Q. Our extended family is unable to spend Christmas together, so we're hoping to get together for a weekend in the next few weeks. However, we're finding availability difficult for 12 of us. Since we will be travelling from various parts of the country, somewhere in the middle would be ideal, as would somewhere with facilities and/or activities for children and some scenic country walks. Any ideas? F Worth, via email
A.There is still some availability for holiday rentals in the run-up to the festive break. While the Christmas and new year period is traditionally as busy as the summer break, the weeks preceding 25 December often experience a slowdown in bookings.
Rural Retreats (01386 701 177; ruralretreats.co.uk ) still has a decent number of large properties available until the week before Christmas, from Cornwall and Kent, to Scotland, Norfolk and Pembrokeshire.
Fairly central is The White House in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire. The detached Georgian property sleeps 12 guests in six handsomely decorated rooms, each with an en-suite bathroom or shower. The farmhouse kitchen is supplemented by a dining room with seating for 12 and there's a spacious garden with car parking available. While there aren't specific facilities for children, cots and high chairs can be provided. If there aren't cooks among you, then the gourmet market town of Ludlow is also just 15 minutes away.
On the weekend of 13 December, the Ludlow Choral Society is hosting a Christmas concert and there's a Christmas Festival at the Bull Hotel (01584 875 053; ludlow.org.uk ). Three nights' rental of The White House, from 12-14 December, costs £1,155.
The Big Domain (01326 240028; thebigdomain.com ), which specialises in larger rentals, has availability in a dozen of its properties before Christmas, ranging from a vicarage in Devon to a manor house in Herefordshire, with some discounts available. Some of its houses accommodate up to 30 guests, but one of the smaller lodgings available is Brockington Hall in Bodenham, Herefordshire, which sleeps 18 and can provide cots.
With a golf course, library, computer room and games room complete with pool table, juke box and table tennis, there's little reason to leave the recently renovated house. However, the towns of Hereford and Worcester are a short drive away, with the Worcestershire countryside providing opportunities for bracing winter walks (01905 728787; visitworcestershire.org ).
From 12-21 December, Spetchley Park Gardens near Worcester is staging a family Christmas winter walk event (01453 810 303; spetchleygardens.co.uk ). Two nights' rental of Brockington Hall over the weekends of 6-7 or 13-14 December, taking into account a special 25 per cent discount, is £1,987, which includes a breakfast hamper.
English Country Cottages (0845 268 0788; english-country-cottages.co.uk ) has a crop of big houses available in early December, including a grade II-listed farmhouse near Halifax in West Yorkshire. Lower Moulson Place has retained original features and sleeps up to 13 guests in bright, modern bedrooms. There is a games room, plasma screen TV and a dining room and a large lawned garden with an unfenced pond. The house is situated on the edge of the Pennines, so ramblers would be well catered for. Two nights' rental from 6-7 December is a very reasonable £741