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English pottery tour will create a clatter

Q. Are there any tours of the Potteries area of England?

A. Most of the famous English potteries were established, and are still to be found, in the area of Stoke-on-Trent, 145 miles north of London. Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Minton and Spode are among the factories that were set up there in the 18th century and continue to thrive.

Next year marks the bicentenary of the death of most well-known of the English pottery manufacturers, Josiah Wedgwood.

To mark the occasion Stoke-on-Trent is organizing a series of exhibitions, trails, guided tours and other events as part of Britain's yearlong Festival of Arts and Culture, and Wedgwood will produce commemorative ware.

Other major potteries, such as Royal Doulton and Spode, offer extended visiting hours for visitors and most of the area's ceramics shops will be open seven days a week instead of the usual six.

In the last few years the Potteries have been developed as a major tourist attraction with museums, factory tours, factory shops and visitor centers. There is a hop-on and hop-off bus service called the China Link, which operates between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday to Saturday, with stops at all the area's places of interest. This year it will operate until Nov. 26 and next year its run will be extended from Easter to Christmas.

A tourist information center has been set up to provide information about the Potteries (including China Link timetables) at Quadrant Road, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent ST1 1RZ, England; telephone (782) 284600. It is open Monday to Saturday from 9:15 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.

The center, which publishes a free leaflet called "Visit the Potteries for a China Experience," can provide information about a whole range of tours and attractions, including a day at the Gladstone Working Pottery Museum or a walking tour of Burslem, Wedgwood's birthplace. It can also provide information about lodgings.

Seven factories run twice-daily tours for which reservations have to be made: Royal Doulton, (782) 292434, Royal Grafton China (782) 599667, H. and R. Johnson Tiles (782) 575575, Moorcroft (782) 207943, Spode (782) 744011, John Beswick (782) 291237 and Wedgwood (782) 204218. The factories will be closed from Dec. 22 to Jan. 1; next Easter for a week starting on Easter Monday; from next June 22 to July 10, and from next Aug. 28 to Sept. 4.

Visitors who would prefer a more personal tour can get in touch through the tourist center with one of a number of local guides, who charge $62 a day, calculated at $1.56 to the pound, for a group of from 1 to 20 people.

Houseboat can be an off-shore hotel

Q. My husband and I will be traveling in January to Florida's Panhandle. Do you know of any organizations there that rent houseboats for a few weeks?

A. According to the Florida Division of Tourism, safety concerns effectively prevent rental houseboats from being operated off the shores of the Panhandle. The Keys is the only place in Florida where houseboats sail in open water.

The alternative is to rent a houseboat on an inland river.

The following are on either the Suwannee or St. John's rivers.

Miller's Marine, P.O. Box 280, Suwannee, FL 32692, (800) 458-2628. Furnished houseboats 44 feet long and 14 feet wide accommodating up to eight people are available for $1,070 a week from March 1 to Nov. 30 and $700 a week in December, January and February.

Holley Bluff Marina, 2280 Hontoon Road, DeLand, FL 32720, (800) 237-5105, rents houseboats on the St. John's for 4, 8 or 10 people. Year-round rates are $625 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday ($700 for 8 people, $725 for 10) and $700 for Monday to Friday ($800 for 8, $825 for 10).