Frozen sea
© The Daily MailTwo walkers venture out over the frozen area which, in the distance, can be seen encroaching on a small boat
Temperatures plunged so low today that the sea actually began to freeze as Arctic conditions continued to grip the UK.

In the exclusive enclave of Sandbanks in Poole, Dorset, a half-mile stretch along the shoreline reaching about 20 yards out to sea is covered in ice.

The enclosed area and lack of movement caused by light tides would make the sea here more susceptible to this occurring, said Tony Conlan, a forecaster with the MeteoGroup.

The sea freezing is a relatively rare occurrence and the last time the sea in the South froze was in February 1991. It was in 1963 that the seas iced over more widely.

Meanwhile in Cumbria, a total of 34 schools were forced to close because of heavy snow and ice in the county.

In southern England, normally immune to the worst of the cold weather in winter, temperatures fell as low as -12C and the chill will go on for several days according to forecasters.

Benson in Oxfordshire and Chesham in Bucks were both close to -12C and the UK's coldest areas, with other large parts of the South also recording -9C and -10C.

Snow flurries also moved south from Yorkshire and the Humber, leaving drivers facing another day of wintry chaos.

Police said icy roads have also caused 'treacherous' driving conditions across Dorset, with numerous traffic incidents this morning.

Twenty pupils were temporarily stranded when a single-decker bus they were travelling in collided with a Ford Fiesta on Rowlands Hill in Wimborne.

Forecasters today said the UK will have to wait until Saturday or Sunday before more temperatures warm up to an average above freezing.

Nikki Berry, of MeteoGroup UK, said: 'There is quite a bit more cloud around which will help raise temperatures.

'Generally, the northern half of the UK is looking much warmer, 1C to 3C minimum.

'In the South, we will still be looking at -1C to -4C overnight, which is not as cold as it has been.'

A total of 34 schools in Cumbria were closed today because of heavy snow and ice in the county.

The main M6 and A66 roads remained passable but motorists were warned by police to take care in the hazardous conditions.

Last night's conditions froze the fountains in Trafalgar Square and at Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

On Derwentwater, in the Lake District, skaters took to the ice.

Meanwhile, at Bury Fen, near St Ives, frozen fields gave villagers the chance to revive a speed-skating event which hasn't been held for ten years.

The country was gripped by conditions more bitter than Iceland, 6C (43F); Greenland, 8C (46F) and the Antarctic which registered 3C (37F).

Huddled together for warmth these lambs have received a chilly entrance to the world

Although the cold snap left us with some attractive icicles, it also caused problems.

Roads were shut and the AA and the RAC received a total of 40,000 calls from motorists requiring assistance in 36 hours - the highest level for five years. Every hour 2,800 drivers called for assistance.

The accidents inevitably led to injuries. A cyclist was seriously hurt after being hit by a Land Rover which skidded on ice in Clevedon, Somerset.

Grenadier Guards

Taking the plunge: Grenadier Guards wade into the Serpentine in Hyde Park as part of a ceremony to bid farewell to their commanding officer

Meanwhile, in Purton, Wiltshire, a police patrol car skidded and flipped over as it went to rescue a driver whose car had rolled on the same patch of ice.

In Devon and Cornwall, journeys were delayed after seven crashes within hours.

Dozens of schools in the South and West Wales had to shut after boilers broke and waterpipes burst.

In Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, burst pipes cause a classroom to flood and the staff room ceiling collapsed.

The weather also has serious implications for the elderly, experts say. They predict that 12 an hour could die from the cold.

Research suggests the death rate for the elderly and infirm rises 1-2 per cent for every 1C drop.

Last winter, the rate rose by 7 per cent from 23,740 to 25,300. Many more could perish this year, experts warn.

Charities have called on the Government to help pensioners and cancer patients pay their heating bills.

Their warnings follow the death of 86-year-old Walter Butterfield, found dead in his home, in Swindon, last week, still holding an electric convection heater.

Yesterday, emergency cold weather payments for 600,000 in London, were triggered for the first time in a decade. The payments are made when the average temperature falls or is forecast to fall to 0c for seven consecutive days.

The National Pensioners Convention says the winter fuel allowance paid by the Government to the over-60s should be raised from the current threshold of £125-£400 to £500 for every household.

The Met Office said: 'The monthly forecast is for below average temperatures across the UK. It does not look like it will warm up for some time.'

But some seemed immune to the conditions. As the Serpentine, in Hyde Park, froze, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards broke the ice and jumped in to mark the departure of their commanding officer.

Researchers who measured the power of the wind on the summit of Cairn Gorm mountain, near Inverness, were almost blown away by their results.

On December 19, at Cairngorm Mountain sports centre, they recorded a 194mph gust - 17mph stronger than any registered in Britain - and only 37mph short of the world record, in New Hampshire, in the U.S, in 1934. But the Met Office said the figure can't be officially recorded.

What about our furry friends?

We aren't the only ones to feel the chill, it seems.

Meerkats, which are native to the Kalahari Desert, in Botswana and South Africa, aren't accustomed to such bitter conditions either.

So staff at Marwell Zoo, Winchester, Hampshire, decided to give them a little help.

'They are used to much warmer weather so we thought we'd give them a treat by bringing in some sun lamps,' a spokesman said.