Britain to shut up shop (and everything else) on January 1

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The Independent Online
NURSING MILLENNIUM Eve hangovers might occupy much of the nation on 1 January 2000, but once the headache pills have kicked in, bleary- eyed celebrants will find a country that is effectively closed.

New Year's Day, a Saturday, will be a sport free zone with no racing, no football, no rugby and none of the traditional dalliances to occupy the hungover.

And while some pubs and bars are intending to open, those who cannot face another drink will be left with little diversion in most of the country's towns and cities. Shopaholics will have their consumer tendencies stretched to the limit with the high street virtually closed for two days.

Tesco, Asda and Sainsburys will not be on hand for ready-meals, their 1,300 stores will be shut. DIY at B&Q? Nope. Fancy souping up your car with spoilers and go-faster stripes from Halfords? Come back Monday.

You will probably find yourself the only car in the 12,000 spaces at Gateshead's Metro Centre. Like its host of out of town counterparts, it will be closed. The slow-down will be keenly felt in London with little to occupy people except, of course, the Millennium Dome, which will open for the first time to the public at 10am.

Those hoping to catch a big show at the West End will be disappointed. Theatres and venues are likely to be closed, according to the Society of London Theatres. "It is pointless having a big show if the cast is only gong to be playing to three people with hangovers and a dog," said a spokeswoman.

Even a stroll in the park may prove problematic. The gates to the capital's Royal Parks, such as Regent's Park, will probably remain shut. "We haven't decided yet but its looking doubtful at the moment," said a spokesman.

Parents looking to placate restive children will find their choice severely limited. Alton Towers will be shut, likewise Legoland in Windsor.

Even that preserve of the rainy weekend, the stately home, will offer little. Out of the 300 historic houses regularly open to the public, just six will open including Warwick Castle, Leeds Castle in Kent, Fairfax House in York and Preston Tower in Northumberland.

But a breath of fresh air is guaranteed for those willing to head into the countryside. English Nature's 200 nature reserves will be open and while none of the National Trust's properties will be open the bulk of its 250,000 hectares of land will be accessible. And in Scotland, the Trust's gardens will also be open. A Trust spokesman said: "If people want to escape the excesses of the other festivities they are quite welcome to sample fresh air - it's free."