Up, up and away.

Posted on October 15, 2013 in My Life.

A beautiful shadow of the hot air balloon over the fields in the distance.

Today we floated at 3200ft in a wicker basket!

At 11am we called the Virgin Hot Air Balloon line to find out if the flight we'd booked was going ahead. Much to our surprise it was; we were actually going to fly in a Hot Air Balloon!

After a mad dash for the next bus failed, we called for a taxi. An expensive and very long drive later we were in Perth, standing in a large green park, waiting for a car to arrive carrying what can only be described as the biggest picnic basket I've ever seen.

Our hot air balloon pilot and the basket

The weather was better than we could have hoped for and not a cloud in the sky, today was going to be a good day.

Obviously the balloon and basket arrived or this would be a very short blog post. We met our pilot – a gentleman who I'm fairly certain modelled his looks on Billy Connolly – and began to unpack the trailer.

Once we'd laid out the balloon – known as the 'envelope' – across the park, the crew began filling it with cold air using two petrol powered fans.

Our hot air balloon slowly filling with air.

In a matter of minutes the balloon was mostly inflated, perched on the grass like a huge red cushion. The pilot began heating the air inside with the quad burners strapped to the basket, and soon the balloon was floating gracefully above it.

The hot air balloon very nearly ready to lift off

A group of about 10 of us climbed aboard, received our safety briefing, and prepared for launch. The pilot told us that we would be fine to stand during launch, but when we come into land we should be prepared for the basket to roll onto it's side and drag along the ground until finally coming to a stop; a very standard method of landing we were told and one that would be quite safe providing we sat down and held onto the handles.

The pilot burned some more gas, and suddenly we were floating. I didn't feel a thing, I was certain we still perched on the ground, but it was moving away from us. This is where the feeling of mild terror started to take hold. The thought that I was being taken into the sky in a basket I could lean or more importantly fall out of was now a very real possibility.

Hot air balloon lifting from the ground quickly now.

I have to say this feeling passed fairly quickly, as we came to an eventual stop at 3200ft above Perth city centre. I still didn't fancy the idea of jumping from the basket, but I think that was a sensible reservation to have.

Perth city centre below us moving away quickly.

It's at this point that I wished I had a decent camera with me. The views were breathtaking, and you could see for miles around. All of the distant mountains, and countryside could be seen clearly.

I got a little braver here, and started taking photos over the edge of the basket.

Perth below our hot air balloon.

We drifted over the city for a short while, waiting for the wind to pick up a little and push us gently toward the countryside. Eventually we drifted away from the city. The views of the fields and trees below us were serene. Aside from the occasional blast from the burners, all you could hear was silence.

It's difficult to describe the feeling of floating above the world in near perfect silence, with just a little breeze around you. It's an experience I highly recommend you try for yourself!

Laura and I on our hot air balloon flight.

We slowly descended a little, till we were passing over a forest of pine trees. The basket gently brushed the tops of a few of them, pigeons could be seen just out of reach, and the sound of the wildlife below could be heard loud and clear.

Trees within touching distance of the our hot air balloon.

That feeling of mild terror came back as we got closer and closer to a wall of taller trees just ahead of us. The nearer we got, the more certain I was that we were going to have a nasty accident. Of course the pilot has flown hundreds of flights and knew exactly what he was doing. At the last possible moment he fired the burners, and the balloon soared up and over them.

Another 10 minutes or so later, and we'd found a landing spot. The balloon began another decent. We were now maybe 30 feet above the ground, and aiming toward a clearing between two trees that the pilot was hoping the wind would carry us through in picturesque glory. After that we would descend a little further and touch down in a recently harvested field. What could go wrong?

What could go wrong is that apart from the ability to rotate and elevate the balloon, we were at the mercy of wind. With a wonderful gracefulness we moved away from our perfect clearing, and toward a very large tree. A scene I'm sure would have looked hilarious set to the Blue Danube.

Coming into land. The shadow just metres from us now.

This time mild terror was not what I would describe I felt; more a feeling of excitement mixed with a cautious sense of impending doom. The more the pilot fired the burners, the more we seemed to line up perfectly with the centre of this rather awkwardly placed tree. This felt like it was happening in slow motion – mostly because it was – the basket got nearer and nearer, I knew we were going to hit it, there was no way we could avoid it. The pilot fired the burners again, roaring flame filled the balloon pushing us upward.

Then we hit it. Of course we hit it, there was no way to avoid it. I felt the basket push just a little against it, the top of the tree hit the side of basket and then seemed to keep moving with us. A man standing next to us reached out and grabbed what must have been the only pine cone on the entire tree, and then within an instant it was gone. It had just bent out of our way.

Both myself and a few other passengers gave a sigh of relief, as the pilot said we were going to land in the field beneath us.

We sat down on the padded foam seats, and grabbed the handles. I was braced and ready for the balloon to drag us across half the field. Then the basket hit the ground with a gentle little thump, up we went again, and then back down to the ground. That's all there was to it. The pilot gave us the all clear. and asked for a volunteer to help pull the balloon away from the basket as it deflated.

Of course I put my hand up, and jumped out of the basket to help the crew member. When we'd run halfway through the field, pulling the the two huge cables with us the balloon collapsed to ground and slowly began to empty.

I got a great photo of me standing inside. There was a residual scent of burned gas, and a gentle warmth still present as I ran into the heart of the balloon and posed for my photo.

Me standing inside the recently landed hot air balloon envelope. This was an amazing experience.

We all packed up, no easy feet given the size and air still inside. Then made our way out of the field for champagne, and a lift back to the city centre.

Flying in a Hot Air Balloon with Laura is perhaps one of my most favourite memories so far.

The Virgin hot air balloon basket sitting lonely in the field after landing.