Up, up and away… Huw’s hot air balloon ride!!

Author: Jade Shelton
Published: 29th September 2021

Have you ever been on a balloon ride? Well up until very recently I hadn’t – but not for want of trying. Having finally gone up, up and away in the summer – 7 years after winning a ticket in an auction. I can tell you it was a fantastic experience and if you ever get the chance you should jump at it (not literally though).

It was May 2014 when we were out bid on the Virgin Balloon Ride lot at our children’s primary school PTA Dinner Dance auction. A few moments later we were tapped on the shoulder and told there was another balloon ride ticket available and did we want it? Yes we did.

Wind, thunder storms and a global pandemic had seen our flights cancelled more than a dozen times. We’d begun to think it would never happen. Re-booking was just something we did every time the flight was cancelled – almost like that was the auction prize.

Fast forward to summer 2021 and we arrived at Cotswold Airport at 5.45am. The sun was just rising over the airfield as the we watched the balloon inflate. With the safety briefing delivered in the early morning mist it was time to put on our face masks, climb into the basket and don our hats to protect our heads from the heat of burner.

Take off was imperceptible. Slightly off the ground turned into several hundred feet in the blink of an eye. Once the burner was cut, we drifted silently. The twitter of the birds flying far below us was an unusual sound to behold.

We were blown across the Cotswold countryside. North west from Kemble, skirting Cirencester and out towards Chedworth. Over fields, houses and villages. We crept up on rabbits and hares, some golfers at Cirencester Golf Club and four deer grazing in a field – until the burner was deployed to restore a bit of distance between us and their field.

In the blink of an eye our hour was up. Now the pilot was searching for somewhere to land. Not an easy task in a balloon – they have no steering and no brakes!. Looking for a field without any crops that was on our flight path wasn’t easy and took 15 minutes. We’d already had one aborted landing (we got too close to the fence at the edge of the field) before finally landing in unceremoniously – as is the way with all balloon flights. So there we were, 20 complete strangers and hour before, horizontal and backs to the floor, hurtling across a field in a wicker basket being pulled by a rapidly deflating balloon.

Once stationary, disembarkation was orderly if undignified – some crawled, some clambered and some of us were pulled out!

Landowners were found and thanked (with a nice bottle of gin), passengers and pilot packed the balloon into what looked like a big laundry bag and champagne was administered (it’s a tradition apparently). And standing there, face to the sun in a field amidst the rolling Cotswold hills I couldn’t believe I’d been on a balloon ride 7 years in the planning.