31 Mar 2012

In Praise of March

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March doesn’t usually enjoy much of a good press: noted for its winds, frequently cold and unpredictable temperatures and apart from its daffodils, not traditionally celebrated for its foliage. We normally have to wait until the end of the month to savour the blossom and, even then, blustery, sleety conditions more often than not reduce its delicate, transient buds to shreds within hours.

The delicate, but transient, beauty of magnolia blossom

But this year, as we approach the close of the third month donning sunglasses and shorts, rather than scarves and sweaters, perhaps the time has come to re-consider March and award it some overdue recognition as a better month that it’s usually given credit for.

OK, I know the present premature heatwave is not normal, even by our recent climate change-crazed weather patterns, but the sun is higher in the sky at the end of March than it is in September, so when sunny and in shelter, it can become quite warm.

The Merchant City in the sun

Once the clocks change, of course, we can fit in some walking, cycling, gardening in the evenings, but throughout the month there is an average of 12 hours daylight: more than enough for a day walk or cycle. So March is the ideal month to get out and about and into training for longer, higher days as the spring progresses.

So, with this in mind, a recent week based in Glasgow was planned around a weekend visit to a stunning, but overlooked, area of Mid Argyll  followed by a weekday morning walk up to Loch Humphrey and Duncolm in the Kilpatricks (both easily accessible by public transport) and a day out, museum-browsing, in the capital.

March can be an ideal time to travel. Unless Easter is early, it benefits from being a school holiday-free month and this year ScotRail recognised this by offering their Mad March half price fare promotion on most off-peak journeys. Hence the return journey to Kilpatrick cost whole £1.90  and the museum jaunt to Edinburgh amounted to £6.05.

Calton Hill dominates the Edinburgh skyline

And talking of museums and the capital, March can be perfect month to sample both. With the holiday season not yet in full swing, Edinburgh, if not exactly empty, was at least quiet enough to look round the Scottish Parliament, the new National Museum of Scotland  and have lunch  – can thoroughly recommend the soup and coffee at Peter’s Yard  -without having to queue.

The new National Museum is certainly worth a visit, particularly from now till June for the See Scotland by Train exhibition. With a background montage of 39 Steps, Railway Children, Brief Encounter, Night Mail and more, this well-staged presentation of fabulous railway posters takes us back to the heyday of overnight sleepers, art deco carriages and the seductive power of the Flying Scotsman and Coronation Scot.

A perfect way, then, to spend a cold, but bright, Edinburgh day and avoid running the gauntlet of tourists and cashmere outlets in the Old Town. If you time manage effectively, you can just about fit in a visit to the refurbished Scottish National Portrait Gallery   as well. It too is impressive and provides a good vantage point to explore the more sophisticated New Town.

March is also, of course, traditionally the month of high activity in the garden and, although our poor seedlings have been well confused by this year’s bizarre range of temperatures, it has been a pleasant change to plant in the warm, as opposed to the normal cold and wet.

So as March 2012 cruises to a balmy, sunny close, let’s hear it for the third month of the year; the true harbinger of spring.

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