Friday, 6 April 2018

Up, up and away!

I was delighted to tick off an item on my bucket list recently, that of going up in a hot air balloon (with my lovely friend, Stef).

But it nearly didn’t happen! We had bought our voucher nearly a year ago but didn’t realise you couldn’t book a date at the same time – dates were only made available about a month before and we were aiming for early August. However, when Stef went to book it last July, she found out the pilot wasn’t available when we wanted to go! So the next time we were both available and there were dates was early September.

But it got cancelled – there are very limited critera for balloons being safe to fly. It has to be under 10mph (up in the skies as well as down on the ground so if you are checking the weather forecasts like we were doing, bear in mind it may be windier higher up), it has to be dry and also good visibility. And on that occasion the conditions were not right.

Similarly, it got cancelled again in late September. Then neither Stef nor I could make it in October by which time we discovered they don’t run the balloon flights from Nov-March!

HOWEVER, Stef booked us on the first date available in the new season and I am happy to say that on Monday 26th March 2018 at 7.45am from York racecourse we finally went up, up and away!!

I am a great believer in things are meant to be – and maybe our earlier cancellations were meant to be because the day we went up was an incredibly crystal-clear, sunny day. (We were also lucky because we learnt that some people have had to reorganise their trips up to half a dozen times so if you want to go yourselves, bear this in mind).

People asked me if I was nervous or they say they are too scared to do it themselves. I don’t like heights myself, but that doesn’t deter me from trying out things at height. As long as I feel safe (like I did safely harnessed going down zip wires at Go Ape), I am fine – the hot air balloon basket came up to my chest – no chance of falling out. In fact, there was no sensation of movement. You just drifted up into the sky.

My overwhelming impression was one of total and utter relaxation. It was so still and calm and peaceful (I think everyone in our 8 person balloon/9 with the pilot - was overawed by the sights we were seeing and hardly said anything). Having said it was peaceful, I was astonished from that high up (we went up about 3,000 feet I believe at the highest) to hear dogs barking, sheep bleating and geese hissing).

Another big impression was how much green space there was – there were pockets of villages and towns surrounded by ten times as much green fields/forests. Of course, we were flying over North/East Yorkshire!

One strange field I photographed, I later discovered was a golf course.

Because there was so much countryside we went over, there wasn’t a lot of sights to photograph, although we did see Bishopthorpe Palace just outside York, and the river Derwent was so flooded it was quite a sight. 

And, of course, I took several pictures of York as we flew up.

Not sure if you can tell this is York Minster and the one after is Millennium Bridge in York.

Having said that, there was still a great opportunity for some good photos even though they weren't of places: going over power lines to the right, our reflection below.

And going over a ditch.

The balloon goes whichever way the wind blows – on this occasion we went in a south easterly direction going over Wheldrake and Thorganby and finishing up in a field somewhere in the vicinity of the wonderfully named Foggathorpe – about 15 miles or thereabouts depending on whether you are going by car or as the balloon flies!).

People asked me if the landing was scary – the pilot explained he could land one of two ways. Either upright (which we did – but that involved several bigger people in the balloon having to jump out and hold us down!) or on the side and slide along until we come to a standstill. However, the pilot gave excellent safety instructions which included sitting on the low bench deep inside each section of the basket (there were two people in each section) and to untie any scarves or bag straps, tuck long hair into coats and so on.

So, the only downside for me was the stress on my poor knees (I suffer from wear and tear) because there was about an hour standing around at the start helping them get the balloon up (photo below), you stood for the hour’s ride in the balloon and then there was about an hour at the end getting the balloon packed away and having a glass of champagne.

But it was well worth it and I think Stef wants to go again!

I leave you with my favourite picture - of the balloon that went up just ahead of us going over Drax power station. Wind power meets coal power!

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