Tonight I went on my first ever hot balloon flight. It was a joint celebration – a belated first wedding anniversary present (flight slot bought back in May, promise) and my mother-in-law’s birthday. Two things about the evening surprised me. Firstly, I had no idea how labour intensive the process of actually inflating the balloon is. Many people are required in combination to unpack it (from its surprisingly tiny bag), lay it out, hold the front ends so that cold air can be blasted in to inflate it, and then when the balloon lands at the end of the flight, get the air out of it again, pack it up and load it into the trailer. It takes a while and is a bit of a team effort, so you really get to know whichever other random passengers you fly with. Balloon flying certainly isn’t something you could ever do solo.
Secondly, in today’s health and safety culture it’s pretty strange to be standing in a wicker basket thousands of feet up in the air, where you could quite literally plunge over the edge to your doom. No seatbelts, no nothing. I was totally paranoid about dropping my iPhone. Has there ever been an episode of CSI where someone gets murdered by being pushed over the side of a hot air balloon? If not, why not?
The flight itself was a great experience. Soaring high above the city, I could see the extent of Bristol’s urban sprawl and the beauty of the sun as never before. It’s the calmest way to travel, that’s for sure. Aside from a blast of the burners from time to time, there’s just the gentle drift of the wind sending you on your way and that’s it. Looking down over the side of the basket you can see the parks and the gardens and people waving at you, and after you get over the initial “whoah, the ground’s pretty bloody far away” feeling, being up there with nothing to stop you is a pretty joyous feeling. I can certainly see why people get hooked on it. The balloon’s pilot waxed lyrical about flying over the Alps and other locations that sounded amazing. Such things are bloody tempting.
After an hour, we landed smoothly on the grass next to the Cadbury factory in Keynsham (RIP), and witnessed the hilarious sight of another balloon bouncing on the ground followed by their basket tipping over. Result. Unfortunately I didn’t get to record that, and only have a couple of dodgy zoomed photos. Champagne was handed round to complete a lovely evening, and everyone was left with the distinct impression that they’d rather like to do this again.
So, on to the photos and videos!