Finally, I did it! Flew over our beautiful county of Cornwall on the evening of Tuesday 24th May in a hot air balloon reaching three and a half thousand feet! It was a birthday present from my husband Martin (big birthday 2 years ago - not telling!) but after about 6 or 7 attempted flights which were cancelled due to bad weather, the forecast was OK as long as the wind calmed down below 12 mph. It’s been a very windy May and nothing was necessarily guaranteed. And even at 7.45 pm, we were still studying the tree tops! Thankfully our Virgin Hot Air Balloon pilot Mandy was taking nothing for granted.
All 12 passengers + pilot and ground crew had met at 6pm outside the Butchers Arms pub at St Ive between Liskeard and Callington, near one of Virgin’s hot air balloon launch sites, but take off from that location in the prevailing wind conditions would have meant a short flight, most probably ending up wet in Plymouth Sound! So we drove with balloon and kit north across Bodmin Moor and took off from a farmer’s field at Lewannick, near Launceston. Spreading out and attaching the red ‘envelope’/balloon to the wicker basket - we then helped inflate it – a noisy affair with two huge fans blowing cold air into the balloon (250k cubic feet I think) then noisy blasts of butane fuelled hot flames to lift the envelope. A quick practice on bracing yourself in the landing position – and thankfully no discussion at all about what to do if things go wrong!!
And then take off!! An amazingly fast ascent and, (according to my video which you can see on Facebook) I appear to find God, “Oh my God!” appearing to be the only words I could utter to describe both the serene experience, the breath taking excitement tinged with fear and the awe inspired by the overwhelming beauty of the countryside fanning out like a patchwork quilt below. Cornwall must be one of England’s most verdant counties.
I was alone, most passengers were with a partner, yet few words were said, especially at the start. The sense of the moment is so intoxicating. A feeling of vulnerability and the need to hold on to the internal ropes did not pass easily. But after 7 or 8 minutes into the flight, you acclimatise to the strange oddness of being above the world in a wicker basket, able to touch the air with nothing to separate you from the ground below. Its calm, serene, exhilarating. Other than the occasional roar of the butane flames to keep us up, the silence was permeated by the occasional barking of dogs and the bleating of sheep. Slightly alarmed horses fled across fields and children appeared in back gardens to wave. As we were swept eastwards, we could see Roadford Lake to our north, Plymouth to the south east and Colliford Lake or Siblyback behind us. We flew over Stoke Climsland and skimmed the treetops of the Tamar Valley as we made our descent after an hour’s flight, with the sun setting on the horizon.
Driving in hot pursuit, and seen by me on the chase, was my husband Martin and daughter Amelia, keeping up with the Virgin crew to meet us as we landed near the pretty village of Horsebridge with its 15th century bridge spanning the Tamar River. We had an OK ‘two -bump’ landing in a recently mown field, but not before the pilot decided to avert and jump the hedgerow to avoid a bull in full panic mode in the chosen field. I’m left wondering whether Virgin have ever given it a second thought that maybe RED was not the choice of corporate colour on certain occasions!!
The whole experience was completed with a glass of champagne and a certificate to prove it! So if you ever get the chance do it, it’s well worth it. Virgin are currently offering morning balloon flights in the South West from £89 or £109 for a Weekday Anytime flight. You have to get up VERY early for a morning flight and given the number of times they get cancelled in Cornwall (slim peninsular, surrounded by sea!), it’s probably worth the extra £20 for the convenience of an evening flight. If you want to know more information or book, visit Virgin Hot Air Balloons.