So you have made it through the bitter cold of winter.  Spring is in the air, you’ve hopefully paid off the Christmas credit card bill(s) and now you’ve told yourself that you deserve a little treat, a wee getaway if you will.  Well, may I suggest to you the month of March for an early break, March is a glorious month to set out to explore the bog wide world.

OK so March it is, but where to and why March in particular?  Why wont I stop typing the word ‘March’?  Let me explain, if you log into Twitter, Facebook , G+ or even just scan your favourite travel blogs this sunny Monday morning you may well find a few calendar orientated blogs posts out there.  That’s because all of those blog posts are, shock horror, linked.  You see they’re all a part of the British Airways ‘Ultimate Year-Round Travel Guide’.  Twelve posts by twelve top bloggers (not sure I class myself as a top blogger, but hey ho), each detailing a great month of the year to travel within.  Later all 12 will be collated on the British Airways High Life blog.  As you may have guessed already, I have picked the month of  March. Here’s just a few reasons (and destinations) why …

The Scottish Highlands

Lets face it, its never going to get particularly hot up in Scotland is it.  I mean that not as a slur, I love Scotland, but generally speaking it’s not known for its blistering sunshine and heat waves. So for now simply embrace your pasty white skin and focus on what Scotland can offer you … which is a hell of a lot.  Take for instance the Highlands and the Isle of Skye.  I spent a blissful week driving around the Highlands and Skye in March.  Arriving via plane into Inverness, even the 3 hours drive west to our cottage on the Isle of Skye was incredible.  The views were fantastic, and the driving of the twisty mountain roads was great fun.

glencoe

Once on Skye there were plenty of sights to see, places to explore, adventures to be had and whisky to be drunk.  That said, it was hard to tear ourselves away from our wee cottage and its wood fire.  Evenings in front of the fire with a hot meal in front of us were a treat.  The view out over the lake from our cottage was also stunning, it was just an incredible place to stay.  Once we had eventually decided that fresh air was needed we visited some beautiful area’s of the Isle, including Skyes most westerly point – Neist Point, a beautiful coral beach and  the former Hollywood set The Faerie Glen.  Neist Point was an incredible sight, not too dissimilar to the Giants Causeway in Ireland.  The Faerie Glen was like a natural playground, but one built of a dream, or some kind of magic.

Once our time on the Isle of Skye had come to an end, it was back over the bridge to the mainland, and onto Glencoe via Eilean Donan Castle, and the set of another Hollywood blockbuster, the Glenfinnan Viaduct.  It would appear that film directors and set designers quite like Scotland as a location, its not hard to understand why when the landscapes are so vast and mesmerizing.

Faerie Glen

Eilean Donan Castle

Hogwarts Express

Winter sports enthusiasts might also be tempted by Scotland in March.  I myself managed a days snowboarding at the relatively small, but charming Glencoe ski resort.  Further down the road stood the somewhat slightly bigger Nevis resort.  Definitely worth looking into if you fancy a bit of piste action a little closer to home.

There is also one other reason worth visiting Scotland in March time, but you’ll need to read on a little more to find out what it is.

Iceland

Continuing with a slightly cold theme, we head north of Scotland to Iceland.  I’ve been lucky with my travels this year and racked up a fair few destinations, but Iceland still sits at the top of the pile.  Everything you’ve heard about Iceland being magical, enchanting, a wonderland etc its entirely true.  I don’t know anyone who has been and not absolutely loved the pant off of it.

Reykjavik is the starting point for most travellers who land down in Iceland.   A fascinating little city, the Icelandic capital in itself is a joy.  Take a trip to the top of the Halgrimish church and peer out over the row upon row of colourful houses that line the streets below.  Take a walk down the main street and you’ll eyes will be drawn to the countless, but very creative works of art that have been sprayed or painted onto shop walls in order to grab your attention.  The harbour is also worth a visit, especially if you have eyes on a whale spotting voyage.

hallgrimskirkja

Reykjavik_street_art1

Whilst Reykjavik is awesome, there is plenty to do outside of the city too.   A tour of the Icelandic Golden Circle is a must in my book.  Watch the famous Geysir erupt in the Haukadalur valley.  Then travel to the Gullfoss waterfall, which is gobsmackingly beautiful as it is huge, so too the Þingvellir National Park within which you can bear witness to two of the earths tectonic plates doing their thing, namely moving away from one another at a rate of 2cm a year and leaving a giant ‘crack’ in the earths surface.  Most plate boundaries tucked away deep down within the seven seas, Almannagjá (the name given to the crack) is therefore a very very special sight.

Gullfoss waterfall, golden circle

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland

With all that said though, maybe the primary reason for visiting Iceland in the month of March would be to witness for yourself the worlds most incredible light show.

P.s. Also visible from the Scottish Highlands in March hence my not earlier.

>>>The Northern Lights

The Northern lights are also known as aurora borealis.  Their origin begins on the suns surface when solar activity effectively causes the sun to pass wind and eject a cloud of gas. Scientists call the ejection of this gas cloud a coronal mass ejection or CME for short. If and when a CME reaches earth (takes about 2 to 3 days) it collides with the Earth’s magnetic field.  This collision causes a complex series of changes to the magnetic field region. The changes generate currents of charged particles, which then flow along lines of magnetic force into both north and south Polar Regions. These particles are boosted in energy in Earth’s upper atmosphere, and when they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms, they produce dazzling aurora light.  Simple hey!?

Like you and I, the sun has a heart beat, except it only beats every 11 years.  This is what we know as a Solar Cycle (remember I mentioned this in my intro?).  The Solar Cycle can be measured/observed by counting the number and placement of sunspots visible on the sun. The more sunspots, the more solar flare energy is being released into space (CME’s), which means more aurora activity!

Studies show that March and late October are the best times to see the lights above places such as Iceland and Scotland, so hence why I’m raving about why you should travel in this post.  Using online tools, its not too difficult to monitor and predict when the lights might make an appearance.  You should also take into account that this year (2013) was the peak of the latest 11 year solar cycle and so the lights have been on show more than at any time in the last ten years.  March 2014 should also prove a very very good time to go Aurora hunting and I just cannot express how incredible it was to see them for myself.  If you’re even the slightest bit interested, seriously consider March 2014 as a date for your travel.

Did I see them? … oh yes!  The below was taken in central Reykjavik when the aurora activity for the area nearly went off the chart.  It was second time lucky in my quest to see the lights as whilst in Scotland, despite there being an aurora taking place, cloud swept in a ruined any chance we had of seeing the light show.  Do not let that put you off Scotland though, there are still plenty of sightings each year.

Reykjavik Northern Lights

India (specifically the north)

Moving on to somewhere just a tad warmer now, India.  A country of incredible  beauty but also just a tad crazy at times (in a good way), India and specifically its north hosts a festival each March that is rapidly gaining notoriety across the globe.  So much so that a number of imitation festivals have started springing up across the Europe and the US.  Its understandable, I mean, whats more fun than throwing handful after handful of coloured powder at one another to a backdrop of incredible music.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you The Holi festival.

The original is as you’ve probably guessed, of Indian origin and celebrates the beginning of the new spring season, or the end of the winter season – depending upon which way you look at it.  The festival takes place over two days, one of which is Phalguna Purnima, the day of winters last full moon.  During those two days, all social norms and barriers are forgotten.  Everyone becomes an equal, no matter their age, gender, wealth, status.  Probably a good thing if you’re covering each other in no end of coloured powder.

So you might also have guess that the below photo was not taken in India, well spotted.  That is in fact the fanmous Battersea Power Station in central London.  I cheated sort of and went to an imitation festival in August.  In my defence I spent much of March 2013 in Scotland and Iceland, so India was not within budget and even if it had been within budget I very much doubt that the boss would have given me any more time off to go travelling.  Maybe next year.

Holi Festival London

Ireland … or anywhere with a strong Irish population

Do you care little for the weather?  Are you just on the look out for a good old fashioned knees up?  Well have you ever heard of a wee celebration named St Patrick’s day?  Usually taking place inside your nearest Irish watering hole (there’s ALWAYS one nearby) on March 17th, this celebration is not weather or climate dependent.

I spent the 2013 St Patrick’s day in Iceland with both locals and a group of fun loving Irishmen.  Once kicking out time had arrived, we staggered back to our Reykjavik apartment under green sky’s.  Paddy’s day doesn’t come much better than when under the aurora.

So there you have it, just a few reasons as to why you should travel in March of 2014.  However, if March is a no go for you owing to other commitments there are still 11 others months in the year you could and should set out and explore within.  As mentioned, these too have all been written about as a part of the Ultimate Year-Round Travel Guide, so why not check them out …

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