The obsessive traveller: Your questions

Family celebration

Our golden wedding anniversary is in 2002 and we would like to take all our family (aged four to 46) to a lively and comfortable place somewhere in Britain for two or three nights, preferably with activities to suit all ages. Any ideas?

Helen Davey

Chester

Kate Calvert replies:

An obvious option would be to go for one of the smarter holiday villages. From Chester you could consider the Oasis Forest Holiday Village (tel: 0990 086 086) in the north of the Lake District with its "Indoor World of Water", a health and beauty centre, tennis, squash, badminton, croquet, boules, bowls, in-line skating and snooker. There are plenty of options for children from five years up, including activity clubs. A property in April is from pounds 559 for six adults, for the minimum booking of three nights. A little cosier is Wye Lea Country Manor (tel: 01989 562880) in Herefordshire where there is a central restaurant - so you don't have to cook - tennis, spa, pool, fitness centre, croquet, putting, skittles, bowls, table tennis and a children's play area with climbing frames. Other options include shuffleboard, giant outdoor chess and draughts, snooker, children's play areas, and massage and beauty treatments. There is fishing in the River Wye, which runs through the property. Hot-air ballooning can be laid on from the grounds if the party is big enough. Children might enjoy visiting the animals including donkeys, chipmunks and guinea pigs.

Prices in April are about pounds 285 for a property sleeping six. The minimum stay is three nights. Gas and electricity are extra. At either of these options you would probably end up in separate, adjoining properties. Wye Lea reports that this seems to work well with larger family groups, giving everyone a chance to get away from the crowd from time to time.

Kate Calvert edits `Family Travel', the subscription-only publication for parents (tel: 0171-272 7441; or visit www.family-travel.co.uk).

Tricky to get to

We are planning a holiday in the South Pacific and wonder whether you knew how to get to Pitcairn Island, famous from the film Mutiny on the Bounty.

Sian Davies

Kent

Phil Haines replies:

Pitcairn Island is the least accessible inhabited British dependency and your likelihood of getting there is minimal. In fact, even the Governor, who lives 3,000 miles distant in New Zealand, never visits.

The island was first sighted by, and named after, HMS Swallow's midshipman Pitcairn in 1767. A description of its isolation and other attractions - Captain Carteret referred to it as "scarce better than a large rock in the ocean" - so impressed Fletcher Christian that he thought it was a suitable place to hide out. In 1790, along with the mutineers and their Polynesian companions, he landed and burnt the Bounty in the bay that took its name.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office receives many inquiries from people wanting to live there, or to visit. A "licence to land" is required, which may - or may not - be approved through the Governor's office. If he gives approval, the Pitcairn Island council is informed; it then holds a meeting and votes on whether to grant your application. It is rare to be successful.

There is no airstrip or wharf, and visiting ships must wait in open sea while the islanders struggle through the surf in their aluminium launches. Bad weather can prevent this exercise and delays of eight months between supply ships are not unknown. They should arrive from New Zealand up to four times a year. These ships have a waiting list for passengers which is usually filled a year in advance by island residents who may be going to schools or hospitals overseas. There is a threat that the younger generation will continue to emigrate until more frequent transport becomes available. At least Pitcairn is situated only about 35 miles from the shipping lane that goes from the Panama Canal to Australia. Passing cargo vessels stop in cases of emergency or when the captains feel they have time to trade with the Pitcairners. They sometimes permit passengers. Yachties are usually welcome, especially if they bring useful goods, and Society Expeditions sometimes includes the island in its trips from the west coast of the US to Tahiti. Yacht charters from Tahiti are a final but expensive possibility.

An easier way to get the feeling of Pitcairn and its inhabitants is by visiting Norfolk Island, now under Australian authority. In 1856 the British government transported all 193 of the population to the uninhabited island of Norfolk because of overcrowding on tiny Pitcairn. Although six families returned over the next 10 years, the rest remained and you can still hear the Norfolk dialect, evolved from Pitcairnese, spoken. There are regular flights to Norfolk Island from Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland with Ansett and Air New Zealand.

Phil Haines, the youngest person to have visited every country in the world, runs a travel company, Live Limited (tel: 0181-737 3725; phil.haines@live- travel.com), which "specialises in travel to special places".

Back to the slopes

I am going skiing in the new year and am worried about my back. I occasionally suffer from a bad back and am laid out for days at a time. Are there any exercises I can do to strengthen my back before I go and is there anything I should avoid completely? Also is it worth wearing some sort of back support?

Jane Hamilton

Stamford

Dr Iain Beith replies:

My main piece of advice may sound strange, but strengthening your leg muscles can help. The position you are likely to be encouraged to ski in is with your knees slightly bent to allow you to absorb the bumps on the ski run, and to enable you to move freely. Unfortunately this is not a position we adopt naturally for the long periods you will need to when skiing. So these muscles are likely to get tired, resulting in you wanting to straighten your legs, forcing you to lean forward from your back. This would not help in your situation, or anyone else's for that matter. So if you can strengthen your thigh muscles prior to going skiing, this will encourage you to maintain a safer position for longer before getting tired, therefore putting less strain on your back. Some simple exercises include standing on both legs with your knees slightly bent, mimicking the skiing action. Hold that position for 10 seconds, and repeat no more than five times. Build this up to 30 seconds. A second exercise is with your feet together as when skiing, facing along a kerb or something of similar height, then jump on and off. This will strengthen your thigh muscles. The main thing to avoid would be skiing each day without easing yourself in. When it comes to back supports we advise people not to wear these unless absolutely necessary as the support may end up doing the work your back muscles should be doing, so making them less ready to support you during skiing.

Iain Beith is a lecturer in physiotherapy at King's College, London. For further information, write to BackCare, the National Organisation for Healthy Backs, 16 Elmtree Road, Teddington, Middlesex TW11 8ST, with a cheque for pounds 3 payable to BackCare.

Birthday in Iran

To coincide with my 50th birthday next summer my wife and I are planning a trip to Iran. I was born there and left as a baby when the oil industry was nationalised in 1951 and have never returned. I feel this is a good moment to take advantage of the current liberalisation. I contacted a number of companies that organise tours and found that none precisely suited my needs. I am interested in some less visited areas, as well as the normal tourist destinations.

Some brochures said they could provide tailor-made tours, and I have been pleased by the interest which some companies showed in my requests. In particular, Caravanserai Tours has come up with a suggested itinerary, which fits with what I want and sticks to the price guidelines I gave them. The only thing which stops me making an immediate booking is that the company is not a member of Abta or Aito. It is a member of the Travel Trust Association, of which I have never heard. I do not want to hand over a large sum of money and find I lose it all if the company goes bust or the political situation changes drastically. Could you tell me about the Travel Trust Association? I would be grateful for some reassurance, or any other guidance you can give.

David Williams

Staffordshire

Simon Calder replies:

I have no direct experience of Caravanserai, but from what I have heard it seems a first-rate organisation.

Regarding the Travel Trust Association: I agree it is confusing to have yet another set of initials to add to Abta, Iata, Atol and Aito, but what the TTA does is perform a specific function that enables travel companies to comply with the stringent UK and European legislation that governs the protection of holiday cash. In short, a company that signs up with the TTA agrees to keep all the client's funds in what is termed an "escrow" account, to which access is allowed only after the customer has returned home.

There is no absolute guarantee that a client's money will be placed in the right account, though paying by credit card, or with a cheque made payable to a specific account, should minimise this risk. But if the cash should go astray, the TTA has an insurance policy covering each holidaymaker for up to pounds 11,000 - which, I trust, is enough to cover the cost of your holiday. You can find more information at www.traveltrust.co.uk, or by calling 0181-876 4458.

Simon Calder is travel editor of the `Independent'.

Send your questions to: Travel Desk, `The Independent on Sunday', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, or e-mail: Sundaytravel@independent.co.uk

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