Warning of the week: festive escapes
Getting away from the UK at short notice over Christmas could be tricky. While Eurotunnel continues its tradition of operating from Folkestone to Calais 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, P&O has its last Dover-Calais sailing at 3.30pm on Christmas Eve. The next starts at 8.15am on Boxing Day from Dover; coming back, the first return crossing from Calais is at 11.15am.
SeaFrance services depart later and return earlier; you could sail at 6pm from Dover to Calais, and return at 7am on Boxing Day.
Across the Irish Sea, Irish Ferries has no services on Christmas Day or Boxing Day, with only one ferry between Holyhead and Dublin on 27 December at 3pm.
Reaching Britain's busiest airports will be easier - but only if you start in central London and are prepared to take a bus. The only train running on Christmas Day is the Heathrow Express, which will run from 5.15am to 2.15pm; after that a coach takes over, taking 45 minutes rather than 15 minutes by train. Normal service resumes on Boxing Day.
The Gatwick Express between London Victoria and Gatwick airport will be replaced by a bus on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
From London Liverpool Street to Stansted, no service will operate on Christmas Day. And buses replace trains from 26 to 29 December inclusive.
Destination of the week: Western Isles
If Caithness (see pages 4-6) is not remote enough for you, then try the most beautiful islands in the world. Scotia Travel (0141-305 5050; www.scotiatravel. com) has just come up with a package that offers the Western Isles at an excellent price.
From 1 January, the company is offering a five-night trip through the Outer Hebrides from Lewis via Harris, the Uists and Benbecula, to Barra. The price of £399 includes a British Airways flight from Glasgow to Stornoway; car rental for six days; the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry crossings; five nights' B&B accommodation (£100 more for three-star hotels); and the BA flight back from Barra to Glasgow.
If you prefer not to visit the Western Isles in the middle of winter, the deal applies throughout 2006. You can make the itinerary in the reverse direction, but it will, strangely, cost you £20 more.