious moments to perfect your own technique! And there are plenty of ways to improve – whether you fancy a private or group lesson at the Ark or want to buy your own boots (check out The Skate Shop in Poole). Then, if a new permanent ice rink ever does come back to the town, you’ll be well ahead of the game!
Hit the slopes
If you crave winter sports all year ‘round, Snowtrax Ski Centre in Matchams near Christchurch could be just the ticket. This dry ski slope has facilities for experienced skiers and snowboarders and complete beginners from the age 2 upwards! If you find you’ve got two left skis, perhaps ski bobbing is more your style – driving a go kart-type craft down the slopes, suitable for the over 5s. Or climb aboard a rubber ‘Ringo’ and drift serenely down the piste.