I’ve long loved a hot air balloon. Floating through the sky, slowly gliding and following the wind as it blows. Pretty damn magical.
When I saw the film UP it showed that sense of adventure teamed with a few thousand balloons. I didn’t exactly run out and buy a few hundred canisters of helium and loosened the footings on my house but I did always have a romantic notion that you could get to travel to far off lands in a wicker basket and some hot air.
So with that in mind, one of the best thing about moving to the West Country was that in Bristol every year in August they hold the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. 4 days of ballooning fun and the city becomes like a picture perfect postcard. Bristol is synonymous with balloons just like it is with Banksy, Ribena, Aardman Animations and Isambard Brunel. Creativity and Engineering greats!
Bristol is located in the South West of England and is a beautiful and colourful city. It has its own culture which I’ve not like I’ve ever seen anywhere it else. Bristol loves everything and everyone and has a small town feel but in big city scope. It’s only an hour and a half away from London by train and once you get off at Temple Meads everything you could need is literally a walk away. The harbour, the history, the street art, the parks, the bars and the shopping it makes it an ideal destination for all.
I’ve heard recently that Bristol produces more hot air balloons than anywhere else in the world so it seems only fitting that it is also home to one of the largest hot air balloon events in Europe. I mean Cameron Balloons has been based in Bristol since 1971 and the main man behind Cameron’s Balloon, Don Cameroon developed the first hot air balloon and aptly called it the Bristol Belle. Cameron Balloons are said to be the largest maker of hot balloons within the world and have been pushing boundaries ever since by focusing on creating new and creative ways to travel through the sky be it with funny shapes to more technical features of aerodynamics.
The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta was first started in 1979 and is always located at the Ashton Court Estate. The timings have changed over the years and it is now always in August and runs over 4 days. As with anything in England you can never rely on the weather, however, August is generally a more favourable month with less rain and wind. The best part of the fiesta is that is a free event. Yes, you heard right FREE. Sure you have to pay for parking and for any food and drinks but you can attend completely for free. Trust me Bristol does love a free festival (you should come in July for the Harbour Festival- yep you guessed it also FREE)
Every day during the fiesta there is a mass ascent in the morning and again in the evening. These mass ascents can include over 130 balloons all taking flight at the same time. Depending on the wind sometimes this can take the balloons right over the city centre. Night glows are on the Thursday and Saturday nights when the balloons are tethered and lit up dancing to the music also. There is also usually a firework display after the night glow on saturday. There is also festival feel at Long Ashton with fairground rides, food stalls and a whole lotta balloons.
Over the years there has been all sorted of balloons. All the colours of the rainbow and also lots of creative shapes from a Sky Whale, a minion, a kiwi bird, the house from Up to a Bertie Bassett.
This year was the first time, in the 11 years that I got my butt out of bed at the crack of dawn (5 am!) to go and watch to the morning ascent. My gosh was it a good decision.
We opted to watch from the Observatory in Clifton. This way we had balloons, Bristol and the Clifton Suspension Bridge all in our eye line. A few 100 people had the same idea. Some in their PJs, some hadn’t made it home from their Saturday night yet, breakfast picnics, balloon inspired sweaters and mugs of tea. All there to just watch some balloons. And when I say a ‘some’ balloons I mean like at least 100 balloons.
Calming, simple fight but with such beauty
It was a beautiful way to spend a Sunday morning. We’ve previously watched the night ascent from another vantage point in the city. On Bedminster Downs, you have the perfect view of the festival and can see the balloons being inflated and ready to launch. There are lots of grassy areas where you can sit and have a picnic and in recent years food trucks have also been showing up there so you don’t even need to bring your own.
No matter whether you watch the fiesta from the higher vantage points of the city to low on the ground at the fiesta it is well worth treating yourself to a trip to Bristol in August just to witness this truly spectacular display.
Bristol is a great city to visit and even outside of this festival. Surprisingly I’ve not blogged too much about my home away from home (which I will rectify) however in the meantime if you want to read some more reasons to visit Bristol check out the blogs and websites below.
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