And the answer, of course, is that feeling of flying. The speed, the adrenaline, the thought that with a little more practice one could be gracefully drawing figures of eight on the ice, the childhood memories of watching Torville and Dean in the winter Olympics. These are what skating can do for you like nothing else, that and the bruises, but we won't dwell on them!
It's also pretty good for people-watching. As I hovered close to the edge, cautiously circling further and faster, it was very interesting to see what everyone else was up to and how they were going about it. Even on a fairly quiet evening there's a lot to see - the nonchalant guys in hockey skates, a small girl performing pirouettes, some people practising seriously, a couple of novices with terrified expressions, a gang of teenage girls holding hands and shrieking. Most noticeable were the couple of fearless beginners who couldn't skate but didn't seem to notice. They raced each other, and more than once we saw a spectacular fall. Later on one of the pair left the rink with his arm tied up in a makeshift sling. By the end of the session everyone seemed to be on nodding terms at least with everyone else.
There are only 40 or so permanent ice rinks in England (say the National Ice Skating Association website), with a smattering of extras in the winter, and we're jolly lucky to have one so close to the centre of Oxford. It gets pretty good use, with 4 public sessions most days, plus University ice hockey late in the evening, skating lessons, training sessions for ice dance and in the little time left over it's available to hire. So you can hold your pyjama skating party between 11pm and 3am, weekdays. Lessons are fitted in first thing in the morning, and in half hour slots elsewhere. Currently there are 12 month waiting lists for some lessons!
Despite its popularity with town, gown and tourists, the future of the ice rink is uncertain. The machinery and building were never expected to last this long, and both are overdue for replacement. In addition, according to the Council statement, "the development of the West End has injected considerable uncertainty about the best use of the land where the Ice Rink stands". The good news is that after consultation the Council feel "there are strong arguments for maintaining an ice arena in the Oxford area" and they're intending to keep it open and fully functional while further decisions are made. So if you were meaning to go skating and haven't got round to it: go soon, while we still have an easily accessible ice rink, and show your support for the place!
If you want a quiet session go for Monday or Tuesday evenings, or the teatime sessions (5 - 7.30pm). For a livelier time go on Friday evening or Saturday afternoon. On Tuesday evenings you're not allowed hockey skates, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings are disco sessions. General session prices are £6.10 for adults, and £4.60 for concessions, with numerous options for family tickets and some variation for different times. There's more information on times and prices here. There's a pay and display car park right beside the rink, but the machine doesn't give change.
Our party went for enjoyment and exercise, and got both. We came away without bruises, although two among us had never skated before. We weren't terribly stiff the following morning, although it's about as good as running in terms of burning the calories (around 350 calories per hour, depending on weight, gender, and how vigorous your skating is!). We stayed for longer than we anticipated, and we're all intending to go again soon. See you there?