Travel: Refreshes the parts other holidays cannot reach: Whether it's for an outdoor pursuit or an academic subject, make the most of the facilities that are available on Britain's college campuses, says Dymphna Byrne

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The Independent Travel
YOU can try computing for the terrified, decoding Dartmoor, or sleeping in a four-poster in a bishop's bedroom in Durham. Summer courses in colleges and universities, started more than a decade ago as money-earners for hard-pressed vice-chancellors, are now an established part of the British holiday scene. So is B & B in halls of residence or staying en famille in a self-catering student flat or house. This summer more than 60 universities and colleges, on the coast, in the country or city centre, will be competing in the British holiday market.

As students are up for only three terms of 12 weeks, it makes sense for beds and often excellent recreational and sports facilities to be used all year. Student rooms are being up-graded with fitted carpets and en suite shower or bathrooms - more for big spending conferences than students or holiday visitors. Most summer visitors get a standard student study bedroom, simply but adequately furnished: bed, wardrobe, work table and washbasin. Lavatories, showers and a small kitchen are along the corridor.

Some colleges have built up a reputation for excellence. Lancaster, one of the few to accept children, is renowned for its variety of choice. Others have united to produce a joint brochure. The successful 'Summer Academy' run by 10 universities attracts overseas as well as British 'students'.

There is a vibrant atmosphere on a summer school; people come to learn, but also to enjoy themselves. There is always an animated buzz along the refectory tables at mealtimes and at coffee and tea breaks. Evenings are filled with concerts, plays, films, excursions to places of local interest or socialising in the bar.

Week-long courses vary from outdoor pursuits such as rock climbing, fell walking or watersports to indoor interests - languages, computer studies, various arts and crafts, heritage, literature and the increasingly popular personal development studies. The aim is to inform without intimidating, so well-qualified and knowledgeable tutors, often university staff working part of the long vacation, have a light touch that quickly puts apprehensive students at their ease.

Addiction is commonplace. Two cheerful middle-aged women in Durham were typical groupies. They had never missed a Summer Academy course and were working their way through the choice of 80 or so subjects. Although there is always a sprinkling of thirtysomethings on adults-only courses, most students are over 40.

COURSES: Costs are per week and include full board and tuition.

Summer Academy

This group of 10 universities - Sheffield, East Anglia, Exeter, Southampton, Durham, Swansea, Stirling, Liverpool (including Chester) and Kent - has 85 courses arranged under five headings: Heritage, the Countryside, Language & Culture, Arts and Personal Development. Campus accommodation varies from new en-suite rooms at Durham and East Anglia (near Norwich), to traditional student bedrooms in halls of residence at the other universities. The cost is pounds 260- pounds 320. From 19 June-11 September (0227 470402).

Lancaster

This Sixties campus, in its 13th year of summer courses, is on the fringe of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. Fell walking, flying, riding, Roman Britain, local history and country houses vie with computer studies, philosophy, Turkish, drama and personal skills. There is a wide choice of courses for five- to 17-year-olds. Mostly typical single student bedrooms with a few en-suite double and single rooms available at extra cost for the first time. Adjoining rooms for families. Children get their supper before adults and are not intrusive. From 25 July to 21 August; pounds 265- pounds 758; child reductions (0524 382118).

Loughborough

This pioneer of summer schools has its silver jubilee this year which may explain the 'Preparing for Retirement' course. The range is as varied as ever - music, dance, literature, personal development, fitness, astrology and the paranormal. Accommodation in single student bedrooms with washbasins. Two weeks: 25-31 July and 1-7 August; pounds 233- pounds 371 (0509 222189).

Exeter

The summer activity and leisure programme is based at St Luke's about a mile from the main university. Students may use the sporting facilities and wander round the grounds of the main campus. Some courses - windsurfing, sailing, coarse fishing, Devon walks and Devon country houses - make the most of the locality. Activity programme for five- to 13-year-olds. From 1-7 August and 8-14 August. Adults pounds 249, children pounds 285; en-suite rooms available for a supplement (0392 215566).

In all, more than a dozen colleges have summer schools. The co-ordinating body, the British Universities Accommodation Consortium, puts out a free annual brochure listing who does what. Holidays at British Universities is available from BUAC, Box 906, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD.

B & B and self-catering, weekend leisure breaks

A new idea in which five colleges - Colchester, Exeter, Manchester, Keele and Stirling - use their top-quality conference accommodation for comfortable hotel-style weekend breaks throughout the year. Rooms have TV and en-suite baths or showers. No single supplement. B & B pounds 24, dinner B & B from pounds 35 (0206 863666).

King's campus vacation bureau

From 3 July to 18 September five London halls of residence have B & B in mostly single study bedrooms. From pounds 21 a night in Wellington Hall near Westminster to pounds 15.90 on the Hampstead site. (071-351 6011).

Bath

The university, on a plateau overlooking the Georgian city, lets a small complex of newly-decorated modern four-bedroomed flats in the summer. Well-equipped kitchen and sitting/dining room. Campus amenities include an indoor swimming pool, squash, badminton, tennis and so on. For pounds 230.30 a week (0225 826622).

More self-catering at Cardiff, St Andrews, Edinburgh - very popular during the Festival - Durham and many other colleges and universities. Further details in the BUAC guide mentioned above.

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