There is something truly magical about hot air balloons. They were the first mode of transport that allowed humans to fly, and over 200 years later they still force anyone who sees them to stand still for a minute, point, gawp and wonder just how exactly a wicker basket attached to a huge balloon can float through the sky so peacefully. When I was little my cousins and I swore that as soon as we turned twelve (we were told you had to be twelve to ride in a hot air balloon) we would go, we dreamed of an adventure through the clouds and the excitement of coming back down to the ground wherever the balloon chose to land. Sadly we never did go on our ride, but there’s always another day!
Last week 150 hot air balloons took to the skies of Bristol. It was the 35th Bristol International Balloon Fiesta – who knew there was even such a thing! It took place over four days on a huge estate just over the river, 15 minutes walk from the city, however our first balloon sighting was actually a couple of nights before. We were sat having tea and the sky outside our window was suddenly full of balloons of all shapes and sizes…including the FA cup, Mr Fredricksen in his balloon from the Pixar film UP, and, strangest of all, the Financial Times!
There was no chance of us staying away. After work on Saturday I packed up a picnic, put on my outdoor adventure shoes (don’t laugh) and off we went in search of balloons. They were easy enough to find as they dangled amongst the clouds over Ashton Court Estate.
I can imagine that the roads of Bristol were a dangerous place to be that night, with so many floating distractions. I didn’t think that the balloons would look quite so beautiful over the city skyline compared to the green countryside I have always wondered at them amongst before, but I soon realised that when you look up it is always just the same.
We fought through the crowds of people, all armed with their picnics and camping chairs, and buggies and children, until we found a spot on a hill just right for us and settled ourselves down to have some food, people watch and wait for darkness to fall. We were waiting for the Nightglow, an event where the ballooning teams line up, balloons tethered and perform a show with their flames to music.
The rain teased us, but we were in luck as it blew over for just long enough for the balloons to do their stuff. The display was spectacular. The hot air balloons lit up the sky as they danced their perfectly timed routine to a medley of entirely British music, all rounded off with a patriotic chorus of Rule Britannia from both audience and balloons! Fireworks joined the finale from behind the trees – we had such a great spot for the balloons that I think we forfeited an equivalent view of the fireworks, but we could see just enough to warrant the appropriate ‘oooohs’ and ‘aaaaahhhhs’.
Then, the rain came. We got home tired, soggy, but very happy having watched balloons dance for us! It was a perfect evening out, and if you are ever in the area for the Balloon Fiesta, you absolutely MUST go and watch the Nightglow!
PS. Just as a side note, my absolute favourite balloonist? aeronaut? hot air balloon pilot? of all time lives in a book. His name is Lee Scoresby, and if you haven’t met him you absolutely must – find him in Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife, both by Philip Pullman.