Fire and ice in Durham

Durham City, in the north-east of England, is hosting the fourth edition of the Fire and Ice InDurham festival on 22 and 23 February 2019. The theme of the 2019 festival is Heroes and Villains.

Disclosure: Stuart Forster, the author of this article, was sent an InDurham Loyalty Card by Durham Bid, which has not reviewed or approved this article.

“Fire and Ice InDurham is a festival bringing together ice sculptures and also flaming beacons lighting a trail around the city. We’ll have about 12 ice sculptures placed strategically around the city encouraging people to explore the city, but also to admire the sculptures,” explained Adam Deathe, the Business Engagement Manager of Durham BID, an organisation established to develop a positive environment for local businesses.

Heroes and Villains in Durham

“We’ve got designs drawn from Greek mythology, local history, and stars of the stage and silver screen,” he added, referencing the Heroes and Villains theme of Fire and Ice.

The weather forecast predicts that temperatures will soar to a springlike high of 16°C during the festival, which opens each day at 10.00am. It culminates with evening shows (at 5.15pm and 6.00pm) in which dancing waters are choreographed to music.

“Durham’s a great destination for people to come and explore. It’s changing times for towns and cities across the country — we want to give people an additional reason to come and explore the city. It increases dwell time as well, so businesses benefit, and people have something to do during half-term,” said Mr Deathe of the family-friendly festival that last year coincided with some of the city’s food and drink businesses having their busiest trading day of the year.

Matt Chalonar will be sculpting at Durham's Market Place during Fire and Ice.
Matt Chaloner will be sculpting at Durham’s Market Place during Fire and Ice InDurham.

Sculpting ice in Durham Cathedral

In the cloisters of Durham Cathedral I met Matt Chaloner, the Master Carver of Glacial Art. Sculptors from the Liverpool-based company have carved the ice sculptures that will be displayed during Fire and Ice InDurham.

“There’s going to be 12 carvings placed around the city…We’re also doing a live carving while we’re there. We’ve got a place where people can have a go themselves…We’ve also got a sweetie block where the kids and try and get sweets out of the ice,” explained the Mr Chaloner as he carved a Minotaur, the mythical creature with the body of a man and bull’s head, from a block of ice.

How will the unseasonal temperatures affect his work?

“Obviously the ice melts a little bit quicker in the sun but our sculptures are designed to last in the summer inside hotels for weddings. They all melt in temperatures above zero, so it’s just a little bit quicker — it won’t affect them too much,” he answered.

Gremlins on Durham’s streets

“We have pre-carved most of the sculptures that we’re putting out. On the first day, because it’s a Heroes and Villains theme, I’m going to do Gizmo on the first day and a Gremlin on the second day,” said Mr Chaloner of the live carving, inspired by the movie Gremlins, that he’ll be doing in central Durham.

“Heroes and Villains is a good theme. We’ve got a Transformer, a bumblebee, a Wonder Woman and there’s a Lego Batman. They’re all really nice sculptures to do. We’ve got a fireman with a hose spurting water. It was a bit of a challenge to incorporate the prop inside so it’ll actually squirt water out. They’re all quite diverse,” he explained.

Because the festival runs over two days, two versions of each sculpture had to be carved.

Carving the details of a Minotaur.
Carving the details of a Minotaur.

Larger than life sculptures

“We’ve got some that are one block sculptures, so about a metre by half a metre, and we’ve also got a larger than life-size Grace Darling in a boat. She’s a little bit bigger than me, sat down in a boat with an oar saving the seamen,” said Mr Chaloner of the heroine who rescued survivors from the wreck of the Forfarshire, a paddle steamer that sank off the Farne Islands in 1838. “I finished the second Grace yesterday. I was pretty chuffed with her! She’s quite an epic-sized sculpture.”

Mr Chaloner and his business partner at Glacial Art, Mat Foster, met at the University of Sunderland, where they studied sculpture and model making, and had ambitions to work in special effects.

“We set up in Liverpool 14 years ago and we’ve been doing it ever since. It’s just grown and grown. We’ve been to Alaska to the world championships to represent the UK, I think about 10 times between us now, in Latvia. I’ve been to Kuwait, we did stuff for Game of Thrones in Belfast. It’s really good because it takes me all over the place. Some weekends I can be doing an 18th birthday party and next week I can be on set doing props for a film. It’s a really interesting job with diverse clients,” said the sculptor about his career.

Keeping a cool head is probably key to being a good ice sculptor.
Keeping a cool head is probably key to being a good ice sculptor.

Insider tips for visiting Fire and Ice InDurham

So when will be the best time to visit Fire and Ice InDurham, from the perspective of an ice sculptor?

“The earlier the better,” answered Mr Chaloner. “Because they’re made of ice they change during the course of the day. When they’re first up they look fabulous but several hours later, even though they melt, they still look great. They would have changed forms and they start carving themselves, which is great — so if people want to see the ice do its own thing, try and come for the morning and stay through the afternoon.

I’m doing live carving at the Market Place, from about twelve o’clock. That’ll take about three or four hours and will be interesting to see. The lads have got a carving wall around the corner, where kids can have a go at ice carving,” added the sculptor while working on his Minotaur.

Ice sculptor Matt Chaloner at work on a Minotaur in the cloisters of Durham Cathedral.
Ice sculptor Matt Chaloner at work on a Minotaur in the cloisters of Durham Cathedral.

Further information

For information about the food, fashion and pop up music events that are also held in Durham during the course of the year, see the Durham Bid website. This is Durham also has information about things to do and see in and around the city, which will host a tenth anniversary edition of Lumiere in November 2019.

Photographs illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography, based in Sunderland and available for commissions worldwide.

If you liked this post why not sign up for the free Go Eat Do newsletter? It’s a hassle-free way of getting links to posts. If you’d like to sponsor a post on Go Eat Do then please feel free to get in touch.

‘Like’ the Go Eat Do Facebook page to see more photos and content.

Pin this on Pinterest! Fire engulfs an ice sculpture of a Minotaur, carved ahead of the Fire and Ice festival held in Durham, England, on 22 and 23 February 2019.
Pin this on Pinterest! Fire engulfs an ice sculpture of a Minotaur, carved ahead of the Fire and Ice InDurham festival held in Durham, England, on 22 and 23 February 2019.


  • Kathy@DavesTravelCorner

    March 1, 2019 at 15:59 Reply

    Great festival. I love ice sculptures.

    • Stuart Forster

      March 4, 2019 at 17:54 Reply

      There were some beauties on display in Durham.

Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.