We used to live in Bath, in the south west of England, a beautiful Georgian city built in the early eighteenth century for wealthy visitors to the spa there, pouring out its stream of hot, mineral water, reputed to cure all manner of bodily ailments. They were originally discovered before the Romans arrived in Britain, and were also used by them during their occupation of England. They are still known as the Roman Baths, and are a popular tourist attraction.
But Bath is also one of the major sites for a completely different activity, the sport of ballooning! Most weekends, the familiar roar of the gas burner that kept them airborne could be heard a couple of hundred feet above our flat. Invariably, even though I was used to it, I would look up and on nearly every occasion I would see the pilot or passenger in the basket waving cheerily down at me from their lofty viewpoint, and I would almost always wave back.
Then, one summer evening, the opportunity arose for Jacqui and me to be the passengers on one of these flights, an opportunity we grabbed eagerly! We clambered over the high side of the basket (something I could certainly NOT do today!), and we took off with a roaring of gas, rising gently though surprisingly quickly over the launching point in Victoria Park to a height of about two hundred feet, where the breeze was in the right direction to drift us slowly over the city. Below us were ranks of red-tiled roofs, chimneys pointing towards us like accusing fingers, some of them smoking as if in anger at our arrogance. And between the roofs were the black strips of tarmac streets, dotted with cars. And people, some walking, some simply standing and looking around them, all more or less unaware of each other and us drifting silently above them.
Our pilot then ignited some gas, so that we began to gain height, attracting the attention of the people below, hearing the roar and looking up at us, just as I had done so many times before and I saw one of them wave to us as we floated by. Almost as a reflex action I waved back and that was when the most amazing thing happened, something that had never occurred to me before, but which was so obvious when I thought about it.
I could see, and be seen, from ten or more streets and in every one of them people waved back at me, oblivious to the fact that in each case, they were not the only ones waving. To each of them, they were the person I was waving to. They were naturally totally unaware of all the people in the other streets, but I, from my lofty position could see them all!
We soon drifted away from Bath, out over the countryside to the south of the city, until we arrived near the town of Frome, where our pilot said he was going to land.
This was where the fun started!
He told us there was nothing dramatic about landing. As the hot air in the balloon above us cooled he said, we would settle gently down on the ground and be able to clamber out of the basket, while he deflated the balloon.
All went well until we were about four feet above the surface, when a sudden strong gust of wind caught us, quickly dragging us across the field we were in, over the boundary hedge and into the next field. The sudden breeze then ceased as quickly as it had begun and the balloon landed with a hefty thump, tipping our basket over, while the still partly inflated bag above us dragged us along the ground. The basket became an instant plough or front-end-loader, which in a way was a good thing, because the weight of earth that quickly built up in there with us, acted as an anchor which brought us to a halt after about twenty five metres, both the pilot and us liberally covered in dirt, but relieved to still be alive.
We haven’t tried ballooning again since then, even though we have been assured this is something that doesn’t usually happen on these flights.
. . . . Oh yeah!?
Have you ever been in a hot air balloon? What was your experience? And if you haven’t, would you ever try it? Tell us below!