Posted by: lucylastic | October 19, 2009

Up, up and away!!!!




I’m not sure whether I was always entranced with the idea of balloon flight, but ever since the ‘Nimble’ bread ad in the 1970’s I have been determined to go up in one. In fact, I mithered so much, that my Lovely Husband very generously made me a present of a ride for my Christmas present last year. What I hadn’t realised, was that HE wouldn’t be coming – ‘get me in a balloon, I should Co-Co’, were pretty much his words as I recall. Step to the rescue LOVELY LAURA – who gamely said she’d come along. Wait a few months, (too cold, too dark, too wet before Easter) and then make a booking. You’d think it would be easy really, but after several false starts, (terrible weather conditions virtually all summer long), the added complication of another person wanting to join us – so now 3 diaries to synchronise before booking – my lovely friend Laura and I finally took to the skies on September 18th). Sadly, friend Carole was on the waiting list and didn’t get a place, a real shame, as 2 people didn’t turn up on the day.

The notion that ‘she flies through the air with the greatest of ease’ might have been true of the balloon and of the ‘Nimble’ lady, but the word ‘nimble’ didn’t exactly apply to me as I entered and exited the basket. Said basket is actually about 5ft high, and as I am only 5’4″, it was quite a heave in – I managed to get in with a minor amount of embarrassment, getting out again was a different matter, but more of that later.

Maybe I’m a bit dim, but I didn’t realise that the pilot has virtually NO control over the direction of the balloon – I know you have to go where the wind blows, but always imagined that the hot air machine thing helped – sadly not. Of all the directions in all the world, due west out of Lydiard Park, Swindon – straight along the M4, was probably the least interesting route we could have been blown!!! I was hoping for over Old Town and a chance to spot our respective houses, or out towards Marlborough – which at least has beautiful countryside – but the motorway was an almost constant drone and the most fun we had was waving to a few people as we drifted quite low over a few rooftops at the edge of Wootton Bassett. After that, it was cows, sheep, a few horses and what may or may not have been either alpaca or llamas – it was difficult to tell. Our pilot John Albury, with over 35 years experience of flying a balloon, warned us to treat it as an ‘adventure’ – being women of the world, Laura and I rightly interpreted this to mean “don’t moan when we land in a field miles from nowhere and despite having paid hundred of pounds for the ride you’ll be expected to help pack the balloon up”. The balloon was much bigger than I had imagined – even though I have seen one close up before – and it got packed into an amazingly small bag considering. But I’m jumping to the end again.

The balloon riders were a very motley crew! It’s quite a ‘couply’ thing to do, and there were indeed 4 ‘proper’ couples, (Mr and Mrs ‘Let’s order everyone around’ from Oxford, who made me bristle somewhat, though I managed to mostly ignore them, plus me and Laura and two ‘odd’ men – one much odder than the other! One of the lone men was on a birthday present from his family, and they had all turned up to see him off, the other, who didn’t really speak much only revealed at the end that his wife was waiting for him in the car park back at Lydiard Park – some 4 hours after arrival and take-off and now pitch black – poor woman!

Delights of the M4 aside, we came in to land in a field edged by a river on one side and the motorway on the other – we took heart from the fact that there were bales of hay in the field, (must be accessible by a lorry or trailer, said those in the know) and sat and waited for the land-rover to come and pick us up – it supposedly had us ‘in visual range’ all the way, but that didn’t mean it was easy to find us!  And there were a number of obstackles between us and it – not least locked gates, missing farmers, (to ask permission of) and a river with no bridge for miles.  We landed at 6.30pm, the basket was on quite a tilt, it was a very smooth landing I thought, two small bumps and then stop, no tipping over or anything, (though it may have been easier to get out if we’d been on our backs). After a couple of somewhat ungainly attempts to exit the balloon, (which was at an angle, and harder to get out of than it was to get in to), we all mooched around the field for a bit and then set-to on wrapping the balloon up. Most people helped, some just tried to organise, (Mr & Mrs from Oxford again). A lot of air gets trapped in the balloon, so we engaged a number of the party in the task of rolling on the bundled up cloth to get rid of the air. This done, we waited. And waited. And waited some more. It was now virtually dark and the land-rover hove into view at about 7.40pm, a quick glass of champers and then much heaving and panting to get the balloon into its bag and onto the trailer. Finally, the basket went onto the trailer as well, and everybody was asked to get back in the basket for the ride back to the bus which would take us home. I opted to sit in the ‘landy’ with the driver – much easier than attempting the basket again!!!! Turns out we were between Sutton Benger and the motorway and a little coach was waiting for us in the car park of a local pub. Sadly, no time for a pint and we set off back to Lydiard – where we finally arrived at 9.00pm.  An adventure? Sort of. Not sure I’d rush for another go, it was all a bit of a palaver I thought!  Liked the ride, just not the waiting bit!

The one surprise of the trip – absolutely zero vertigo – for some reason, there’s no sense of height at all from the basket. Oh, and another surprise, the intrepid nation that we are, there are several outdoor swimming pools attached to the big houses in the Wiltshire country-side – I wonder how much use they get?





  1. Ah brings back memories of our flight over Marlborough way. As we were flying low over some houses, a gaggle of kids were running after us shouting “Hello, Where are you from??” It sounded so funny, as if we were aliens descending on to the rugby pitch in Marlborough- and we had only taken off from Lydiard!! Don’t know about you but thought the small glass of champagne at the end of it was pitiful!!! ;0)

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