How to hunt with a hawk or join a husky race

Daniel Butler suggests a range of decidedly different gifts: country courses for fresh-air enthusiasts
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The Independent Online
Finding a present for an outdoorsy friend or family member tends to be either ludicrously easy or impossibly difficult. Sometimes, a hip flask, pair of binoculars or hand-warmer hits the spot perfectly, but more often than not, the rambler, rider or bird-watcher already has every conceivable piece of state-of-the-art equipment he or she could possibly need.

For those still racking their brains as the final days to Christmas tick by, an activity break could be the answer. There are thousands on offer, with the best providing not only exercise and fresh air, but entertainment and education.

Fly fishing on one of Britain's premier rivers offers a therapeutic break. The Arundell Arms Hotel (01566 784666) in Devon runs two- and four-day salmon and trout fishing courses for beginners on its 20 miles of water. Prices start at pounds 270 for the four-day session, while weekends cost pounds 150 (accommodation is extra, at pounds 79 for a single room and pounds 144 for a double).

For those wanting to relive the romance of a medieval hunting scene, Leonard and Diana Durman-Walter (01450 860666) run falconry holidays on the Scottish borders. During late summer there's grouse hawking with peregrines (pounds 360 for four or five days), while on a more modest level, a day's rabbit or pheasant hunting costs pounds 65. If you fancy learning about the finer points of the 4,000-year-old sport, a six-day course on how to train, fly and hunt a hawk starts at pounds 330. All prices include board and lodging.

Less interventionist raptor enthusiasts may prefer the wild article, with a kite-watching holiday in the Cambrian mountains. A guided weekend in mid-Wales with Richard Knight (01597 811169) starts at pounds 122 (including board and lodging in a local hotel), while a week's introduction to moorland ecology costs up to pounds 422. Special breaks geared around children are also available to coincide with school holidays.

For those wanting to have something to show at the end of their break, Will and Lottie O'Leary (01547 528792) run stone-carving weekends from their home on Offa's Dyke. Starting with an introduction to the tools and techniques of stone-carving, guests design and sculpt their own objects, usually as ornaments for the garden. Past successes have included a full- sized head of a Greek god, a life-size sheep, and ornamental house names. The long weekend (Friday to Sunday) costs pounds 140 and includes all tools, materials, lunch, tea and coffee, but accommodation is extra (B&B is pounds 17.50 a night in the neighbouring pub).

Thrill-seekers may prefer an introduction to husky racing in Northamptonshire with John and Penny Evans (01604 686281). Up to six people at a time (clients are advised to recruit their own groups) begin the day with breakfast and an introduction to the dogs and equipment. After lunch, guests are allowed to take the reins themselves, driving a team of dogs on trails through a local forest. Weather permitting, a sledge is used but British winters being what they are, a wheeled rig is more usual - the price: a bargain, is pounds 35 a head.

Cheaper holidays are available from the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (01491 839766). Participants are expected to donate their labour to construct paths, clear undergrowth, dredge ditches, rework dry-stone walls and lay hedges.

Prices, which cover accommodation (this can be very basic) and food, begin at about pounds 20 for a weekend and pounds 32 for a week - a bargain when you consider the self-satisfied glow of altruism you take home at the end.