Christmas Gifts: How about something a little bit dangerous

From sky diving to astronaut training and rally driving, it's all available, says Sarah Jewell
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The Independent Culture
If you are fed up with buying socks for your partner and what you would really like to do is indulge his fantasy of flying through the sky in a hot air balloon, then why not buy an activity voucher as a christmas present. Red Letter Days is a company which specialises in gift vouchers for unusual experiences and they offer an adrenalin-pumping range of activities from skydiving and bungee jumping to white water rafting. For outdoor types who want to enjoy themselves without causing heart palpitations, there is also a variety of more leisurely activities such as horse riding, fly fishing or classic car driving.

Arthur Street is the operations manager and one of the pilots for Balloons over Britain who provide the hot air balloon flights for Red Letter Day. In his experience a ballooning gift voucher makes a wonderful present. He said: "People come along and the atmosphere is one of tremendous excitement and anticipation and then they have one of the most incredible sensations of their lives. The real pleasure the pilots get is from the pleasure of the passengers surrounding them, and you can't help but be lifted by their feelings. Best of all, you never see a glum face."

There are six different prices for experience vouchers - pounds 49, pounds 75, pounds 99, pounds 125, pounds 149, and pounds 199 and each price range offers more than 30 experiences to choose from. So if you are not sure whether your sister would prefer microlighting or camel trekking, you can buy the voucher and let her decide for herself. Each voucher comes in a Red Letter pack and bears no monetary value so the recipient has no idea how much you've spent. The vouchers are valid for a year and can be personalised with any special message you want to write on them. For more information call 0181 3435354.

Another company which offers gift vouchers that will "help turn someone's dream into reality" is Inspirations. They offer an impressive range of activity breaks from driving a bulldozer in Lincolnshire to swimming with dolphins in Ross-Shire to astronaut training in Russia.

The vouchers are divided into five basic price bands - under pounds 50, pounds 50- pounds 75, pounds 75-pounds 100, pounds 100-pounds 150 and pounds 150-pounds 200, and most events come within these categories. When you have bought the voucher you will be sent a gift pack with a blank gift card and envelope, personalised gift voucher detailing the activity you have bought; or a cash voucher and a new copy of the gift brochure. For information or advice telephone 01603 700770.

If fast cars are your partner's prefered passion and you would rather organise an activity day out yourself, there are many race and rally car schools throughout the country that offer voucher schemes. For example the Nigel Mansell Racing Schools at Brands Hatch in Kent, Snetterton in Norfolk or Oulton Park in Cheshire offer the chance of driving a Formula First single-seater racing car around their circuits. Gift vouchers range in price from pounds 135-pounds 265, ring 0990 125250 for details. The Silverstone Rally School at Silverstone, Northamptonshire offers a day's rally car driving for pounds 225 and gift vouchers are valid for 12 months. Call 01327 857413. The Essex Rally School in Romford offers to teach the basics of rally car control including handbrake turns and power slides "at your own speed in a no-pressure, fun environment" for pounds 90 for a half day and pounds 165 for a full day. For full details ring 01708 747967.

If you want more airborne thrills the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association in Leicester (0116 2611322) has details of more than 50 registered hang gliding and paragliding schools in Britain, many of which offer gift vouchers. The Derbyshire Flying Centre, for example, offers hang gliding and paragliding tuition in the form of vouchers - two days hang gliding costs pounds 85 and two days paragliding costs pounds 100 (01298 872313). Steve Hudson is the chief flying instructor at the centre and he says people usually have a "gobsmacking experience". The Peak district area where he teaches is "stunningly beautiful" and on the first day he aims to get people "out on the hill and to the point where they are comfortable with flying. It is a great buzz". On the second day more time is spent on learning the flying techniques and at the end of the weekend "most people are in control, they've learnt how to fly and they've done something that is completely different to anything they've ever done before."

British Airways is offering the UK's first flight gift voucher scheme on its new lowcost airline Go. Vouchers will be sold through the Go call centre (0845 60 54321) and are available in pounds 50 denominations. They are valid for a year and are redeemable on any Go flight. Go flies daily services to Rome, Milan, Bologna, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Munich and Edinburgh and vouchers bought before 15 December will arrive before Christmas morning.

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