Angharad Paull, Visit Bristol's Content Editor and lady behind family travel blog, This Bristol Brood, describes what it's like to have a hot air balloon ride over Bristol. 

Being in a balloon

Photo credit Angharad Paull

The sun hits the edge of the Planetarium’s giant mirrored orb, Bristol Harbourside glows around the edges, spires and cranes are silhouettes in the morning light. An early morning hush hangs in the air, broken by the caw of a gull, sizzling whiffs of bacon and the excited chatter of balloonists waiting expectantly for something magical to happen. And happen it does. Suddenly, the amphitheatre is abuzz, deflated balloons that had lain withered on the floor, like long forgotten Giant’s sleeping bags are suddenly brought to life with the hiss of flame, erupting in the silence. Like a dragon belching fire into nylon bellies, the bulbous balloons inflate into all their puffed up glory, dominating the Harbourside and bathing Bristol’s waterfront in spectacularly vibrant colour.

Being in a balloon

Photo credit Angharad Paull

Clambering quickly into the wicker basket of my designated balloon, my stomach churns in anticipation. The pilots, calm as can be, provide running commentary, chatting familiarly with each other in lilting West Country accents, interrupted now and then by radioed instructions. We are taught how to brace for landing and then out of nowhere we are weightless, lifted into the sky effortlessly, the heat of the flame on our necks. We are one of the first to take off, below, the buildings shrink instantly like play pieces in a child’s game. Surveying the city from above, Bristol lies beneath us like some new magnificent land, it’s as if we have been given the keys to the Kingdom, now able to survey all. The hot air balloon flotilla emerges from the arc of the amphitheatre, dotting the sky with a giant penguin, bright stripes, luminous chequers and Power Ranger-emblazoned neon.

Being in a balloon

Photo credit Angharad Paull

Conditions like these come along once in a blue moon (and weirdly there is one that night) and the views are breath-taking. As we float higher, it’s beautifully peaceful, the air is warm on this sunny August day and still enough to hear a dog bark below. The landmarks of Bristol unravel before us, recognisable as miniature figurines in the distance, yet at the same time they feel so close, almost touchable. The flagged masts of Brunel’s ss Great Britain are easy to spot, the pointy spire of Cabot Tower, the silver Planetarium ball, the cranes of the M Shed reflect in the harbour water, casting shadows over The Matthew. For the first time I see Spike Island as the Marlinspike shape it is named after, the diverted River Avon, the steeples and chimneys of Bristol speckle the cityscape out to the hills enveloped in morning mist. Clifton’s coloured houses and magnificent Georgian rows wind and wend in fascinating asymmetry on their cliff top perch. As the balloons glide, a giant monopoly land reels out below with the Clifton Suspension bridge the Mayfair of the lot, the prized possession against Bristol’s photogenic backdrop.

Being in a balloon

Photo credit Angharad Paull

Being in a balloon

Photo credit Angharad Paull

The lush, green, wooded parkland of Ashton Court summons us, Dundry Hill, Ashton Gate Stadium sit in glorious sunshine to our left and deer roam below like tiny models, their shadows casting their true form onto the grass. Dodging trees and wildlife, we come to rest in the dewy grounds of Ashton Court Estate – the site of the annual Bristol International Balloon fiesta. High on life, wide-eyed with wonder the journey plays over and over in my mind. I want to go up and see it all again! Absolutely mind-blowing.

Being in a balloon

Photo credit Angharad Paull

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