Consumer Travel: The Shopping Forecast

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No 6: Irish Linen

There's something deeply satisfying about eating at a table laid with crisp, white linen. To recreate that feeling of pristine, heavy material curling onto your lap, head for Ireland (as if the forthcoming national festivities aren't enough of an excuse).

Linen originated in Egypt and was brought to Britain by the Romans. In the 17th century, loom-proficient Huguenots arrived in Ireland. High-quality damask soon became big business in Ulster. After the flax harvest, fibres were spun and finely woven into lengths of cloth. These would then be sold as unbleached "brown" linen, or laid out along riverbanks to be sun- bleached and then hammered smooth into "white" linen. These days, fields of blue flax are still grown in Ireland to provide small quantities of linen for the luxury market.

To pick up the linen trail, go beyond the abandoned mills of the former "linen triangle" between Belfast, Armagh and Dungannon and visit the Beetling Mill at Wellbrook in County Tyrone (016487 51735 for details), where six deafening mills once hammered out linen by water power.

Next stop, the Irish Linen Centre and Museum at Lisburn (01846 663377). Inside the 17th-century Market House, where weavers once traded cloth, an interactive exhibition details the industry's history and includes spinning and weaving demonstrations. Open 9.30am to 5pm from Monday-Saturday, entrance is free and the centre also houses a speciality linen shop. A six-seater damask tablecloth here costs from pounds 87, or you could visit The Irish Linen Company in London (0171-493 8949), where a similar quality tablecloth costs from pounds 140. The pounds 53 you'd save by buying in Ireland would pay for a pounds 48 return ticket from Luton to Belfast on easyJet (0870 6000 000), the pounds 3 unlimited rail deal (see Bargain of the Week 1, right) and a celebratory St Patrick's Day Guinness.

Gadget of the Week

The Nikon Nuvis S compact APS camera (pictured) has just been launched. It is pretty to look at, simple to use (including the zoom lens) and takes reliable, if not amazingly sharp, pictures. However, its small size (slightly larger, but not much heavier, than a pack of cards) disguises the camera's clumsiness - although there is no outer casing, the stainless steel shell has to be tugged open. The gimmick factor of the APS format makes it a pricey pounds 230 but, nonetheless, this would be a useful addition to any lightweight traveller's suitcase. Call 0800 230 220 for stockists.

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