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Ski resort to open at Wanlockhead in Southern Uplands

Lowther Hills in winterLowther Hills Ski Club has applied for planning permission to build a clubhouse and rope tow

A new ski resort is expected to open in southern Scotland within weeks.

The Lowther Hills Ski Club has applied for planning permission to build a clubhouse and a 600m rope tow on the slope near Wanlockhead.

It is hoping to attract snowsports enthusiasts from across Scotland and the north of England to the village in Dumfries and Galloway.

It is part of a wider plan to market the area as a year-round sports resort.

Those behind the proposals hope to eventually offer visitors to the Southern Uplands the chance to do a range of different activities including mountain biking, hill-walking, golf and curling.

Lowther Hills Ski Club chairman Anjo Abelaira said: “The ski facilities will put the village on the map and it will bring people to the area.

“We will be staffed by volunteers and mainly open at weekends. We will be open for about 25 days between December and March.”

Lowther Hill was a busy ski resort in the 1960s and 1970s when there was a permanent ski tow on the slope.

It fell out of fashion in the 1980s however, and since then local people have occasionally used a portable tow to get up the hillside.

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Exotic Christmas breaks: readers’ feedback

Sally York, from East Sussex, wins a voucher with DialAFlight

India

Jaipur in Rajasthan is a delight at any time of the year, with its prominent
buildings painted in a pink hue, but it is a truly special place to be at
Christmas.

We visited the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) and saw the most amazing kite
festival. Children are given a little kite each and hundreds of them are
flown against the backdrop of the palace’s pink façade with Father Christmas
handing out chocolates to the children in the sunshine.

The city comes alive at Christmas, with busy city markets thronged with carol
singers and awash with festive goodies. Churches are decorated with white
and red balloons, and candles are lit in hundreds of windows. Something that
cannot be missed is the monkey temple where you can witness at sunset
monkeys swimming in the sacred pools. It’s altogether a very different and
enchanting city in which to celebrate Christmas.

Lisa Anderson, West Sussex

Malaysia

I highly recommend Penang for a Christmas break. I once had a memorable
stopover holiday at the Parkroyal Hotel overlooking Penang beach and the
atmosphere was very warm and welcoming. It was unusual hearing Frosty the
Snowman being played in the hotel foyer and to see white Christmas trees
with gingerbread treats as ornaments. To celebrate Christmas I enjoyed a
refreshing cocktail and foot massage on the beach, followed by a parasail
ride. Amazing tropical food made a delightful change from the traditional
dry turkey feast.

Fiona King, Portsmouth

We like to visit the Far East during December and January. Christmas Day saw
us at the Spice Gardens in Ferringhi on Penang, Malaysia. A wonderful
morning was spent being shown around the gardens, gaining valuable knowledge
about the uses of spices in Malaysian cuisine. That was followed by a
cookery class given by a local chef. We created a traditional Malay curry
lunch and then sat down together to enjoy our efforts. It was marvellous –
and, as a result, we have this kind of lunch at home every Sunday.

Peter and Anne Taylor, Lincolnshire

England

What better Christmas setting than Amberley Castle, in Sussex, the medieval
fortified home of the bishops of Chichester? Enter the castle through its
sturdy gatehouse and, after admiring the inner courtyard, proceed to the
welcoming domestic quarters. After canapés and drinks in one of the large
lounges heated by log fires, eat and drink well in the grand hall before
retiring again for coffee and brandy downstairs. After festive activities
and further liquid refreshment and mince pies, watched over by shiny but
lifeless suits of armour, retire to one of the large and luxurious
bedrooms – but beware the ghostly things that may frequent the corridors and
rooms of this historic building. At Amberley Castle, all is provided for,
including the possibility of a festive ghostly encounter.

David Rudling, East Sussex

Egypt

I would recommend Egypt for a Christmas holiday, not least because the weather
is so good in December (an average of 19C). It is said that “Once you drink
from the Nile, you are destined to return” – and I would agree. Egypt
provides the perfect balance of culture, adventure and relaxation. In
addition to some of the world’s most famous historical sights (including the
Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Valley of Kings), it offers adventures in the
desert such as star-gazing through a huge telescope, enjoying tea with the
Bedouin, camel-trekking and quad-biking. Other activities include scuba
diving and snorkelling around the colourful reefs of the Red Sea. Or you can
simply relax by the pool with a cocktail or a shisha pipe, watching
traditional belly dancers perform.

What more could you want from a holiday, at any time of the year?

Jennifer Gane, East Sussex

Hong Kong

Christmas is great in Hong Kong. The climate is temperate and you can view the
amazing Christmas displays in the shops while picking up those last-minute
gifts, then head to Victoria Park for t’ai chi or to a temple for reflection
and peace. I would combine it with another destination such as Bali – a
perfect location for peace and tranquillity with top-class service and a
friendly smile.

Claire Thomson, Cheshire

Japan

This is an intriguing choice for a Christmas holiday as there are few
Christians in Japan. However, the Japanese still see it as a time of
celebration and happiness. Father Christmas is named “Santa-san” and several
Western traditions have been adopted, such as exchanging presents and cards.
On Christmas Day shops are open and the food of choice is apparently fried
chicken. Japan is a truly unique Christmas destination, not easily
forgotten.

Helen Greaves, Newcastle

Madagascar

For a complete getaway over the Christmas period, head to Tsarabanjina, a tiny
volcanic island accessible only by boat or sea plane off the north-west
coast of Madagascar. Tsarabanjina is a totally unspoilt eco-friendly
paradise with turquoise waters, coral reefs and protected wildlife. The
staff are lovely and knowledgeable about the unique environment, offering
guided walks, snorkelling, diving and boat trips. There are just 25 private
bungalows which are well spaced to ensure your stay is peaceful. There are
no pools or hot tubs because the Indian Ocean is just steps away from your
door. The sand-floored bar is ideal for a sundowner if you want to socialise
with the other guests; just be aware that the local Malagasy rum is lethal.

Lucy Carson-Taylor, Shropshire

Hawaii

Tropical, and with amazing beaches, Hawaii is perfect for a Christmas break,
whether you want to chill or do something more challenging such as trek up
the volcano. Because it is part of America, you still get a festive feel and
Father Christmas arrives via jet ski at some hotels.

Rebecca Inman, London

Mexico

Envisage yourself in crystal-clear waters, then take yourself to the beautiful
and vibrant country that is Mexico. Begin your journey in Cancun. I
recommend a few days at an all-inclusive to recover from jet lag or take a
boat ride across to Mexico’s hidden treasure, Isla de Mujeres. It has the
most beautiful beach in the whole of Mexico. Rent a golf buggy and head up
to the Mayan temple and witness a spectacular view, preferably at sunset.

You can then venture to Tulum, a jungle town filled with bars and traditional
restaurants. I would order the fish tacos with a classic margarita. Head
down to Playa Papaya at the weekend for a party. If you’re more adventurous,
dive through the cenotes (sink holes) or take a zip-line ride through the
jungle. If it’s sanctuary you seek, spend a day at a beach spa where
treatments are organically sourced and the view will match your tranquil
mood.

Natalie Graham, London

Share your travel tips to win

Each week we offer a prize to whoever sends us the best travel tip. Click
here to find out more
.

Win
one of 40 holidays worth £800,000

Telegraph Travel Awards 2014: vote for your favourite destinations and travel
companies for the chance to win one of 40 luxury breaks worth a total of
£800,000. Closes on October 27, 2014.

Travel
Guides app

Download
the free Telegraph Travel app
, featuring expert guides to destinations
including Paris, Rome, New York, Venice and Amsterdam

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Travel on FourSquare

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Christmas Day in Sri Lanka: readers’ feedback

Sally York, from East Sussex, wins a voucher with DialAFlight

India

Jaipur in Rajasthan is a delight at any time of the year, with its prominent
buildings painted in a pink hue, but it is a truly special place to be at
Christmas.

We visited the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) and saw the most amazing kite
festival. Children are given a little kite each and hundreds of them are
flown against the backdrop of the palace’s pink façade with Father Christmas
handing out chocolates to the children in the sunshine.

The city comes alive at Christmas, with busy city markets thronged with carol
singers and awash with festive goodies. Churches are decorated with white
and red balloons, and candles are lit in hundreds of windows. Something that
cannot be missed is the monkey temple where you can witness at sunset
monkeys swimming in the sacred pools. It’s altogether a very different and
enchanting city in which to celebrate Christmas.

Lisa Anderson, West Sussex

Malaysia

I highly recommend Penang for a Christmas break. I once had a memorable
stopover holiday at the Parkroyal Hotel overlooking Penang beach and the
atmosphere was very warm and welcoming. It was unusual hearing Frosty the
Snowman being played in the hotel foyer and to see white Christmas trees
with gingerbread treats as ornaments. To celebrate Christmas I enjoyed a
refreshing cocktail and foot massage on the beach, followed by a parasail
ride. Amazing tropical food made a delightful change from the traditional
dry turkey feast.

Fiona King, Portsmouth

We like to visit the Far East during December and January. Christmas Day saw
us at the Spice Gardens in Ferringhi on Penang, Malaysia. A wonderful
morning was spent being shown around the gardens, gaining valuable knowledge
about the uses of spices in Malaysian cuisine. That was followed by a
cookery class given by a local chef. We created a traditional Malay curry
lunch and then sat down together to enjoy our efforts. It was marvellous –
and, as a result, we have this kind of lunch at home every Sunday.

Peter and Anne Taylor, Lincolnshire

England

What better Christmas setting than Amberley Castle, in Sussex, the medieval
fortified home of the bishops of Chichester? Enter the castle through its
sturdy gatehouse and, after admiring the inner courtyard, proceed to the
welcoming domestic quarters. After canapés and drinks in one of the large
lounges heated by log fires, eat and drink well in the grand hall before
retiring again for coffee and brandy downstairs. After festive activities
and further liquid refreshment and mince pies, watched over by shiny but
lifeless suits of armour, retire to one of the large and luxurious
bedrooms – but beware the ghostly things that may frequent the corridors and
rooms of this historic building. At Amberley Castle, all is provided for,
including the possibility of a festive ghostly encounter.

David Rudling, East Sussex

Egypt

I would recommend Egypt for a Christmas holiday, not least because the weather
is so good in December (an average of 19C). It is said that “Once you drink
from the Nile, you are destined to return” – and I would agree. Egypt
provides the perfect balance of culture, adventure and relaxation. In
addition to some of the world’s most famous historical sights (including the
Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Valley of Kings), it offers adventures in the
desert such as star-gazing through a huge telescope, enjoying tea with the
Bedouin, camel-trekking and quad-biking. Other activities include scuba
diving and snorkelling around the colourful reefs of the Red Sea. Or you can
simply relax by the pool with a cocktail or a shisha pipe, watching
traditional belly dancers perform.

What more could you want from a holiday, at any time of the year?

Jennifer Gane, East Sussex

Hong Kong

Christmas is great in Hong Kong. The climate is temperate and you can view the
amazing Christmas displays in the shops while picking up those last-minute
gifts, then head to Victoria Park for t’ai chi or to a temple for reflection
and peace. I would combine it with another destination such as Bali – a
perfect location for peace and tranquillity with top-class service and a
friendly smile.

Claire Thomson, Cheshire

Japan

This is an intriguing choice for a Christmas holiday as there are few
Christians in Japan. However, the Japanese still see it as a time of
celebration and happiness. Father Christmas is named “Santa-san” and several
Western traditions have been adopted, such as exchanging presents and cards.
On Christmas Day shops are open and the food of choice is apparently fried
chicken. Japan is a truly unique Christmas destination, not easily
forgotten.

Helen Greaves, Newcastle

Madagascar

For a complete getaway over the Christmas period, head to Tsarabanjina, a tiny
volcanic island accessible only by boat or sea plane off the north-west
coast of Madagascar. Tsarabanjina is a totally unspoilt eco-friendly
paradise with turquoise waters, coral reefs and protected wildlife. The
staff are lovely and knowledgeable about the unique environment, offering
guided walks, snorkelling, diving and boat trips. There are just 25 private
bungalows which are well spaced to ensure your stay is peaceful. There are
no pools or hot tubs because the Indian Ocean is just steps away from your
door. The sand-floored bar is ideal for a sundowner if you want to socialise
with the other guests; just be aware that the local Malagasy rum is lethal.

Lucy Carson-Taylor, Shropshire

Hawaii

Tropical, and with amazing beaches, Hawaii is perfect for a Christmas break,
whether you want to chill or do something more challenging such as trek up
the volcano. Because it is part of America, you still get a festive feel and
Father Christmas arrives via jet ski at some hotels.

Rebecca Inman, London

Mexico

Envisage yourself in crystal-clear waters, then take yourself to the beautiful
and vibrant country that is Mexico. Begin your journey in Cancun. I
recommend a few days at an all-inclusive to recover from jet lag or take a
boat ride across to Mexico’s hidden treasure, Isla de Mujeres. It has the
most beautiful beach in the whole of Mexico. Rent a golf buggy and head up
to the Mayan temple and witness a spectacular view, preferably at sunset.

You can then venture to Tulum, a jungle town filled with bars and traditional
restaurants. I would order the fish tacos with a classic margarita. Head
down to Playa Papaya at the weekend for a party. If you’re more adventurous,
dive through the cenotes (sink holes) or take a zip-line ride through the
jungle. If it’s sanctuary you seek, spend a day at a beach spa where
treatments are organically sourced and the view will match your tranquil
mood.

Natalie Graham, London

Share your travel tips to win

Each week we offer a prize to whoever sends us the best travel tip. Click
here to find out more
.

Win
one of 40 holidays worth £800,000

Telegraph Travel Awards 2014: vote for your favourite destinations and travel
companies for the chance to win one of 40 luxury breaks worth a total of
£800,000. Closes on October 27, 2014.

Travel
Guides app

Download
the free Telegraph Travel app
, featuring expert guides to destinations
including Paris, Rome, New York, Venice and Amsterdam

Sign
up to our weekly email newsletter

Follow
Telegraph Travel on Twitter

Follow
Telegraph Travel on Facebook

Follow
Telegraph Travel on Pinterest

Follow Telegraph
Travel on FourSquare

Share

How to survive half-term costs without breaking the bank

  • 62% of parents worried about how they will afford the one-week break
  • A third expect to dip into their savings to cover costs 

Rosie Murray-west, Financial Mail on Sunday

10

View
comments

Parents up and down the country are bracing themselves for extra expense as the half-term holiday looms. Figures from the Post Office show that 62 per cent of parents are worried about how they will afford the one-week break – with nearly a third expected to dip into their savings to cover costs.

Many face an unenviable choice: spending money to entertain the children at home, or paying for childcare so that they can go to work.

The Family and Childcare Trust says that holiday childcare is both patchy and expensive. Anand Shukla, the charity’s chief executive, says: ‘Far too many parents face a never ending battle to secure affordable, quality childcare just so that they can go to work to provide for their families.’

Little star: Jessie Davidson, with parents Sara-Jayne and Mike, went to Super Camps

Little star: Jessie Davidson, with parents Sara-Jayne and Mike, went to Super Camps

Vouchers meant Jessie could go to holiday club 

Sara-Jayne Davidson was able to use childcare vouchers from her civil service job to pay for a recent holiday club for daughter Jessie, five.

‘Without the vouchers I don’t think I would have been able to go on working after I had children,’ says Sara-Jayne, from Coulsdon, South London. ‘They make a real difference.’

Jessie went to a Super Camps holiday club in Croydon, Surrey, over the summer holidays, where she took part in numerous organised activities including swimming. ‘She absolutely loved it,’ says Sara-Jayne, who works for the Land Registry as well as being a part-time fitness instructor.

‘The best thing is she even loved swimming there – she normally screams when she goes in the pool with me or my husband Mike.

‘It was also flexible – I could pay for a little bit more time in the evenings or mornings if we needed it. She’s already asking me when we can go back again.’

‘Childcare is expensive, but Super Camps compared really well with the childminder that we use in term times,’ says Sara-Jayne, 51.

The charity’s research shows that the average cost of a week of holiday childcare is now £115 and rising faster than both inflation and parents’ wages.

Shukla adds: ‘Many working parents hope that their childcare struggles will end when their children start school.

‘However, our research into holiday and out-of-school childcare shows the opposite is true. The system requires a complete overhaul but in the meantime employers and head teachers should help parents manage the school holidays.’

For those parents who cannot afford paid help, many use their own paid leave to cover the period while their children are on holiday. But then they find that the cost of entertaining their children soon mounts up.

Post Office figures show that parents expect to spend £229 entertaining their children over half-term. Almost a third will spend money on eating out, while other expenses include theme park entry, petrol, cinema trips and sporting activities such as swimming.

Henk Van Hulle, head of savings and investments at the Post Office, says: ‘With the long summer break only just behind us, and Christmas already on the horizon, the autumn half-term break will come at an inconvenient time for many parents.’

Height of fun: Camp Beaumont runs both residential and day camps

Height of fun: Camp Beaumont runs both residential and day camps

Whether choosing to entertain children yourself or to pay for childcare, there are ways to make the half-term week – or weeks, in some cases – less expensive.

Private holiday clubs run by national groups such as Super Camps, Barracudas and Camp Beaumont are one option.

It is possible to bring the cost down by using childcare vouchers if your employer has a scheme. These vouchers, which can be used to pay for Ofsted-registered childcare including holiday schemes, allow childcare costs to be taken out of pre-tax income.

If an employer offers vouchers, up to £55 a week tax-free can be claimed. A couple can both claim £55 a week if they are basic rate taxpayers.

Those who pay 40 per cent tax can claim £28 a week tax-free, while additional rate taxpayers can claim up to £25 a week. These schemes will be phased out next autumn and replaced with a new childcare tax break.

It can also be cheaper to book a full week of childcare in a club rather than selected days.

Guy Ker, managing director of Super Camps, says parents need to see these costs in the context of other half-term expenses.

He says: ‘I’ve got seven children and I know that when you go out costs can mount up. But if you book for the week, the daily price for an eight-hour day at a Super Camps venue comes down to about £35 a day, or just over £4 an hour with activities that range from quad biking to swimming.’

Local holiday clubs run by the council can prove a cheaper option but provision is patchy. The average cost of a council-run scheme is £96 a week, compared with £118 a week for privately run schemes.

Websites such as Netmums as well as local councils are good sources of information.

For older teenagers, the Government’s National Citizen Service can be one way of providing inexpensive skills training and entertainment.

The programme, spearheaded by Prime Minister David Cameron, is open to all 16 and 17-year-olds, and includes a residential programme. More information is available at the website ncsyes and the cost is £50 or less for a three-day residential course. Meanwhile, for parents who are trying to keep entertainment costs down at home, there are still plenty of cheap ways to entertain children.

Most cinema chains run children’s clubs in the holidays where they show films in the morning.

Odeon’s Kids Club offers tickets from £2.50 each and films this half- term include How To Train Your Dragon 2, Planes 2 and Maleficent.

Cineworld has a Movies for Juniors show on half-term mornings with tickets from £1.50 including a free fun pack.

Selected Vue cinemas charge just £1.75 a ticket or £3 for 3D films for children and accompanying adults every morning from October 25 to November 2.


Logo LC


Logo LC


Logo LC


Logo LC

On show: From How To Train Your Dragon 2

On show: From How To Train Your Dragon 2

The Football Association offers free coaching sessions to girls and boys aged five to 11 during the school holidays.

To find your nearest session go to faskills.thefa.com/FindSession. Or try tennisforfree.com for tennis coaching lessons.

Free museums include Glasgow’s Burrell collection, National Museum Cardiff, Leeds Art Gallery and London’s Natural History and Science museums, and the Victoria Albert Museum.

Consumer website MoneySavingExpert provides details of museums and galleries nationwide that offer free entry.

For trips to theme parks and other attractions, booking online in advance is often the best way to get a cheaper deal.

If travelling by train, the website daysoutguide offers details of two for one tickets available to rail travellers on attractions throughout Britain.

Many families choose to save up Tesco Clubcard vouchers for holiday periods. For many top attractions £2.50 worth of Clubcard vouchers can be exchanged for £10 of entrance tickets.


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Biking near misses: cyclists urged to share road experiences in new study

An early pilot study run last month found an average of three near misses per day for cyclists.

The project, run by Dr Rachel Aldred, senior transport lecturer at Westminster University in London, in partnership with laser-projection light maker Blaze, is looking for cyclists UK-wide to keep a diary of their riding experiences on a single day between now and November 2.

While there is significant research into cycling collisions that result in serious injuries and fatalities, the Near Miss Project will examine other unpleasant experiences which, either by luck or avoidance, have not resulted in injury.

These include can anything from abuse, harassment and close passes to what has been dubbed the: “Sorry, mate I didn’t see you’s.”

Researchers want to learn how near-misses affect the way people ride and if it alters their decision to travel by bike at all. They hope to use the findings to brief policy-makers and planners in a bid to call for a reduction in such incidents.

Dr Aldred said: “Although research into near misses is commonplace in other areas of transport, such as rail and air, it’s near absent when it comes to cycling, which is what compelled us to launch the Near Miss Project.

“We carried out a small pilot which revealed the average person experienced three near miss type incidents in just one day. These occurrences can’t be ignored in thinking about what puts people off cycling.

“I’m interested in not only how regularly these incidents are happening, but also the emotive elements involved; how do they leave people feeling: threatened, angry, ashamed, frustrated? What’s more, minor incidents can be viewed as an early warning signal; they may indicate a risk of more serious incidents.”

Emily Brooke, founder of Blaze and an experienced cyclist, said that on one day alone she herself counted seven near misses, including a scooter getting dangerously close and a pedestrian using a mobile phone who stepped out onto the road in front of her without looking.

“Safety is undeniably still a massive barrier to people cycling,” she said. “While a near miss may not feel like more than a frustration or irritation at the time, the potential ramifications could be massive. Our belief is that these incidents – the ones that happen on a weekly, if not daily, basis – are in fact the ones which influence the way we cycle, or if we choose to cycle at all.”

For more information or to sign up, go here

Share

‘Without the vouchers I don’t think I would have been able to go on working …

  • 62 per cent of parents are worried about how they will afford the one-week break
  • A third expect to dip into their savings to cover costs 

Rosie Murray-west, Financial Mail on Sunday

6

View
comments

Parents up and down the country are bracing themselves for extra expense as the half-term holiday looms. Figures from the Post Office show that 62 per cent of parents are worried about how they will afford the one-week break – with nearly a third expected to dip into their savings to cover costs.

Many face an unenviable choice: spending money to entertain the children at home, or paying for childcare so that they can go to work.

The Family and Childcare Trust says that holiday childcare is both patchy and expensive. Anand Shukla, the charity’s chief executive, says: ‘Far too many parents face a never ending battle to secure affordable, quality childcare just so that they can go to work to provide for their families.’

Little star: Jessie Davidson, with parents Sara-Jayne and Mike, went to Super Camps

Little star: Jessie Davidson, with parents Sara-Jayne and Mike, went to Super Camps

Vouchers meant Jessie could go to holiday club 

Sara-Jayne Davidson was able to use childcare vouchers from her civil service job to pay for a recent holiday club for daughter Jessie, five.

‘Without the vouchers I don’t think I would have been able to go on working after I had children,’ says Sara-Jayne, from Coulsdon, South London. ‘They make a real difference.’

Jessie went to a Super Camps holiday club in Croydon, Surrey, over the summer holidays, where she took part in numerous organised activities including swimming. ‘She absolutely loved it,’ says Sara-Jayne, who works for the Land Registry as well as being a part-time fitness instructor.

‘The best thing is she even loved swimming there – she normally screams when she goes in the pool with me or my husband Mike.

‘It was also flexible – I could pay for a little bit more time in the evenings or mornings if we needed it. She’s already asking me when we can go back again.’

‘Childcare is expensive, but Super Camps compared really well with the childminder that we use in term times,’ says Sara-Jayne, 51.

The charity’s research shows that the average cost of a week of holiday childcare is now £115 and rising faster than both inflation and parents’ wages.

Shukla adds: ‘Many working parents hope that their childcare struggles will end when their children start school.

‘However, our research into holiday and out-of-school childcare shows the opposite is true. The system requires a complete overhaul but in the meantime employers and head teachers should help parents manage the school holidays.’

For those parents who cannot afford paid help, many use their own paid leave to cover the period while their children are on holiday. But then they find that the cost of entertaining their children soon mounts up.

Post Office figures show that parents expect to spend £229 entertaining their children over half-term. Almost a third will spend money on eating out, while other expenses include theme park entry, petrol, cinema trips and sporting activities such as swimming.

Henk Van Hulle, head of savings and investments at the Post Office, says: ‘With the long summer break only just behind us, and Christmas already on the horizon, the autumn half-term break will come at an inconvenient time for many parents.’

Height of fun: Camp Beaumont runs both residential and day camps

Height of fun: Camp Beaumont runs both residential and day camps

Whether choosing to entertain children yourself or to pay for childcare, there are ways to make the half-term week – or weeks, in some cases – less expensive.

Private holiday clubs run by national groups such as Super Camps, Barracudas and Camp Beaumont are one option.

It is possible to bring the cost down by using childcare vouchers if your employer has a scheme. These vouchers, which can be used to pay for Ofsted-registered childcare including holiday schemes, allow childcare costs to be taken out of pre-tax income.

If an employer offers vouchers, up to £55 a week tax-free can be claimed. A couple can both claim £55 a week if they are basic rate taxpayers.

Those who pay 40 per cent tax can claim £28 a week tax-free, while additional rate taxpayers can claim up to £25 a week. These schemes will be phased out next autumn and replaced with a new childcare tax break.

It can also be cheaper to book a full week of childcare in a club rather than selected days.

Guy Ker, managing director of Super Camps, says parents need to see these costs in the context of other half-term expenses.

He says: ‘I’ve got seven children and I know that when you go out costs can mount up. But if you book for the week, the daily price for an eight-hour day at a Super Camps venue comes down to about £35 a day, or just over £4 an hour with activities that range from quad biking to swimming.’

Local holiday clubs run by the council can prove a cheaper option but provision is patchy. The average cost of a council-run scheme is £96 a week, compared with £118 a week for privately run schemes.

Websites such as Netmums as well as local councils are good sources of information.

For older teenagers, the Government’s National Citizen Service can be one way of providing inexpensive skills training and entertainment.

The programme, spearheaded by Prime Minister David Cameron, is open to all 16 and 17-year-olds, and includes a residential programme. More information is available at the website ncsyes and the cost is £50 or less for a three-day residential course. Meanwhile, for parents who are trying to keep entertainment costs down at home, there are still plenty of cheap ways to entertain children.

Most cinema chains run children’s clubs in the holidays where they show films in the morning.

Odeon’s Kids Club offers tickets from £2.50 each and films this half- term include How To Train Your Dragon 2, Planes 2 and Maleficent.

Cineworld has a Movies for Juniors show on half-term mornings with tickets from £1.50 including a free fun pack.

Selected Vue cinemas charge just £1.75 a ticket or £3 for 3D films for children and accompanying adults every morning from October 25 to November 2.

On show: From How To Train Your Dragon 2

On show: From How To Train Your Dragon 2

The Football Association offers free coaching sessions to girls and boys aged five to 11 during the school holidays.

To find your nearest session go to faskills.thefa.com/FindSession. Or try tennisforfree.com for tennis coaching lessons.

Free museums include Glasgow’s Burrell collection, National Museum Cardiff, Leeds Art Gallery and London’s Natural History and Science museums, and the Victoria Albert Museum.

Consumer website MoneySavingExpert provides details of museums and galleries nationwide that offer free entry.

For trips to theme parks and other attractions, booking online in advance is often the best way to get a cheaper deal.

If travelling by train, the website daysoutguide offers details of two for one tickets available to rail travellers on attractions throughout Britain.

Many families choose to save up Tesco Clubcard vouchers for holiday periods. For many top attractions £2.50 worth of Clubcard vouchers can be exchanged for £10 of entrance tickets.


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Fast ambitions for Renfrew youngster

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Published: 18 Oct 2014 08:30

A RENFREW youngster has raced ahead of the pack with some stunning performances on the mini-moto circuit.

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Ten-year-old Jack Hart has been biking since the age of seven, but has only recently showcased his racing potential in both the Scottish and British Championships.

Sitting second in the British Championship standings, as well as finishing every Scottish round he has entered on the podium, Jack has already proved he can tough it out with the best at the top — just like his idols Valentino Rossi and Mark Marquez in MotoGP.

And, the youngster has big ambitions for his own future in the sport.

He told Gazette Sport: “I really enjoy racing and I have been doing really well.

“I enjoy going all around the country and my next race is just past London for what will be the final round. We all jump in the van and it can be really cosy with me in the front and the bikes in the back.

“One day I want to go on and race in MotoGP, my biggest aim is to one day become a world champion like Rossi and Marquez.”

Jack currently races in the junior 4.2 series and the junior production competition. In recent times he has focused his attention on the 4.2, where he is already guaranteed a third place overall finish, but hopes to cling on to his second spot.

Each race he participates in sees the whole family up sticks and travel to follow his progress. Jack’s mum Sarah admitted his love for the sport is the most important thing and hopes he can continue his success for years to come.

She added: “We are all very proud of what Jack has achieved this season.

“He has always been into his bikes and had his stabilisers off very early, so we always knew it was something that he was probably going to go into.

“For his seventh birthday we took him up past Kirkcaldy for a track day and he really enjoyed it, so it has just grown from there.”

Travelling across the length and breadth of the country can obviously take its toll both mentally and financially so Sarah reserved special thanks for the hardy band of sponsors that held out at there every need.

She said: “I would like to thank ARM Motorcycles, who have always been there to help fix the bike and kit Jack out with the likes of new gloves and equipment that he needs throughout the season. They have been a massive help and it is great to receive support from a local Renfrew business.

“CTS Electrical have also been great when it comes to getting the motorcycles as Jack currently has the two bikes, so thanks to them as well.”

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What’s Goin’ On

To place an event in the “What’s Goin’ On” section, email: bmoore@civitasmedia.com; fax: 606-573-0042; or drop a written/typed copy of the announcement by our office at 1548 Hwy. 421 South (beside Hardee’s). Announcements will not be accepted by phone and should be submitted no later than four days before the event. If received in time, it will be published one or two days before the event. Announcements are also available to view at www.harlandaily.com. For more details, call 606-909-4145.

All Harlan County PEE WEE games for the remainder of this week have been postponed to Oct. 21 and 25 (go by the schedule for the week of Oct. 13).

October has been designated by the Humane Society of the United States as ADOPT A SHELTER DOG MONTH. In honor of this designation, Friends of the Bell County Animal Shelter will pay $25 toward the adoption fee for any dog adopted from the shelter this month. That will make the fee $45 for those people who wish to adopt a dog.

TODAY

Girl Scouts will sponsor a COSTUME DANCE from 6-9 p.m. today at the old Verda grade school for kindergarten- through eighth-grades. The cost is $5 per person. Hot dogs, drinks and baked goods will be available to purchase. Proceeds will help send Harlan County Girl Scouts to New York in June. For more information, contact Sandra Lamb at 606-837-9395.

The Upper Cumberland Association of Baptists annual FALL FESTIVAL will be held from 1-4 p.m. today at Camp Howard (Happy Top, Wallins) — there will be a shuttle from Wallins Baptist Church. There will be games, food, cake walk, face painting, balloon twisting and more. All children are welcome.

New Freedom Worship Center in Wallins will host a FALL FESTIVAL today with games, crafts, cake walk, prizes and food. For more information, call 606-621-0295.

Hilltop Ministry will have a YARD SALE at 204 County Pike in Loyall beginning at 9 a.m. today — rain or shine — with clothes, household items, four tires as well as odds and ends. All proceeds will go to the ministry’s Christmas funds.

Wallins Church of God will have a BENEFIT SINGING at 6 p.m. today at the church featuring singer/songwriter Lawana Blevins, the Mark Turner Family, Debbie Smith, the Doyle Family, Wallins Church of God Singers and more. A hot dog and bake sale will be held after the service. All proceeds benefit the church’s building fund. Pastor Jimmy Thomas and congregation welcome everyone to attend.

GOSPEL SINGING with The Blackwood Brothers will begin at 6 p.m. today at the old Evarts High School. Admission is $10, adults; children 12 and under, free.

SUNDAY

The annual HOMECOMING at Pansy Christian Church (Mary Alice) will begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday with special music and a potluck dinner. Pastor Alonzo York Jr. and congregation welcomes everyone.

TODAY-SUNDAY

FELLOWSHIP services at Kentenia Full Gospel Church include: Friday at 7 p.m., Rev. Steve Mullins (youth rally); Sunday at noon, Pastor Ed Houston. Everyone is welcome — no Saturday service.

OCT. 20

The Tri-City Chamber of Commerce will host a TRANSPORTATION MEETING beginning at noon on Oct. 20 at the Tri-City Senior Citizens Center featuring representatives from the Manchester and Pikeville district office of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Sherri M. Chappell, P.E., chief district engineer from the Manchester district, will address the work that is to commence on the Kingdom Come State Park entrance as well as any other Harlan County road project that may be upcoming. Mary Westfall-Holbrook, chief district engineer, and Chuck Childers, Whitesburg section engineer and project manager for the US 119 project, will be in attendance from the Pikeville office to give an update on U.S. 119 construction in Letcher County. A light luncheon will be provided by the chamber. Interested individuals are encouraged to attend.

A Kids ZUMBA CLASS will be offered from 6-7 p.m. on Oct. 20 in room 110 of the Administration building on the Harlan campus of SKCTC. The class will be led by Randi Lee Grant and is $10. For more information, contact Tessa Roark at 606-589-3003 or troark0024@kctcs.edu.

There will be a LOOK GOOD FEEL BETTER session held at 2 p.m. on Oct. 20 at Harlan ARH Hospital in the One West Conference Room. Registration is required. This is a free workshop provided by the American Cancer Society to help women cope with the physical side effects of cancer. If you are a female cancer patient/cancer survivor and would like to attend, contact Kristy at 606-573-8231 or krsmith@arh.org to register.

There will be a PUMPKIN PAINTING SESSION from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Oct. 20 in room 115 ub Chrisman Hall on the Cumberland campus of SKCTC. The cost is $5 per family — bring a pumpkin. For more information, contact Tessa Roark at 606-589-3047.

OCT. 20-24

The Harlan County BOOKMOBILE SCHEDULE for the week of Oct. 20 includes:

Monday — Cawood Elementary School, Smith, Three Point and Bob’s Creek.

Tuesday — James A. Cawood Elementary School, Holiday Apartments, Rio Vista, County Pike and Baxter.

Wednesday — Wallins Elementary School and Pathfork.

Thursday — Verda, Holmes Mill, Closplint and Louellen.

Friday — Rosspoint Elementary School and Haran County Christian School.

OCT. 21

The Harlan County Domestic Violence Council will sponsor a CANDLELIGHT VIGIL honoring victims of domestic violence at 7 p.m. on Oct. 21 at the Harlan County Courthouse (Central Street entrance). There will be live music, door prizes and refreshments.

The NIFTY NEEDLES Quilting Club will meet at 10 a.m. on Oct. 21 at the Harlan County Extension Depot. This month’s project is the Dresden Plate quilt block. Supplies needed are one 14.5” x 14.5” white or cream fabric block, and assorted fabric scraps at least 5” x 5.” If you have any questions or need additional information, contact Pat at 573-1245.

The MATERIAL GIRLS Quilting Club will meet at 5 p.m. on Oct. 21 at the Harlan County Extension Depot. The lesson on Grandma’s Broken Dishes quilt will continue. For more information, call 573-4464.

A certified and trained state service officer will be at the London DAV building (on west 80 behind Clark Truck) from 9 a.m. to noon or longer on Oct. 21 to ASSIST ALL VETERANS and their dependents with VA claims free of charge. For more information, call 606-862-0032 or 606-877-1308.

The documentary APPALACHIAN DAWN will be shown at 7 p.m. on Oct. 21 at the Union County High School. This documentary illustrate the power of prayer with churches uniting together praying against drug abuse, alcohol abuse and family violence.

The public is invited to give comments regarding a TDOT TEA application for Phase V of the Daniel Boone Walking Biking Trail in Harrogate, Tenn. This phase will be the final connector to join all trails from Cumberland Gap High School, through the Town of Cumberland Gap to the National Historical Park. Your comments are welcome at the meeting beginning at 5 p.m. on Oct. 21 at Harrogate City Hall, located 138 Harrogate Crossing.

OCT. 22-24

REVIVAL services at Cumberland Nazarene Church will begin at 7 p.m. nightly Oct. 22-24. There will be special singing nightly. Pastor Dillard Stanley and congregation invite everyone to attend.

OCT. 22-26

Middlesborough Little Theatre will present THE MIRACLE WORKER Oct. 22-26 at the Central Auditorium in Middlesboro. Nightly performances begin at 7:30 p.m. and the Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door. For more information, call or text Amy Simpson, MLT director, at 606-499-4060.

OCT. 24

UK Halloween Kids’ BOO BASH will be held from 4-6 p.m. on Oct. 24 at the Harlan County Extension Depot. Children through age 13 may trick or treat the tables for candy and favors. Everything is free. Children are encouraged to wear costumes. All children must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, call 573-4464.

OCT. 25

Sunny Acres First Church of God will host a community FALL FESTIVAL from 5-7 p.m. on Oct. 25. Festivities will include a cake walk, various games for children, prizes, treat bags and more. Hot dogs, chips and drinks will be served to everyone. Everything is free and everyone is invited to attend. For more information, call 573-1836.

OCT. 27

The Harlan Elementary School SBDM COUNCIL meeting on Oct. 20 has been rescheduled to Oct. 27

Harlan County Extension Service will host a series of FORESTRY WORKSHOPS this fall. The first workshop will be “What’s Killing Our Trees: What We Can and Can’t Do” and will discuss why our trees are under attack from invasive insect pests. It will also address threats to our forests. This workshop will be held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28 at the Harlan County Extension Depot. For more information or to register, call 573-4464.

The Kentucky Blood Center will host a BLOOD DRIVE from 1:30-5 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the Harlan Center in the meeting rooms. A special Fight Cancer T-shirt will be offered while supplies last. To schedule a donation, visit kybloodcenter.org or call 800-775-2522.

OCT. 30

Harlan Health Rehabilitation Center will host their annual TRICK OR TREAT NIGHT beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 30 All children 12 years and under are welcome to attend.

HOLIDAY IDEAS will be presented by Theresa Howard at 5 p.m. on Oct. 30 at the Extension Depot. A booklet with recipes and crafts will be given to those attending and samples of several crafts will be shown. The workshop is free, but registration is requested. If less than 10 people register, the workshop will be canceled. To register, call 573-4464.

Pine Mountain Settlement School will host a FALL PARTY HAY RIDE at 5 p.m. on Oct. 30 — meet in the library. Join in for lots of fun, games and refreshments. For more information, contact Judy Lewis, community coordinator, at 606-558-3586 or the Pine Mountain office at 606-558-3571.

LOCUST GROVE Missionary Baptist Church in Dizney will have missionary Andrew Tonkin as the guest speaker on Oct. 30 beginning with a time of fellowship at 5:30 p.m. Bro. Andrew Tonkin is a Baptist missionary serving in Brazil and the Amazon Basin of South America. Everyone is welcome.

OCT. 31

Halloween will be observed in Harlan County on Oct. 31. TRICK-OR-TREAT hours are from 5-7 p.m.

The Cumberland Tourist Commission will host TRICK-OR-TREAT ON MAIN from 3-5 p.m. on Oct. 31 on Main Street in Cumberland.

TRUNK OR TREAT will begin at 5 p.m. on Oct. 31 at Dressen Church of God.

Loyall Church of God will host TRUNK OR TREAT beginning at 5 p.m. on Oct. 31 on the church parking lot.

OCT. 31; NOV. 13

Registration is now open for the TASTE OF HARLAN COUNTY event to be held from 5:30-7 p.m. on Nov. 13 at the Harlan Center. Taste of Harlan County is an opportunity for people to taste the best food in Harlan County and fight cancer at the same time. Registration fee is a minimum donation of $20 per dish. Each dish submitted should be able to provide around 200 bites (bites, not portions) A regular casserole dish would provide at least 200 bites. Restaurants, caterer’s and cooks that would like to enter a dish/dishes can call 606-505-5084 for more information. This is a Relay For Life fundraiser for Relay For Life teams Harlan County Realty and Friends and Harlan’s Hospitality Heroes. All proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society. The registration deadline is Oct. 31.

NOV. 1

The annual Homemakers HOLIDAY BAZAAR will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 1. Vendors will be selling a variety of items including crafts, baked goods, scrapbooking supplies, jewelry, cookbooks, wooden crafts, Avon and much more. If you’re interested in selling items, call 573-4464 to reserve a table. No set-up fee will be charged.

The Blood Sweat Fear 5k Obstacle ZOMBIE RUN will begin at noon on Nov. 1 in Cumberland for ages 14 and up (under 18 must have a parent sign and participate with you). For more information, visit www.harlancountytrails.com; email tricitychamber@windstream.net; or call the Cumberland Tourist Commission at 606-589-5812 or Harlan Tourism at 606-573-4495.

TODAY-NOV. 1

Ronnie Owens Farms’ CORN MAZE PUMPKIN PATCH will be presented from noon to 10 p.m., Friday through Nov. 1. For more information, call 423-733-8581 or visit www.ronnieowensministries.com.

NOV. 2

The third annual LADIES TEA in memory of Dot Disney and Doris Yaden will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 2 at the Tri-City Senior Citizens Center. Tickets are $10 per person and will be available at the center. Seating is limited — don’t forget to wear your pretty hats. Proceeds from ticket sales, less expenses and all donations will be given to “Breast Cancer for the Cure” in memory of Disney and Yaden.

NOV. 11, 14

Local artists are sought for the Artists’ Attic “Echoes: Creations inspired by famous works of art” EXHIBIT on Nov. 14. Take a piece of art that is familiar worldwide and putting your own spin on it. Art submission deadline is Nov 11.

NOV. 12

Harlan County High School’s revised SITE BASE COUNCIL 2014-2015 meeting dates are Nov. 12, Dec. 10, Jan. 14, Feb. 11, March 11, April 8, May 13 and June 10. The council meets at 3:15 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month in the HCHS Media Center. Everyone is invited to attend.

NOV. 13

Tri-City Funeral Home will sponsor the Annual Tri-City Senior Citizen THANKSGIVING DINNER beginning at noon on Nov. 13 at the Lynch Church of God fellowship hall — dine in only.

The Wilderness Trail Area HOLIDAY COOKING SCHOOL will be held from 5-7 p.m. on Nov. 13 at the London/Laurel County Optimist Club. Tickets are available at the Harlan County Extension Service — tickets will not be sold at the door. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 573-4464 or come by the Extension Office at 519 South Main Street.

NOV. 18, 19

A JEWELRY WORKSHOP will be taught on Nov. 18 and 19 at 10:30 a.m. You need attend only one class. Participants will make two pairs of Christmas earrings (angel and Christmas tree). Cost is $15. To register, call 573-4464.

NOV. 20

ALL THINGS IN MIND, a support group for those affected by depression, anxiety, bipolar or other mental health disorders, either as a patient or family/friend, will have its first meeting on from 6:30-8 p.m. on Nov. 20 at the Harlan Public Library Community Room. This is a supportive group and will offer no diagnosis, but rather tips on coping, caring and living a healthier lifestyle. For more information, contact Greg Sturgill by leaving a message at 606-573-4223 or 606-273-5139.

NOV. 22; DEC. 6

The 2014 Harlan County CHRISTMAS PARADE will begin at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 6 with lineup starting at 4 p.m. This year’s theme is “Christmas Through the Decades.” Parade entry forms are available at Southern Wholesale, the Harlan Center, online or via email per request. Completed forms may be dropped off at the Harlan Center, the Harlan Daily Enterprise, Southern Wholesale or mailed to the Harlan County Chamber of Commerce at P.O. Box 268, Harlan, Ky. 40831 by Nov. 22. Entries received after this date will not be accepted.

NOV. 22

Adult/seniors indoor VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT will be held Nov. 22 at the Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg. Age divisions include 25, 35, 45, 55, 65 — men’s and women’s (pool play plus double elimination). Cost is $150 per team for all-day play. Players receive a Rocky Top T-Shirt. Sign up for the annual Great Escape Adult VB Tournament at www.signaturevolleyball.com. For more information, call/text 423-426-1705.

DEC. 13

Anthony Noe Ministries will sponsor the second annual RETURNING THE FAVOR beginning at 6 p.m. on Dec. 13 at New Covenant Cawood Church of God. This benefit gathering will raise money to provide those in need Christmas dinners throughout Harlan County. The goal is to feed a minimum of 750 families.

MONDAYS

A military SUPPORT GROUP for all active, separated or any former military men or women meets at 6:30 p.m. every first and third Monday of the month at the Middlesboro National Guard Armory, located on 30th Street. If you are facing financial, relationship, criminal, adjustment, substance abuse or other problems, this is for you.

TUESDAYS, THURSDAYS

The Harlan County WALKING CLUB meets Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Harlan County High School indoor track. The walking club is free. It allows the public to walk indoors. For more information, contact Cecilia Adams, Harlan County Community Education director, at 573-4330 ext. 2061.

TUESDAYS

Benchmark Family Services, serving Bell, Harlan, Clay, Knox, Laurel and Whitley counties, invites you to become a FOSTER PARENT. Free orientation classes are held from 5-6 p.m. on any Tuesday. For more information, call 606-526-6992 or toll free at 866-526-6992.

LIGHTHOUSE LIFELINE OF BELL COUNTY support group sessions will be held every Tuesday, beginning at 5 p.m. with refreshments/services and support group sessions from 6-7:30 p.m. Support group sessions will be from 1-2:30 p.m. every Thursday. Sessions will be held at the Lighthouse Career Training Center, located at 980 Old Bell High Road, off of U.S. 119. Sessions are free and workbooks are optional. Everyone is welcome. Sessions include: Insight, identifying life-controlling issues — nine weeks; stepping into freedom, 12 Steps — 13 weeks; and anger management — nine weeks. For more information, call 606-337-3165 Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

WEDNESDAYS

The JOB CLUBS of Eastern Kentucky meets weekly with a small group of job seekers and workforce professionals to gain a competitive edge in today’s tough job market. Job clubs are free and help you create a game plan for your job search link with quality employers, improve your interviewing skills, learn self-marketing skills, evaluate, negotiate and land job offers, connect with other job seekers and ease your stress during your job search. The Harlan County Job Club will meet at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Depot in Harlan. New members are welcome. New member orientation begins at 12:30 p.m.

THURSDAYS

The Harlan County Country Club invites everyone to sign up for the local CHURCH LEAGUE. All church members are offered a reduced rate of $5 per player for nine holes every Thursday. Sign up at 5:30 p.m., start at 6 p.m. For more information, call 573-2510.

• • • • • • •

The Cawood Ledford Boys Girls Club is RECRUITING VOLUNTEERS. What better way to give back to your community than by investing in our youth? The club is open to youth ages 6-18 for the after-school program from 2:30-6 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, call 606-573-0960.

Individuals wishing to participate in the holiday show “THE NUTCRACKER, a Christmas Dream” are asked to contact director Robyn Bingham at 573-4168. The performances, staged by members of Robyn’s Dance Academy and in collaboration with Southeast Kentucky Community Technical College, calls for cast members ages 5 and older.

KNICKERBOCKER PICTURES certificates are being sold by 4-H teens, 4-H agent and assistants, volunteers and 4-H Council members during September as a 4-H fundraiser for the 4-H Teen Club. The certificates are for two 8X10, two 5X7 and eight wallet sized photos for $10. In addition each certificate purchased during this time will include a 10X13 as a free gift. For more information or to purchase a certificate, contact a 4-H agent. Adults interested in selling certificates to earn free packages of photos can contact Raymond Cox at the 4-H office or call 273-0835, by Facebook or email rcox@uky.edu.

NARCONON is reminding families that the use of addicting drugs is on the rise, take steps to protect your family from drug use. If you know anyone who is struggling with drug addiction get them the help they need. Call for a free brochure on the signs of addiction for all drugs. Narconon also offers free screenings and referrals. For more information, call 800-431-1754 or visit DrugAbuseSolution.com.

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Feature: Hitting the mountain bike trails at Lee Valley VeloPark


Reporter Freddy Mayhew takes to the trails at around the Lee Valley VeloPark in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Freddy Mayhew, Senior reporter
Thursday, October 16, 2014

3:22 PM

Cycling in this country seems to be the thing that suddenly all your mates are obsessing over.

Heavy rain earlier in the year damaged the trails and pushed back their opening date by a couple of months

The sport has enjoyed an enormous surge in popularity following British successes at Le Tour De France and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The greatest are household names – Bradley Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton – but how many of us have heard of Team GB’s Annie Last or Liam Killeen? If you have, you’re clearly a fan of mountain biking.

Both are among our best exponents of the sport that, along with BMX, seems to have been somewhat overlooked amid the furore over the track and road events that contributed so much to the British medal haul in 2012.

The closest spot to go riding cross country for east Londoners has traditionally been Epping Forest, on the border with Essex, but that changed at the end of July when Lee Valley VeloPark finally opened up its trails.

Former infantryman Matt McCormack is an apprentice mechanic at the VeloPark and a deft hand on the mountain bike

Although coming a few months later than planned after heavy rain damaged some of the tracks in March, rendering them unsafe, there are now several runs graded from blue (easiest) to red and black (hardest), offering five miles (8km) of bike trails.

I went along to test a few of them out. It was drizzling and overcast as I pulled on my helmet and hopped on my Condor hard-tail bike, pretty much perfect conditions as it meant there were a few puddles to get stuck into.

Apprentice mechanic, former infantryman and my guide for the day Matt McCormack admitted he had been “sceptical” when he first heard about the trails. “I thought ‘a mountain bike trail in the middle of London? How good is that going to be?’,” he said.

“But since actually experiencing it, they have turned out to be beyond my expectations.”

We practice on the mountain bike skills section by the road circuit before hitting the trails

We start easy, on a blue leading us out of the VeloPark grounds and taking us up, over then along the main road that dissects this part of the park in two.

While I never truly feel like I’ve left London behind – the Velodrome looms into sight round every other corner – the course is tight and winding, demanding my concentration at all times if only to avoid being thrown off by an exposed rock.

Much like skiing – which grades runs in the same way – the blue is an enjoyable blend of fast rolling bumps mixed in with some more challenging descents covering a surprising distance. We try the red next and there’s a marked increase in difficulty.

Suddenly I find myself struggling up steep ascents and readying myself for bigger drops, battling to keep my balance.

Getting to grips with the British-made Condor “hard-tail” bikes that can be hired out from the VeloPark

For me, a relative novice to mountain biking, the trails are the prefect place to get a feel for the sport and hone my skills.

There’s no doubt a hardened mountain biker will find them less of a challenge – though admittedly I did not test out any black runs – but regardless it’s a fun day out and there’s enough to keep you coming back for more.

It also presents a nice change for the growing number of road cyclists on the capital’s streets, as self-confessed “roadie” Matt tells me.

“On the road, especially when it’s a circuit, you are just going around and around and when you’re by yourself it’s just a grey blur,” he says.

“But on the mountain bike it keeps you sharp because it’s a constantly changing environment – and everyone likes to get a little bit muddy.”

• It costs £15 for a taster session with an instructor or £6 (£4 for concessions) to ride on the tracks with no equipment hire. Click here for more information.

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