I admit it, I love to visit Bath! It is a beautiful Georgian city, with buildings of mellow stone with wide windows; home to the Roman baths, Sally Lunn buns and Jane Austen heroines and, though I have walked around most of it, I have never ever seen it from the air! So, for a recent “significant” birthday, this was where I set off on my birthday balloon flight with Virgin.
We arrived mid afternoon and while my husband watched, I joined my fellow balloonists as we went through the safety procedures and completed our forms. Next, we helped lay out the balloon on the ground, marvelling at the size of it, then, when all was ready, I clambered into the basket and assumed my crouching position as instructed, so that when the basket was righted, I would be sitting nicely in my place.
Eventually when the balloon was inflated and we had the final all clear from air traffic control at nearby Bristol airport, with a few controlled blasts on the burners, we slowly lifted skyward. Up, up until we were level with the tops of the trees in the park; then up again till we caught the breeze and started to drift ever so slowlyover the city.
Looking down was a strange experience. There was no noise, no whoosh of air, but then we were hardly moving and I suddenly remembered there were no engines either! The pilot was superb, handing out champagne once we were high enough for him to be free to do so, pointing out the sights below, The Circus, the famous Royal Crescent etc etc. He told us of other flights and how he worked out where to land. He told us about the recovery team that were following below us and lots of other anecdotes.
The time passed slowly as we drifted on, I looked down as a startled deer broke cover and ran across an open meadow to the safety of the trees on the far side. I watched horses running round a field, kicking and arching their backs as they frolicked about; I saw people washing their cars who waved to us as we went by, some running in for their cameras to capture the moment. Then, as the sun started to disappear, the pilot starting looking for a landing spot. We found that it was a bit of a hit and miss affair, as you never know where the wind will take you and the pilot had to have permission from the owner to land in their field.
Finally, after lots of calls between the pilot and ground support, he found a suitable place to land. I looked down and saw a group of people gathered round a bonfire in a field behind a farm building, having a BBQ. They waved to us very excitedly and motioned for the pilot to land.
He found a spot and put the balloon down as though he were placing a cup on a saucer. Perfect. The basket stayed upright as we landed, was dragged for a few feet across the long grass, before coming to a complete stop. When we were allowed, we all clambered out, chatting away about what we had seen and how we felt and what an amzing experience it had been. As my husband had been quite clever and followed behind the support team, meandering through the country lanes following the balloon, I didn’t have to make the journey back to the start point with the others, I could just get in the car and head home. Which is what I did, clutching my flight certificate. It was a brilliant experience, one that I would recommend to anyone, even people like me who don’t like heights!