AT THE CLINIC

Your questions answered by our panel of travel experts, including a doctor and a lawyer

You'll never walk alone

I am writing to ask if you know of any firms specialising in holidays for people travelling on their own. I am in my thirties and am looking for a special interest or walking holiday, preferably in the UK, organised for groups so that I could have some company.

V Parsons

Ripley, Derbyshire

Jill Crawshaw replies: Several holiday companies offer walking holidays in the UK, suitable for the single traveller.

Solo's (0181-951 2800) specialises in singles holidays, dividing age groups into 30-49s and 50-69s. This year, for pounds 249, it is offering a three-day walking weekend in the Yorkshire Dales in July, staying three nights half-board at a hotel (no single room supplement!), with guided walks of between six and 12 miles each day. A three-night weekend based in and around the Cotswolds costs the same.

HF Holidays (0181 905 9556) offers around 30 rambling breaks for singles, six of them for the under-50s, based in its own country guest houses across the UK. The walks are escorted in groups of seven or more and the holidays are on a full-board basis including picnic lunches and gentle evening entertainment. A break in Yorkshire with two nights' accommodation costs pounds 85; a week's walking on the Isle of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland, is pounds 271.

As indicated by the name, Ramblers Holidays (01707 331133) offers a wide programme of trekking and walking. Roughly two-thirds of their holidaymakers are on their own and the average party size is 20. A Ramblers group leader accompanies each party and, where possible, accommodation is in village or country hotels. Week-long breaks are available from 29 March until 27 December and the group leader will put together a programme suitable for the age and fitness of the group and the weather conditions. Advice is also available for guests wishing to follow their own itinerary.

The company owns its own guest house, Hassness, on the edge of Lake Buttermere in the Lake District, where there is plenty of scope for fell walking - as strenuous or as gentle as you like. Prices for one week full board at Hassness range from pounds 185 to pounds 220 per person, depending on the date, (with picnic lunches). Accommodation is in single, twin or three bedded rooms, with a pounds 26 supplement for singles.

The Youth Hostelling Association (01629 825850) offers guided long-distance walking for its members (adult membership fee, pounds 9.50) along routes such as the Herriott Way in Yorkshire, the South Downs Way and the White Peak Way in Derbyshire. Around four-fifths of participants are single, with a wide age range from late teens to late 60s. Accommodation is in single- sex, small dormitories in youth hostels along the route.

Holidays run from July to mid-September; a five-night Herriott Way walk departing on 19 July, 16 August and 6 September costs pounds 169 including full board and baggage transport between stops.

Countrywide Holidays (0161-446 2226), which has been offering walking holidays for more than 100 years, has four properties in the Lakes, two in the West Country, one at Hope in the Peak District and another on the cliffs overlooking Whitby in north Yorkshire. Walks usually start right outside the front door. The emphasis is on guided rambles - graded according to ability - accompanied by experienced leaders. Countryside also offers themed walking breaks like "Du Maurier's Cornwall", "Crosses and Cliffs on the North Yorkshire Moors", and "Riverside Rambles in Somerset", plus a range of special interest holidays, including wine tasting, photography, painting, bridge, needlecraft and aromatherapy, combined with morning or afternoon walks.

There are no single supplements and some dates are "House Party" weeks when escorted walks during the day are combined with social activities in the evenings. All holidays are full board (with picnic lunches) starting at pounds 99 per person for three nights including two escorted walks. The company also offers full-board accommodation without led walks - for the more independently minded - from pounds 30 a night.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster

How risky are anti-malarials?

I have heard that certain anti-malaria tablets can cause serious side-effects, sometimes ruining people's holidays. I am travelling to a malarial area (West Africa) with my nine-year-old son and and would be grateful if you could tell me which tablets cause these problems and give me an idea of how great the risk actually is.

Toby Roberts

York

Dr Gill Lea replies: There has been a lot of media publicity about anti- malaria tablets; so much so that student-age people going off to travel the world come into the clinic saying "my mother won't let me take the tablets that have been on the television because of the side effects". However, it's also worth considering the side effects of malaria, which can (if not treated promptly) include death.

Actually, the risk of common side effects is about 25 per cent with ALL anti-malaria tablets and approximately the same number of travellers give up and do not complete the course. Most side effects are not serious (but can be unpleasant) and include indigestion, nausea or light-headedness.

Most of the current adverse publicity is about Lariam (mefloquine) which can cause wild dreams (even though they tend to diminish), depression, anxiety and even panic attacks. However, the highest estimate of spoiled holidays is one person in 140, and it's probably nearer one in 200. Really serious side effects, such as fits or hallucinations, occur in one in 10,000. Most people taking Lariam have an easy one-tablet-a-week regime and get either no side-effects or minor ones.

Obviously, those who suffer real mood change (particularly if it extends past the holiday period) are very upset. They must stop the tablets at once and seek medical advice about whether to change to different tablets and seek help if any possible malaria symptoms occur.

In view of this risk, Lariam is generally recommended for places where it provides greater protection than other brands and where there is a significant malaria risk. West Africa is such an area, although short beach holidays may be less risky. Last year around 1,000 travellers from the UK caught malaria in sub-Saharan Africa and 11 died.

As Lariam is not suitable for everyone (including those with a history of depression or epilepsy, or where there is a possibility of pregnancy) the pros and cons have to be weighed up by your doctor. There are alternatives which do not have the same risk of psychiatric side effects but both you and your son would need to take daily and weekly tablets. These can cause gastric upsets and are likely to provide poorer protection.

The most important conclusion about malaria tablets is to choose the most effective type for the area and that is likely to suit you. Remember that malaria tablets provide some useful protection but none are completely effective. Try to reduce your exposure between dusk and dawn when malarial mosquitos bite and seek immediate medical advice in the event of a fever or flu-like illness occurring within a year (especially the first three months) of your trip.

Dr Gill Lea is chief medical adviser at Trailfinders' immunisation clinic, 194 Kensington High Street, London W8 7RG (0171 938 3999)

Legal queries

Our legal expert can reply to queries regarding any holiday rip- off you may have suffered on condition that you have already complained to the airline or tour operator and received an unsatisfactory response. All correspondence and relevant documentation should be supplied. Unfortunately we can only reply to letters we print.

Write to the Travel Editor, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (Fax: 0171 293 2043)

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