It was a fabulous winter’s day for a family adventure. We packed a picnic basket and drove up to the Lac de Joux, the largest lake in the nearby Jura mountains.
Our children whooped with excitement as the lake came into view, its frozen expanse thronged with people skating, walking, revelling in the sun. The two of them hurried to put on their skates and zoomed off almost out of sight while we set off tentatively after them, arm in arm. Every man and his dog seemed to have ventured on to the ice - disabled persons in wheel-chairs, children on bobsleds, couples Nordic walking, model plane pilots simulating Arctic take-offs... only the ice catamarans for hire found no takers on this windless day.
The further we dared venture out on what seemed an endless ice shelf, the more the crowd dispersed and the more crystal-clear and captivating the surface became. Clumps of red algae and fish were encased in this glacial, emerald green crypt and we heard that further out a young drowned fox could be seen caught in the lake’s icy embrace.
It felt eerie to be high and dry in the middle of the lake but the presence of other exhilarated people helped reassure us. We noticed a whip cracking sound: was it caused by skate blades and hiking sticks striking the surface or was the layer of ice actually creaking and fracturing? Inspired by a recent local theatre production of Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, our son was executing adrenalin-fuelled jumps and sudden, scraping stops on his skates while our daughter performed slow, swirling pirouettes. Sometimes they skated completely out of sight but then happily reappeared, faces flushed from exertion.
Near the shore, the lake was dotted with ice sculptures and stalls, selling hot drinks, soup, runny raclette cheese on slices of bread or potatoes … It seemed natural to picnic in the middle of the lake but unusual enough for a photographer from a local newspaper to take our photo, thus preserving the moment. It’s not every year that the lake freezes over to such an extent.
It took me 45 years to experience anything like this. It was an absolutely mesmerising outing.