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Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2015



850 acres of historic parkland provided the scenic backdrop for the 37th Tribute Bristol International Balloon Fiesta at Ashton Court Estate.

Taking place this year from 6th- 9th of August, this ever-popular event sees not only hot air balloons of all shapes and sizes but also entertainment for all of the family. A fairground, stalls, stages hosting musicians, flight simulators and food outlets to name just a few.

I have been a visitor to this event with friends and family for years. I have also been lucky enough to have experienced a flight in one of the balloons during the mass ascent a couple of years ago which was one of the best things I have ever had the chance to do.

Packing up my camera bag I headed south on the M5 with the majority of the west of England! After checking in to the media centre I popped into CSMA hospitality and for a much-needed coffee and to plan my day with the help of my fiesta programme.

Despite the glorious sunshine and the blue sky, there were a few changes to the flying schedule. It was advertised that on both days of the weekend the growing crowds would be entertained by the BBMF Spitfire, Hurricane and Dakota.

Spitfires have been a lifelong love of mine and having spent an entire day with the BBMF at RAF Coningsby earlier in the year I was looking forward to seeing this impressive lot again. Display favourites the Breitling Wing walkers were also headed our way but first to arrive and land was the Great Western Air Ambulance, or GWAAC as it is known.

The GWAAC team are on stand by every day of the year and attend emergencies across Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Bath and North Somerset. They do not receive any day to day funding from the Government and rely of public donations to keep the air ambulance in the air and saving lives. Crewed today by a pilot, critical care doctor – Dr Phil Cowburn and critical care paramedic James Yates. They were welcomed by Nicole Beebee, their community fundraising coordinator. For a £1 donation, visitors were able to get up close to the helicopter and talk to the team. It was lovely to see one lady in particular who had been helped after an incident by them and wanted to personally thank them for helping to save her life. At which point the team received a call to an emergency and the crowds were treated to an exciting and noisy departure!

I decided to have a wander around and soak up the fiesta atmosphere as the arena was now all quiet. The food selection was wonderful from cheesy chips to the more exotic Thai cuisine, all corners of the world were available along with a couple of bars tents to help quench your thirst!

As in previous years, the RAF have had a presence at the fiesta in the form of volunteers running a well-stocked RAFA stall. I had the pleasure of meeting Flight Lieutenant Chris Hart of the Typhoon project team for the MOD who was spending his day off helping out.

News arrived that the Spitfire, which was en-route from RAF Coningsby had encountered unforeseen technical issues and had had to turn back. This was a real blow to the expectant crowds however, the team wanted to ensure that the Spitfire would be fit for display at the fiesta the following day.

The Breitling Wing Walkers had to push their arrival back by a couple of hours due to the wind but when they were finally able to display – the crowds were not disappointed! The two brightly coloured Stearman biplanes with the wing walkers strapped to the top perform a breath-taking sequence of acrobatic manoeuvres whilst the team pilots put the aircraft through its paces including loops, rolls and stall turns in speeds of up to 150mph and forces of up to 4G.

As the evening closed in the crowds grew and the venue reached its capacity of around 600,000. The Bristol international balloon fiesta is a free event with a charge of £10 per car to park on site. There are other local places that charge less to park and are within easy walking distance of the fiesta. There is also a bus service provided from Bristol Centre and Temple Meads Station that runs every 10 minutes. Due to the high volume of traffic driving to the site this did mean that passengers on the buses occasionally ended up walking part of the journey.

Luckily the weather was still on our side and the planned mass ascent took place at 6pm in spectacular and breath-taking fashion! Crowds far and wide were treated to one of the most stunning and colourful arrays of hot air balloons in all shapes and sizes. If that wasn’t enough to feast your eyes on, the evening continued with a ‘night-glow’ of 30 balloons tethered on the ground, accompanied by a rousing soundtrack. The balloons perform a synchronised display in time to the music, which sets the tone for the wonderful firework display that brought the day to a close.

Sunday brought dull and overcast skies to the balloon fiesta, but that didn’t deter the 6am balloon ascent. It also didn’t deter the crowds at all. They were once again en mass to watch the ‘Parabatix’ display (www.parabatix.com) They kept everyone entertained until the early arrival of the much anticipated BBMF Spitfire PM631. After a short solo display the pilot whisked the aircraft back up to RAF Coningsby for much needed rest.

RAF Falcons despite the weather were eventually able to drop into the arena, it was touch and go for a while! They met their enthusiastic fans before the Brizzle drizzle appeared just after 5pm.

The balloonists rallied on in spite of the ever worsening weather and completed a record-breaking 7 out of 7 mass ascents over the course of the weekend - bringing the 27th Tribute Bristol International Balloon Fiesta to a momentous close.

All in all a great family weekend and highly recommended to anyone who has not experienced this event before.

Review by Kate Williams-Brown
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