25 free things to do in March

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Our pick of the best free events around the UK this month and over Easter, nationwide and in your area, for grown-ups and kids

Stone-lifting at Stonehenge, visions of the future in London and free films and books across the country: there’s something for everyone in our bumper monthly round-up

NATIONWIDE EVENTS

1. World Book Day

1-7 March

Events across the country to celebrate stories, with many children being given a voucher for one of 10 free books. Events include a quiz in Leeds, all-day storytelling and activities in Clapham Junction and many of Waterstones’ monthly book clubs for adults are also meeting in the first week of March.

2. Sport Relief Week

17-23 March

Since 1988, Comic Relief and Red Nose Day has raised over £1billion for good causes at home and abroad. In 2016, Sport Relief (first held in 2002) raised £55m. For the first time, this year sees a whole week of Sport Relief fundraising. There’ll be plenty of fun and unusual stuff to watch and join in with – much of it nominally free, although, of course, donations are encouraged.

3. British Science Week

9-18 March

This annual celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths features a range of engaging events across the UK where organisations, attractions and laboratories throw open their doors.
Which means: holograms in Swansea, a treasure hunt in Norwich, a talk on wildlife documentaries in Worcester – and an attempt to lift a 4-tonne stone using ancient techniques at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre. Plus an online event involving a porpoise post-mortem…

There are lots of downloadable activities and experiments for children on the theme of exploration and discovery to try at home too.

4. Passion plays

On and around Good Friday (30 March)

Partly boosted by Michael Sheen’s high-profile Port Talbot Passion in 2011, open-air, mass-cast retellings of the Easter story have enjoyed a huge revival: London’s Trafalgar Square will have two performances, featuring a 100-strong cast, on Good Friday, at 12pm and 3.15pm. The same show moves to Guildford for a performance on 31 March.

There are also Passion plays in towns including Epsom, Southampton, Poole and Hamilton, south Lanarkshire.

5. Run with friends and strangers

Saturday mornings

Those folk you see running in friendly groups in your local park on a Saturday morning? It could be you. Park Run is a free, organised running club open to all – including runners with dogs on leads and babies in pushchairs – taking place at 9am every Saturday in parks across the country.


LONDON AND SOUTH EAST


Visions of London, ©Museum of London

6. Celebrate St Patrick's Day

Trafalgar Square, 16-18 March

Three days of free Irish performances on the stage in Trafalgar Square, with a street food market and a tea tent and free family activities. Sunday 18 March sees the St Patrick’s Day parade, running from Piccadilly to the Square, featuring floats, dancers and traditional bands.

7. The Boat Race

The Thames, between Putney and Mortlake. 24 March, 4.31pm and 5.31pm

Thousands turn out on the banks of the Thames for one of the UK’s longest-standing sporting occasions: the 164th running of the University Boat Race. In fact, it’s four races, starting with the Women’s Boat Race at 4.31, then the two Reserve Boat races, before the men’s race at 5.31. Take beer money, a picnic and some gloves.

8. Future visions of London

London Visions exhibition, Museum of London, until 15 April

Artists, architects and designers offer their visions of a future London. What will we do with all the extra space created by driverless cars? How will we solve the housing shortage? What effect might climate change have? Rather than the traditional visions of a future full of robots and food pills, London Visions, says curator Foteini Arovani, is an exhibition designed to make us think about how we live now.

9. True Crime Museum

Hastings, 2-4 March, 10am-5pm

Head to Hastings with an unwanted, crime-related book and gain free entry to the True Crime Museum. The books will be sold in aid of the museum’s chosen charity, Victim Support.


SOUTH WEST ENGLAND AND WALES


See Six Nations rugby on the big screen

10. St David’s Day parade

Streets of Cardiff, Throughout March

The National St David’s Day parade is one of the main events celebrating Wales’ patron saint, with giant (model) dragons, bands, street dancers and more out in the streets heading for a mass rendition of the Welsh National Anthem outside City Hall.

11. Six Nations on the Big Screen

Millennium Square, Bristol, 10-11 March

Enjoy the penultimate round of Six Nations games on the big screen in Bristol city centre: Ireland v Scotland (10 March, 2.15pm); France v England (10 March, 4.45pm); Wales v Italy (11 March, 3pm).

12. Ride through the longest cycle tunnel in Britain

Near Bath

The Two Tunnels Greenway is a traffic-free walking and cycling path along a four-mile stretch of disused railway line, taking in two long tunnels and the Tucking Mill viaduct.

One of the tunnels – the Combe Down tunnel – is, at 1.67km, the longest cycling tunnel in Britain and features an interactive light and sound installation. For more adventurous walkers/cyclists, the route also connects to the 13-mile Bristol and Bath Railway Path.

13. The most beautiful half marathon in Britain

Anglesey, 4 March

Regarded as a perfect warm-up for April’s London Marathon, over 2,000 runners are expected at the Anglesey Half Marathon’s beautiful course: starting on the Menai Suspension Bridge, the race heads along the island’s narrow coast road to Beaumaris Castle and back, all against the dramatic backdrop of Snowdonia.  


MIDLANDS AND EAST


Visit the place that inspired John Constable’s The Hay Wain

 

14. Do your eyes (or ears) deceive you?

Cambridge Science Festival, Grafton Centre, 10 March, 12-4pm

Explore your senses with a series of hands-on activities and illusions in Come to Your Senses… It’s an early introduction to the Cambridge Science Festival, which runs 12-25 March and includes plenty of other intriguing and accessible events, including, on 12 March, a chance to taste food from polar expeditions of the past at a talk given by food historian Lesley Steinitz.

15. Oxford Photographic Society exhibition

North Wall Arts Centre, 27 March-12 April

Over 100 Oxford-based photographers showcase their best work from the last 12 months. Promised genres of photography on show include street, documentary, wildlife, events, macro, portrait, landscape, seascape… you name it.

16. Canoeing taster session

Archbishop Sancroft High School, Harleston, 18 March

Waveney Valley Canoe Club runs taster sessions several times a month for those itching to start paddling. Free, but advance booking is essential.

17. Step inside one of Britain’s favourite pictures

Flatford, Suffolk

Painted in 1821, John Constable’s The Hay Wain has often been the top-selling print and postcard at the National Gallery, capturing a lost, rural moment of English history.

The Flatford Mill site, where it was painted, is still idyllic today with views out over the Suffolk/Essex fields. There is a small National Trust Museum with information sheets offering a short, guided walk of locations with Constable connections.

This slice of old England is all free – apart from the car park and, if you choose, the tea room and gift shop – and makes a perfect spring day out.


NORTH OF ENGLAND

 
The Long View, image by Rob Fraser

18. Skiffle on the train

Sheffield, 27 March

Enjoy the unique experience of an acoustic music show on a night train into the beautiful Peak District, all for free: this month, it’s stomping good-time music from DH Lawrence (presumably not that one) and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show, entertaining the in-crowd on the 7.14pm from Sheffield, Platform 7.

The show goes out to Edale, where everyone disembarks, before a stint in the nearby country pub and return trip to the city on the 9.28pm. Magic!

19. Cumbria Easter Rally

Kirkby Stephen and Brough, Cumbria, 31 March and 1 April

Thousands converge on south-east Cumbria over the Easter weekend for the Cumbria Classic Commercial Vehicle Rally. There will be old buses, coaches and vans and military vehicles at sites across the area, all linked by a donations-only vintage bus service.

On the Saturday evening, there’s a procession of the old vehicles against the beautiful backdrop of the Westmorland Dales. There are food stalls and a vintage funfair, too.

20. The Lake District in seven trees

Great North Museum, Newcastle, NE2, until 4 March

Acclaimed exhibition The Long View, showcasing the lives of seven trees in the Lake District. The story of the landscape is told through photographs taken in different seasons and through poetry and prose inspired by the trees, the surrounding countryside and conversations with local farmers and residents.

21. Explore life’s big questions

Philosophy Café, Manchester City Art Gallery, 22 March, 6-8pm

Every Thursday, Manchester City Art Gallery is open late (until 8pm, at least), offering you the chance to see the gallery from a new perspective, with a discussion led by a curator, exploring one of the artworks in depth.


SCOTLAND AND NORTHERN IRELAND


See films for free, like cult favourite The Blues Brothers

22. Glasgow West End

Free film festival, 17-23 March

Seven free films in seven different venues across seven days in the West End of Glasgow. The provisional programme includes Alien, The Blues Brothers and Belleville Rendezvous, but check the website for confirmed venues and times as the festival approaches. Part of a programme of community-led free film festivals throughout the year, growing across the country from its London origins.

23. Queens for a Day

People’s Story Museum, Edinburgh, until 11 March

Archive photographs and film celebrating Scottish galas at this exhibition, with special attention on Leith Gala Day and Leith Pageant.

24. Long Way North: Free children’s adventure movie

Strand Arts Centre, Belfast, BT4, 10 March, 12pm

When teenager Sasha’s explorer grandad goes missing on an expedition, there’s only one thing for it: to go on her own expedition to find him… Long Way North is free, but advanced booking is advised. It’s part of the 20th Belfast Children’s Festival, which features many other free and low-cost arts events for kids and runs from 9-14 March.

25. Starry, starry night

Galloway Forest Park, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

Visit the UK’s first Dark Sky Park: there are so few lights within the Forest Park that the nights are inky black, making it a brilliant place to enjoy the stars. Or go during the day for family-friendly walks and a great visitor centre.

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