Head for Hampton Court’s ice rink this Christmas

Combine a pirouette in skates with a long winter walk, says Chris Carter.

This time last year we were getting our first taste of seasonal hot sausages, minced pies and mulled wine at the many Christmas markets across the land. This year, Covid-19 has kept the crowds away. 

The halls remain undecked, the pretty little wood cabins selling arts and crafts have stayed shut, and laughter is nowhere to be heard. So I mused as I wended my not-so-merry way on a walk in my local area of south west London on a recent Sunday. 

But then I heard the sound of hammers and electric screwdrivers, which cheered me up immensely. As I passed the gates of Hampton Court Palace, I spied many a merry workman assembling the annual ice rink in front of Henry VIII’s majestic Tudor residence. I can hardly think of a better backdrop, lit up in winter, for a session spent pirouetting on the ice. 

Bigger and better

The opening of this annual event has been delayed, but happily, not cancelled. It is now due to open tomorrow, but be sure to book ahead. It costs from £17.20 for adults, including a booking fee, and £12.70 for children for 45 minutes on the ice. The prices include skate hire. Family tickets and season passes are also available (see hamptoncourtpalaceicerink.co.uk for details). 

The rink is even bigger this year, the organisers boast, “allowing for extra space for you to skate safely”. And there will also be the Ice Rink Cafe & Bar serving refreshments (tables can be booked in advance online). 

While the palace itself was due to reopen after the latest lockdown, which ended on 2 December, the ornate gardens have remained open throughout (tickets are £8 for adults). 

It’s well worth taking a turn to marvel at Britain’s oldest surviving hedge maze, the Great Vine, the fountains, coiffured yew trees and trimmed conical shrubs. And of course, William III and Mary II’s baroque back of the palace only adds to the splendour.

From the gardens, the Long Water, a pretty waterway ordered by Charles II and completed in 1662, runs under the railings into Hampton Court Park (also known as Home Park). Here fallow deer descended from Henry VIII’s herd roam the 750 acres of scattered grassland dotted with old oak trees, eyeing the winter walkers warily. Starting from the gate close to Kingston Bridge, the park makes for a good long walk, right up to the back of the palace. You can then exit the park and walk around the palace and the boutique 18th-century Kings Arms Hotel (a great place to stop for a pint) to reach the Thames footpath. From there, you can wend your merry way along the river, back to Kingston Bridge.

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