New year, new course: From European art to pole-dancing, expand your horizons

Places are filling up fast on courses starting in the new year. Why not join in the fun?

There's nothing like the intellectual milk thistle and nettle tea of playful curiosity to purge your system after festive excess. There is civilised recuperation to be had in colleges and universities across the UK, and now is the time to think ahead, with places beginning to fill up.

A good place to begin is www.hotcourses.com, which has more than a million courses on its database, with 28,259 of them starting in January, covering everything from accounting to pole-dancing and knitting to skydiving. Hotcourses lists 85 calligraphy courses alone starting in January. These cost from less than £25 a week to more than £100.

Paula Redman, who works in marketing, became interested in naturopathy after a friend recommended it as a treatment for her endometriosis. Last January, Redman, 33, started part-time training at the College of Naturopathic Medicine, on a course she found through Hotcourses. "You study biology at school but you don't appreciate it; the body is amazing," she says. "My friends and family have started coming to me with their aches and pains, asking me what they should do."

London is the best bet for learning, with thousands of courses available all year round. For subjects such as art, opera or wine, head to Christie's. A new term starts in January, with weekly evening classes exploring themes from art in antiquity to Caravaggio and contemporary art. At £125 for a five-week course, or £30 a lecture, the evening classes offer the same quality as Christie's famous year-long courses without the commitment of time and money.

Judith Brooks, 55, spent five weeks this year studying classical European art after a friend recommended the course. "It opened my eyes," says Brooks, a primary school teacher from Essex. "It makes you look at things differently and I enjoyed seeing links with places I've visited and ideas I'd come across earlier."

Londoners who want to get back into education but have work and family commitments, should make a beeline for Birkbeck College, University of London, which specialises in part- time courses (285 start this January).

After working in Ghana and Brussels, Sarah McCarthy, 29, moved to London three weeks ago to start a new job in PR. She has enrolled on a £200, 22-week course in screenwriting starting in January. "I write creatively in my free time but screenwriting is quite technical. And as it's a university environment, if I do take it that step further, one day I'll have the Birkbeck seal of approval."

And if the lecture hall or art gallery don't give you the mental space you're looking for, how about the clear air and fresh perspectives of the wild? It doesn't get much more wild than the Arctic, which is where Miles Doughty, 28, spent three weeks over the summer with the expedition charity the Brathay Exploration Group, which runs trips across the globe for between £400 and £1,600. Doughty, 28, has been going on treks and expeditions with Brathay since he left university in 2001. Over the past five years, he has explored wildernesses in Europe, India, the US and Africa. His latest trip was a recreation of the Scott expedition in Greenland. "I love the adventure and the challenge of going on an expedition to places that aren't regularly visited, spending time with other peoples, learning about different cultures," he says.

Learning something new will always be an adventure. So whether you find your inspiration in galleries and classrooms or on ice caps, treat yourself to a new point of view this new year.

Hotcourses: www.hotcourses.com Brathay Exploration Group: www.brathayexploration.org.uk Birkbeck: www.bbk.ac.uk Christie's: www.christies.com/education

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