Monday, 10 August 2015

Bristol Balloon Fiesta

On Saturday I finally managed to cross a goal off my summer bucket list; Visit Bristol's annual Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.
Ever since I came to study in Bath, I've been dying to get over to Bristol in August for it's balloon festival as it boasts being the largest in Europe and has been running every year since 1979. This year, it was happening between the 6th - 9th and best of all, it's a free event for anyone with an interest in balloons to attend!
I've always had a fascination with hot air balloons, so much so that I'm even working on a YA novel about a boy who lives in one! The last few years, there had always been reasons why I couldn't get to the balloon festival - work commitments, accommodation difficulties and prior commitments but this year, George and I were due to move into our very first flat together and the move in date happened to coincide beautifully with the festival! It was meant to be.

We didn't really know much about the festival other than it was taking place at Ashton Court and we hadn't met anybody else that had been before so we really didn't know what to expect. The festival runs over the weekend beginning on the Thursday and not only does it involve a mass launch of hot air balloons - but when the sun goes down you can experience a 'Night Glow' of balloons by night, illuminating the sky and a fireworks display. By day, there are all sorts of areal displays from wing dancers on 1920's aircraft to stunt displays with parachutes and an enormous funfair with all the usual  fast-food and sweet shop vendors that come with the whole fairground shebang.
The queues for the balloon fiesta shuttle in town were unreal. Fortunately, one of George's brothers lives in Bristol so we parked at his house and caught a bus from Filton all the way down to the area near Ashton Court. We did have a 15-20 minute walk up to the grounds but it was so worth it rather than waiting for the shuttle in the Thorpe Park-esque queues - scrap that, I've never seen such queues in my life. Not even at Disneyland. We didn't even entertain parking as Stithians show parking was busy enough for me thankyou very much :P

Now I'll be honest - what we were expecting and what we got were two totally different things.
What we expected: A cosy gathering on Ashton Court green of balloon enthusiasts with blankets, wicker baskets of sparkling wine and tea treats with deck chairs and a modest little fair (similar to what we have in Bath Victoria park balloon launches).
What we got: The entire population of Bristol and beyond crammed into Ashton Court Green with an ENORMOUS funfair, a band stage, a zillion trillion fast-food vendors and sponsor tents. The atmosphere was like a festival but with more small children and babies.

We forced our way through the hive of crowded humans (crowds aren't our thing) and found ourselves a small bum-patch on which to sit and watch the areal displays for a while. George's brother left us early on to get on with his evening plans and after waiting it out till 6pm when the balloons started inflating, we watched the first few ascend and then decided to seek out less crowded pastures.

George sunbathing above and his brother Ollie below

Because it was such a scorcher of a day (rare this summer!) the balloonists weren't sure if the thermals would be compliant for safe flight and so everyone waited with held breath for the smoke signal that would tell us if the balloons would be safe to fly. Red for no go, amber for tethered but no flight and green for safe flight. Lucky for us, the green smoke rose as did the balloons!

George has a new haircut and I haven't quite decided how I feel about it yet :P I am not one for change! So much so, that I wouldn't have objected to him letting it grow to a nice piratey length to avoid getting it cut >.< I am terrible for hair cuts ... I get mine done maybe once a year (twice if I'm feeling daring) and then always lament my lost inches of hair. I'm not sure why - it's not a vanity thing. I really think it's an instant change aversion - I couldn't bring myself to tattoo myself or get any piercings or dye my hair (even though I think all those things are really cool). I'm such an old lady sometimes :P

Being a balloon festival, I decided to go along with the theme and wear my button up balloon print dress for the occasion. I think it was an ASOS find and couldn't think of a more fitting event for such a dress :)

We made friends with the grasshoppers and crickets. I really enjoy listening to them.

I was really looking forward to the novelty balloons! How cute are these penguins? There wasn't as many as I'd hoped for but maybe different ones fly on different days.

George and I battled our way through the masses yet again until we found a quiet patch on the downs around Ashton and we lay in the grass much happier and more comfortable watching the balloons drift serenely past. This was much more our idea of what we had in mind. We decided that for the 9.15pm 'Night Glow' event we would try and make our way up to Clifton Downs where we thought the atmosphere would be calmer and the views lovely but by the time we found a quiet bus stop back to the city centre and got on a bus, we had missed the Night Glow and had no hope of getting to Clifton in time so we resolved for a yummy greasy take out on College Green watching the fire dancers instead.

We decided to take the experience as a sort of scout out for next year. These are the tips I learned to enjoy the festival to the max next time in our sort of way. If you love mass crowds and a raucous atmosphere then watching it from the hub at Ashton is probably for you and it is worth a look, the fair is really cool! Plus I really did enjoy the areal displays. If you're like us, and prefer something calmer and more romantic and quaint then this is what I would recommend for enjoying the festival:

-Take a picnic blanket
-Take a basket of goodies, flask of tea or bottle of bubbles!
-Find yourself an ideal spot (Clifton downs has been recommended by a local) and set up camp early. Take a book, get comfortable and warm and wait the spectacle of the launches and Night Glow!
-Park out in the suburbs (perhaps a friends house if you're lucky enough to know someone with parking about) and catch a regular bus into town for your viewing spot of choice

Next year, we'll get there early with all the comforts that we are fortunate enough to be able to enjoy (like cosy blankets and cake!) and enjoy the festival in a much calmer and more relaxed pace. Hopefully next time we'll get to see the Night Glow and fireworks too! I hear the Suspension Bridge is a favourite for views.

Look! A box Dragon! :D

Normally I am perfectly happy to rough it, camp out and get muddy but for this sort of event where you're spending a day surrounded by so many people it's best just to get as comfy as possible because there's a lot of sitting around and waiting involved! We also did a hell of a lot of walking (which we really don't mind).

That's not to say that the fiesta was disappointing - it was beautiful! I just feel that there's a different way to experience it for everyone and it's definitely something you want to think about and plan if you want to make a day of it and enjoy it to the max. I think had we had this advice, we would have been a lot more comfortable so I am sharing this advice with you dear world, should you find yourself in Bristol in August and looking for a free event to enjoy!
I will definitely be going back next year, perhaps to Clifton downs with a picnic and deck chair in hand with all my creature comforts and hopefully then I'll be able to photograph and behold the spectacle of the Night Glow over the Suspension Bridge.

Our little move in to our flat is almost complete (just a few bits left to add) but we're heading back to Cornwall tonight for the rest of the summer and coming back in September to start the new academic year (in my case) and start working. The place definitely has the feel of a student flat (mismatched furniture and bare walls) but the location is so perfect as town is a 3 minute walk because we're in Widcombe and our house backs onto a canal! We are very pleased with it indeed! Perhaps in September when we're settled in, I'll post a little flat tour ^_^

For now, back to Cornwall we go to cram as many little adventures in back in my beloved homelands as we can before September.



  1. These photos came out so nice, my goodness!! The clouds in the sky really knew what to do to make the atmosphere twice as lovely. It looks like you had a fabulous time even though it wasn't quite as quiet as you expected after all. ^-^ Can't wait to see your flat tour and I hope the rest of the move in goes smoothly!

    1. Oh clouds! I do love them so ^_^ They're so whispy and perfect, they really did complement the sky and the balloons beautifully so. They were very considerate to the festival go-ers :) See, clouds aren't all bad! I happen to rather admire them ^_^ Especially the alto-cumulus and cirrus! :)
      Thankyou for your loveliness Carly! I hope you're having a lovely summer filled with whispy clouds ^_^ xxx

  2. It looks a wonderful day and I like your tips as I would prefer this kind of day too, avoiding the crowds! The balloons are beautiful! I'm not feeling the grasshopper love right now as I was using the loo at camp yesterday and discovered one had got into the toilet and was panickingly trying to escape!
    P.S.That dress is perfect!x

    1. Oh no! Those pesky grasshoppers D: Oooh I bet camping was fun though! :D The weather's been not so great for camping down here at the moment - I'm desperate to go! Did you go anywhere nice? x

  3. How adorable are the peguin ballons? ❤ These pictures are so beautiful and the colors make them so ethereal... I love the cloudy sky, your dress and the mint camera (Diana F+?).

    Love your blog too!


    1. I know - those Penguin balloons were definitely one of my favourites! :P
      Thankyou Sara ^_^ And yes! It's a Diana :D It actually belongs to George but I borrowed it :P I bought it for his birthday when we first started going out so quite a while ago now ^_^
      The clouds really were perfect for the day :)

      Thankyou for your kindness! :D

  4. My best friend lives in Bristol so I've been to the Balloon Fiesta a few times. I agree completely with you, it's amazing but wow it's just too too busy! You end up sitting on a tiny patch of grass getting covered in dropped noodles with no space to stretch out. You really did have the best idea trying to find somewhere to watch it, I'll definitely have a better think about it next time I go, I'm hoping to maybe take Simon next year as he's never been.

    Your little spot looks perfect, you got some gorgeous shots!


    1. Yes that's exactly how it was D: Tiny grass space and greasy food all over the floor :P Aw man >.<
      I think for us peace-and-quiet-lovers the festival takes some clever planning to be enjoyed fully :) I'd like to go again next year though ^_^
      I hope if you go again, you have the loveliest time and your man enjoys it! :D Keep an eye out for us ^_^ x

  5. Aww what a great experience! You must have been really excited about it! All the pics are great! Loved the hot air ballon dress! Heheh such a great touch!

    1. Thanks Sophia! :D I was suuuuper excited cause I love hot air balloons :P I felt the balloon dress was definitely necessary ;)

  6. Looks like such a gorgeous event! I love hot air balloons they're so peaceful and pretty! Your photos are stunning as always :D xx

  7. * screams *


    Please excuse me while I read this post for the fourth time and hyperventilate over the beauty of it. <3!!!

    - Laura

  8. Wow, looks great. I'm not far and can't believe I've not been to this yet. Your dress is just perfect! :)


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