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Including two return East Coast train tickets to York and free entry to 30 top attractions

The breakfast room at Halford House

B&B And Beyond: Halford House, Gloucestershire

A homely ambience is complemented by hotel-standard style and service at this elegant guesthouse, says Kate Simon

Third of MPs 'slam House of Commons toilets'

A third of MPs are unhappy with the cleanliness of toilets inside the House of Commons, a study has revealed.

The White Swan Inn's dining room is an object lesson in refurb, with maroon walls, stone-flagged floor and room dividers in the form of folding screens

The White Swan Inn, Market Place, Pickering, North Yorkshire

Pickering in North Yorkshire is a country town with exactly the right sort of attractions: 12th-century castle; bustling steam railway; church with medieval wall paintings admired by Pevsner and, not least, a quietly handsome inn on the high street.

What caused the Bicester Twister?

Swirling vortex causes alarm in Oxfordshire but UK is no stranger to the phenomenon. Michael McCarthy reports

Fully functional: a 'Master House' in Dessau

On the trail of Bauhaus

Bauhaus architecture is being celebrated in a new exhibition at the Barbican in London. Fiona Dunlop travels to centralGermany to see where it all began

La Torre del Visco, Aragón

The Big Six: Rural retreats in Spain

Le Domaine, Castilla y León

Ghostly: The dining-room is a whiter shade of pale

Adam Simmonds, Danesfield House Hotel and Spa, Henley Road, Marlow-on-Thames, Bucks

Late-night visitors to Marlow have often been shocked by the chilling apparition of the Grey Lady of Danesfield Park, a solemn-faced ghost holding a lantern, who glides around where the chapel once stood, before disappearing. We had a broadly similar experience on driving into the hotel grounds – seeing the chilling apparition of Danesfield House, a great white whale of a late-Victorian Gothic folly looming in front of you like Moby Dick. It's an extraordinary sight, with its tall chimneys, its clock tower and elaborately terraced gardens, and it carries an air of melancholy – the result, perhaps, of too many owners, speculators and changes of use. It was built in 1899 by the heir to the Sunlight soap fortune, who sold it the moment it was finished. It housed evacuees in the war and was requisitioned by the RAF. It was once home to the Hellfire Club of Medmenham, a bunch of crazed desperadoes from the nearby village. Since 1991 it's been a hotel. And in the past four years, it's picked up a reputation as home to one of the country's finest chefs, Adam Simmonds.

Being Modern: Foraging

As anyone who has studied those academically certified case histories of Stone Age man, The Flintstones and Captain Caveman, will know, foraging has been going on since prehistory. Bish-bash-bosh with the club and you've got a larvely bit of woolly mammoth for tea.

Harriet Walker: 'It's time to welcome in the spirit of spring'

Nothing beats that moment of transition from winter to spring: waking up to curtain-filtered sunshine and the first time you leave your coat behind. It's breathing in the smell of foliage and flowers rather than air so cold it sears the back of your nose. It's walking because you want to, not just when you have to. And it's eating rowdily and outside, enjoying the bacchanalia that good weather affords instead of slurping like hunched medieval kings in the day-long gloaming, wiping your hands on your dressing-gown.

Prime Minister David Cameron during a reception at 10 Downing Street yesterday. Former Labour minister Jack Straw said the Tories were prepared to evade rules stating that donors must be registered to vote in the UK

Matthew Norman: How much must the PM have to offer if he's worth £250,000 a pop?

At his age, the shock might have killed him. Straight up, Rupert Murdoch could have gone out like a light on learning that the rich and powerful can buy access to a Prime Minister. So praise be that his naive heart survived the epiphany, sparing him to confide his thoughts on the latest demi-scandal bedecked with the scintillatingly fresh suffix of "-gate". "What was Cameron thinking?" he tweeted. "No one, rightly or wrongly, will believe his story."

Matthew Norman: Surely Cameron is in line for a Michelin star?

If the PM's genius is worth £250,000 a pop, he must make Heston Blumenthal look like the Crossroads chef

Simon Kelner: Hospitality is just not the forte of the British

I was in Manchester last night, on an intensely private matter. Oh, all right, I was at a football match. Anyway, I was staying at the city centre hotel where I am a regular visitor. In the relatively short time I have patronised this establishment, it has changed names – and, I assume, ownership – three times, and in its latest incarnation it went from a hotel with a short, memorable name – just four letters – to one with a cumbersome, Americanised moniker – three words, 18 letters.

Five-minute memoir: Grant Gordon on how a Doctor Who heroine saved his dad

The Mini Clubman may be the iconic era-defining car of the Swinging Sixties, but it was the Austin 1100 which was the speedy, reliable compact car of choice for less groovy folk across the country.

Run wild: the Martinhal Resort

Where children are guests, not pests

Once upon a time, the most stylish accommodation was always the least child-friendly. No longer. Europe now has plenty of chic hotels for all ages

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Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
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Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
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Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
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Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
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Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
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Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
Lake Como St Moritz & the Bernina Express 7 nights from £809pp
Vietnam
Lake Maggiore, Orta & the Matterhorn 7 nights from £939pp
South Africa
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Prices correct as of 19 December 2014
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there