Shoppers on a spree despite heavy snow

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Bookmakers shortened the odds on a white Christmas yesterday as heavy snow showers hit the eastern counties of England. Coral were offering odds of 5-6 – the shortest for 20 years.

Bookmakers shortened the odds on a white Christmas yesterday as heavy snow showers hit the eastern counties of England. Coral were offering odds of 5-6 – the shortest for 20 years.

Snow spread inland across the east coast, stretching from Norfolk to Scotland and inland as far as Leeds, and the conditions led to the postponement of Middlesbrough's home match against Fulham.

The cold weather did not deter millions of shoppers taking part in a last-minute shopping spree, making yesterday one of the busiest so far for store workers.

Retailers across Britain reported heavy trading and drivers were warned to stay away from areas with large shopping centres. Sales and profits are already significantly up on last year.

The UK's main airports were also packed. The British Airports Authority expects to deal with 1.1 million passengers this weekend alone as the travel industry starts to revive after 11 September.

The Canary Islands, Spain, France and the US are the most popular destinations for Britons spending Christmas abroad.

On the roads, the worst congestion is thought to be over already. The RAC, expecting more than 20 million motorists to be out over Christmas, said traffic delays probably peaked on Friday evening.

There is further frustration for rail travellers, however. Already angry at news of inflation-busting fare rises, passengers face a two-day shutdown on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Only a handful of operators – Thameslink, Connex, South Central, c2c and ScotRail – will run services on key routes. There will also be disruption today and tomorrow on Virgin CrossCountry services between Birmingham and Bristol.

The big sales rush begins on Boxing Day. Shopping centres including Merry Hill in Dudley, Gyle Centre, in Edinburgh and the Trafford Centre in Manchester will open on 26 December, as will some branches of Marks & Spencer.

In the West End of London, Harvey Nichols' sale will start on 27 December, as will those at Dickins & Jones, Fenwick, Habitat, Donna Karan, Issey Miyake, Karen Millen and Versace in Bond Street.

John Lewis's sale starts on 27 December in all UK branches except for those in London, where the sale will start on 28 December.

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