My daughter Jenna gave Ian and I a hot air balloon ride voucher for Christmas. I was pretty horrified and put the voucher out of sight and the whole idea out of mind.
I have rather an odd fear of heights. I am perfectly happy on natural structures like mountains and rocks. I am also good on ladders. However, I am irrationally fearful of man-made structures like piers and bridges. For example – walking across the Golden Gate Bridge defeated me once I got out above the water. Ian is no good on rocks or ladders but is fine on piers and bridges. So between us – this was going to be a challenge.
Towards the end of August and with a strong application of Rule 5 we went on the Aerosaurus website to book a flight.
Since a hot air balloon has no direct means of steerage or control the weather is an all important factor when deciding whether or not to fly. We were lucky on our 3rd attempt.
Our 3rd booking meant travelling from Dorset to Launceston, but we were so pleased that this happened as it meant that our pilot was Arthur Street who is an absolute legend in the ballooning world. Arthur counts his balloon flights in tens of thousands after 25 years of piloting.
We met at Homeleigh Garden Centre near Launceston at 06:30 along with 12 other passengers. The ground crew, Matt and Marianne (Little and Large) dealt with everything in a very professional manner, but also somehow very relaxed and reassuring. It was all very workaday and routine for them. There was obviously no reason for any anxiety.
We travelled in the Aerosaurus vehicles to the launch site near North Petherwin with the basket and envelope on a trailer.
The ‘envelope’ is huge – much larger than we expected. The passengers all help to get it inflated on the ground.
At this point I asked myself whether I would be disappointed if I was going to be a spectator rather than a passenger. The answer was yes. It was very exciting!
Arthur gave a comprehensive briefing – and informed us that the most difficult thing we would face would be climbing into the basket. (There is an option of being in the basket while it is on its side and being gently scooped up if physical disability prevents a passenger from clambering in). So that was alright then.
The basket is actually a steel cage with rollbars and a solid floor. The wicker work is really just for aesthetics.
Once inflated and heated up (quite noisy) the tether from the land rover was released and we were off – up, up and away. We gained height extermely quickly.
There were a few moments of ‘wow this is quite high’ – but that was all. We just really enjoyed being up there. Arthur was fantastic and gave us 360 degree panoramic views and information about what we could see. We had total confidence in him.
Early on in the flight the champagne was opened which Jenna had thoughtfully included in our voucher. I’m sure this helped to contribute to the relaxed convivial atmosphere on board.
Arthur negotiated the obstacles of the A30 and Roadford Lake with great skill – but it did mean we had a few extra minutes up in the air. The landing was gentle with just a slight bump.
Marianne and Matt had tracked us from the ground and were there to help with packing up. The farmer was very cooperative and helped us all out of the slightly boggy field we had landed in.
The huge envelope gradually deflated as the air cooled down and we helped to guide it so that it could be folded up again.
It was amazing just how quickly that huge envelope was packed back into the bag and stowed back on the trailer with the basket.
Highly recommended. It is not at all scary and just a wonderful experience.