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Filthy and loving it

Who says you have to look your best in order to find a partner? Many of the volunteers who have signed up for the ultimate bargain break - a National Trust conservation holiday - have apparently found love while they were knee-deep in mud, soaked with perspiration and wearing clothes they would not dare to donate to Oxfam.

The Trust's main aim in organising these holidays is to recruit some cheap and enthusiastic labour for their dry-stone walling, cobble-laying and ground-clearing projects. But it is evidently pleased with its unintentional match-making role and has taken to issuing the sort of customer-endorsements that dating agencies use in their advertisments: "I've never worked and laughed so much . . . working holidays help develop competence, communication and confidence which are also the perfect qualities to find in a husband" - speech therapist who met her husband through the National Trust.

This year the Trust is running 400 conservation holidays for people aged 17 to 70. Some of the holidays, which cost Pounds 20 to Pounds 50 a week, offer volunteers an opportunity to go canoeing, rock-climbing or hill-walking (if they have any energy left). Others require volunteers to help set up some of the Trust's summer festivals such as the Back to 1936 event to be held at Scotney Castle, Kent, later this month.

It's now too late to join the volunteers who organised the three-day firework and music extravaganza at Stowe, Buckinghamshire. But teachers shouldn't be too saddened by that news because that holiday involved sleeping in school dormitories and eating school dinners. Hardly a break from the old routine.

Those wishing for a copy of the Trust's working holidays brochure should telephone 0891 517751 or send two first-class stamps to National Trust Working Holidays, PO Box 84, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 1ZP.

A week at Taunton Summer School may seem an even less attractive proposition than a working holiday at Stowe because it costs at least Pounds 200 more for the privilege of sipping cocoa in the Somerset school's dorm. But at least you don't have to get muddy, and the activities are slightly more stimulating than cobble-laying. This year Taunton is offering dozens of courses in everything from tapestry to face-reading.

But if titles are anything to go by, the two most interesting courses will be "Sense and Nonsense in Civilization: Romp (The Third)", and "In Search of Hunkypunks and Crocketed Pinnacles". A little caution may, however, be required, because the second of these courses is aimed at church architecture aficionados who want to establish the difference between clasping and setback buttresses. Esoteric, or what?

Taunton Summer School runs from August 3 to 16. Residents' fees, which include the cost of tuition on two courses, accommodation (single and twin-bedded rooms are avilable) and meals, range from about Pounds 255 to Pounds 400. Further information tel: 01823-349243 Paul Facey-Hunter sounds as if he should be teaching face-reading too. But he is actually a consultant in numerology, which is to maths what astrology is to astronomy. A wacky twin in other words. Paul will be giving visitors to the Millfield Holiday Village, Taunton's nearest rival, some numerical insights into their characters and prospects later this month. But he is by no means the only novelty act that Millfield will be staging between now and August 15. This year the Somerset school, which charges as little as Pounds 175 for a week at the village, is running 330 courses and 100 activities. Further information tel: 01458 445823.

London is not a place you normally associate with bargain breaks. International surveys invariably confirm that the capital's hotel prices are higher than the Post Office tower. But it is possible to sample metropolitan life without emptying the piggy bank or curling up with the down-and-outs on the South Bank. The London Bed and Breakfast Agency can put you in touch with families offering accommodation for Pounds 19 - Pounds 29 a night. The cheaper homes tend to be further from Trafalgar Square, but low-price areas such as Golders Green and Kentish Town are by no means on the edge of the universe.

The London BB Agency tel: 0171 586 2768 Additional research by Maureen McTaggart

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