Whilst the last Olympic events were taking place in London – a crowd of over 500,000 descended on Bristol’s Ashton Court for the 34th annual Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.
The four day event began on Thursday 9th August and continued throughout the weekend to a grand finale on the Sunday. The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is Europe’s largest annual hot air balloon event and is one of the UK’s top five outdoor events.
Each day there is a mass Hot Air Balloon ascent at 6.00am and 6.00pm, the infamous Nightglows on both Thursday and Saturday evenings, air displays, over 250 trade stands and caterers plus a variety of other entertainments.
So on a sunny Saturday we headed to Bristol and firstly could hear the familiar sound of The Spitfire and watched it glide effortlessly across the Bristolian skyline from Brandon Hill. (What a great vantage point!)
A brief walk via Clifton and the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge and we arrived at Ashton Court and followed the stream of people snaking into the site.
I didn’t really know what to expect – apart from the chance to see loads of fantastic hot air balloons – both on the ground and in the sky.
The music pumped out of the fairground rides, people bustled about visiting the many stalls serving locally made food and drink (yes that £2.50 a pint Severn Cider was great and very effective in that heat!) and people sat around the main field to view the full schedule of airbourne events.
The RAF Falcons are the UK’s premier military Parachute Display Team and performed a colourful and courageous aerial display. Here they were granted permission by Bristol Airport to climb to 20,000 feet to begin their descent to the showground.
Only when the flare was lit and the sound of the klaxxon boomed out did the showmen begin to jump out of the airplane and freefall until their colourful parachutes opened revealing the familiar red, white and blue colours.
A cameraman broke away from the group to film their descent – here you can view the one from The Sunderland Airshow a few week earlier.
It was quite hard taking photos of the descent as they were quite far away, the sky was extremely bright, I couldnt even see them in my viewfinder and didnt even know if it I captured them or even had focus!
I think it took about 90 seconds before they all safely landed and then were given the all-clear by the masters of ceremony to regroup and pose for a photograph to a huge applause from the excited crowds – a record attendance of 300,000 was reported for the Saturday.
It wasn’t long to wait until our first glimpse of some hot air balloons planned for the 6pm ‘Mass Ascent’ – with around 100 balloons taking part. Unfortunately due to the weather conditions (the wind had picked up just a touch) it had to be cancelled! Boo. We had been here all afternoon and still no sign of any hot air balloons yet. The next scheduled balloon event wasn’t until 9:30pm in the main event – ‘The Nightglow’.
The last train back to Cardiff was around 23:00 and so I was conscious of how late I could leave it before trying to leave with another 300,000 also leaving at the same time!
The decision was made to stay for some more cider (hic) and a fantastic West Country pasty and the chance to catch at least the first 5-10 minutes of the much anticipated ‘Nightglow’.
The Heart FM DJ whipped the ever increasing crowd numbers into a frenzy and created the largest Mexican Wave in the world. I’m not entirely sure it was verified by Guiness World Records but it was great fun and passed a few more minutes.
And so the sun had finally set, some rain clouds threatened and the scene was set for ‘The Nightglow’. I have never seen a patch of grass so jam packed with people (and prams!) and as The Nightglow drew ever closer people were fighting for better viewing positions. People that had been comfortably sat in their positions all day got angered as more and more people squeezed in forcing everyone to then stand!
And so it was time – bang on 9:30pm X Factor voiceover man Peter Dickson built up the atmosphere even more and got proceedings underway.
And whoosh – the music blasted out and the 30 or so balloons lit in time to the sound track from Take That-Relight my fire, John Travolta-Grease Lightning to name a few (you sorta get the idea what they done here!)
It was quite a spectacular sight and was a great finale to the whole day.
With the train journey back getting ever closer and ensure we beat the crowds leaving – we left only a few minutes into ‘The Nightglow’. So it was a bit of a shame that we didn’t really get to see much hot-air balloon action at all on the day so to make up for it here is someone else’s timelapse video of what we missed on YouTube!
The full set of photos can be viewed by clicking play on the slideshow below or visiting the set on Flickr below.