The first freeze

First ice of the year, on the Trent & Mersey


This is what we call ‘cat ice’ – probably because it’s just thick enough to support a foolish cat…. for a while anyway. It came in the night and it’s still here at 11am. Our winter freeze has begun.

The ice will come and go now until the spring. Some years (like last year) we barely see ice at all. Some years (like 2010) we get ice so thick and settled that it grows to an eight-inch-thick pavement, and you can cross it with a wheelbarrow full of firewood. Well, you can if you want to. But you’d be an idiot, as I explained to my ex when he did it.

So here’s a poem about that first frozen morning on the canals…. and if you want to read it with an article I wrote in my first days as Canal Laureate, visit the official blog here.


Frozen In

You wake, and know.
The boat is still as bones
and you, its red heart beating.

The canal was taken in its sleep
and paved with cold. The chilled air
gathers round your feet.

The ice, disgruntled, shifts itself
and chews a little on the hull,
sets itself to set again.

Beneath the glaze fish flicker
like grey flames,
silent, watchful.

Inside, you go on with the business
of making tea,
waiting for crocuses.



Published by Jo Bell

Poet, boater, archaeologist. Former director of the UK's National Poetry Day. One half of @OnThisDayShe. Erstwhile UK Canal Laureate, Cheshire Laureate. Host of The Poetic Licence on YouTube and Patreon (see links).

8 thoughts on “The first freeze

  1. Marvellous, Jo!
    I remember strong ice on canals in the Midlands (Cookley, nr Kidderminster) when I was a teenager – we never dared walk on it though!

    But I can’t cope with the wordpress ‘snow’ – disconcertingly like migraine aura!!!!

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