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The Independent Travel
A riding holiday, please, in the company of locals

My daughter and I are keen riders and we would love to take a riding holiday that involves getting on horses in the company of local people if possible, perhaps to go on some kind of journey, or pilgrimage. Do you know of any tours or holidays that would provide this possibility?

Mrs Joan Lacey

Luton

The travel editor replies: There is one particular event that I think you should definitely make a effort to join, which is the Romera del Roco (Ride to El Rocio), an extraordinary horse-bound pilgrimage in which up to half a million Andalucians participate, on horseback, on foot, or riding on embellished ox-drawn carts. Entire village communities and "brotherhoods" from Huelva, Sevilla and even Malaga show up for the event.

The two- to four-day route runs through the largely wild Nature Reserve of the Coto Donana to the shrine of the Blanca Paloma ("white dove") in El Rocio.

The Coto Donana nature reserve is in itself a vast wetland site for migrating birds, and one of the very few such large areas of wilderness anywhere in Europe.

Each night of the pilgrimage is spent camping in the reserve around camp fires, with singing and dancing (as well as feasting and drinking), going on to the sound of Spanish guitars and drums late into the night. Ironically, despite the use of animals rather than cars, the pilgrimage poses something of a threat to the reserve by virtue of its sheer size.

The action, which comes round each year at Pentecost (ie in May or June, 50 days after Easter), takes place to commemorate the alleged miracle of Nuestra Senora del Roco (Our lady of the Dew), a statue supposedly discovered here some time in the 13th century.

In the early hours of Pentecost Sunday the image of the virgin is paraded around while some of the revellers work themselves into a religious frenzy.

If you want to join in the Ride to El Rocio, with your own horse, you can do it through the tour operator "Andalucia Trails", whose UK representatives can be reached on 01892 730706, or at the address Little Brook Farm, Marden, Tonbridge, Kent TN12 9RB.

How best to see the Grand Canyon

One of my family's dreams is to see the Grand Canyon, so next July my husband and I, along with our two children (aged 15 and 12) , are planning to go there. Bearing in mind our children's ages, please could you advise us of some of the best ways it can be seen. Kate Caddy Totnes, Devon.

The travel editor replies: Amongst the most popular family options for viewing the Canyon are hiking down into its depths by mule, rafting along the river itself and hovering above it in a helicopter. The following is a run down of some of the best family-oriented options, all of which can be arranged once you are in Colorado.

"Desert View" is a three- to four-hour rim tour by bus east of the Grand Canyon Village, stopping off at the many look-out points (twice daily; adults $17, children $8.50). It's a cheap and cheerful option, although perhaps not the most satisfying. To book call the Fred Harvey company on 520/638-2401 or 297 2757 when you are in the area.

Mule rides down the famous Bright Angel Trail from the south rim tend to be reserved up to a year in advance. A one day round trip to Plateau Point, including lunch, costs $100. You can continue along this part of the canyon to the rustic Phantom Lodge (a full day in each direction). An all inclusive one night trip costs $252 per person. Again, call the Fred Harvey company.

Smooth water rafting trips (daily; adults $80, children $50) make for an excellent family day out. You get to float peacefully down the Colorado river admiring the Canyon before stopping off for a picnic lunch. Trips are available at short notice from the Fred Harvey Company.

The number of accidents has led to a ban on flights below the Canyon rim. Nonetheless, for many visitors flights over the canyon remain the highlight of their trip. Prices range from $65 ($35 children) for 30 minutes in a plane, to $95 ($70 children) in a helicopter. One operator is Air Grand Canyon (tel 520/638 2686).

I want something to keep me dry when I'm hiking

Nothing irritates me more than seeing hikers on the Pennine Way all dressed up in identical outfits and cluttered with gadgetry. Isn't there some simple overall outfit that will keep me and my bags, maps, shoes entirely dry, that isn't too expensive? A kind of wet-suit for dry land?

Jason Hayita

Norfolk

Clive Tully replies: In my collection of prototype pieces of equipment which never made it to production, I have a lightweight waterproof one- piece nylon overall dating back to the early Eighties. It was made by a motorcycle apparel manufacturer who reasoned they could use the same patterns in lighter material and find a different market. The mistake they made was in assuming that a one-piece waterproof suit would be practical for walkers. It isn't, and it never got any further than my sample.

If you don't like the idea of having to don jacket and waterproofs, you can go for a cape, which will cover you and your rucksack. Very popular in the Seventies, although today's walker might consider a cape to have a certain "wally" element to it. There are still plenty of Scandinavian hikers who use them, however.

In purely practical terms, a cape is fine for use in lowland areas where you can keep yourself and your kit dry while maintaining a good flow of ventilation from underneath. But on the higher and more exposed stretches of the Pennine Way, where rain is just as likely to come at you horizontally, a cape will not only be useless at keeping you dry, you also stand a good chance of turning into a hang glider.

For the conditions you want to walk in, the best protection comes from a full set of waterproofs - jacket and overtrousers, which, if you're on a tight budget, you should be able to buy for well under pounds 100.

Clive Tully is a commentator on clothing and equipment for the outdoors. He is editor of TrailWalk, an online magazine devoted to walking, trekking and backpacking. The TrailWalk website is at http://www.trailwalk.com.

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