I simply couldn’t believe I’d been offered a free flight in a hot air balloon… and was even more astonished that I’d accepted. Me – terrified of heights – what on earth could I have been thinking?
But as I chat with other passengers, who were also questioning their sanity, the Aerosaurus team seemed to gravitate towards us – they could smell our fear. Our very charming pilot, Steve, managed to soothe us enough to go through with the flight and I’m glad he did.
If you’ve never been on a hot air balloon flight, the first thing you should know is it’s a team effort. You can participate in both the setting up and in the dismantling of the balloon. However, taking part isn’t mandatory; so you can opt out. Though I’d imagine if everyone watched, it might take longer to get up in the air.
Setting up required a flatbed, driving along to deploy the balloon on the ground, then 12 passengers plus the Aerosaurus team unfurling it bit by bit in a field. You have to go through an entire ritual of hand movements and pulling to get the balloon sorted before they get to the good bit – inflating it.
Watching the mass of fabric take shape and become what I normally see as nothing more than a tiny dot in the skies above was very cool. There is something exciting about seeing these mammoth structures towering above you.
Once we all boarded, I finally had a moment to remember… I’m afraid of heights! And I, embarrassingly, white knuckled the basket far longer than was required for take off. Though when the hiss of the blower stops and you have lifted off, you have this strange calm that sets in and the whole world seems to shift. It really is like nothing else you’ve ever experienced.
With hot air ballooning, you literally go where the wind takes you and, on this morning, the wind was fickle. We drifted one way, then another before it decided to take us back over Taunton and on to the Blackdown Hills. To see the area from such great height was simply awe inspiring.
Most of the Aerosaurus team form the ‘ground team’. They follow the balloon in land rovers, trying to track and estimate where it will make landfall. It’s reminiscent of American storm chasers you see in movies driving about, trying to catch tornadoes. You can’t predict when the wind will change course and our balloon did several times.
I must admit, once airborne, I’d (almost) lost all fear. It was exhilarating and the views 360 degrees were spectacular. In what seemed like only moments, but was actually closer to half an hour, our pilot started to seek a safe place to land.
Landing a balloon it not a precise endeavour. You can’t lower it into place like a helicopter. You basically hit, skid and fall over. Not terribly elegant.
We had a couple of false starts before finding a field near Castle Neroche. One of the near landings was aborted due to an aviary filled with birds of prey protesting about our approach. Steve explained that whenever they discover situations like these, they carefully mark them on a map so as to avoid disturbing the animals in future.
All-in-all, it was a relatively good landing, as in no one was injured or fell out of the basket… and you somehow felt a little more grateful to be alive!
After tidying the balloon and gear, it was fizz all around (for those who thought it too early, there was juice) to toast the flight. And certificates were offered – how could I pass that up? I now had proof that I’d actually conquered my fear… well sort of 🙂
Despite my slight dread, I absolutely loved it. The staff were amazing and the experience really was beyond words. If you’ve ever considered doing this, I would recommend it. And as long as you don’t look straight down, it isn’t so bad – even for fraidy-cats like me.