If you look up and see a Smurf or a huge daisy floating through the sky it’s a pretty good bet that you’re in Bristol for the annual balloon fiesta. Held over 4 days each August it attracts half a million visitors who flock to see the morning and evening balloon ascents.
We visited on the opening day of the 2014 fiesta. I’d provisionally planned to go on the Sunday but given the wet and windy forecast I decided that might be a foolish decision! The only downside to our early visit was that many of the additional events, for example the air displays and the BBC World War 1 experience (which looked fantastic), weren’t on until the Friday. On the plus side, the weather was perfect for ballooning.
The fiesta is held at Ashton Court Estate, a couple of miles from the city centre. We walked to the site from Bristol Temple Meads railway station along the dedicated Festival Way. This included a detour to walk under Clifton Suspension Bridge which I’ve only ever seen from afar; it was as impressive as I’d imagined.
I hadn’t realised quite how big an event the Bristol Balloon fiesta is. In addition to the balloons there’s a huge fairground and lots of show stands. These included a kids section with a Lego imagination station, a Little Tikes play area and a Nintendo gaming area. We wandered around these for a while, before heading over to one of the viewing hills for the main event.
There is no mass ascent on the Thursday evening but there were still a lot of balloons in the arena. The highlight is the unveiling of the special shapes and it was good fun trying to guess what the shapes were going to be. The Smurf was a popular shape with the audience although my favourite was the ‘Up’ balloon.
It was quite exciting watching the pilots and support staff getting the balloons ready for lift off. There seemed to be a lot of balloons squeezed into a small area and as the balloons inflated they’d jostle with the ones around them for space.
Moments later a loud siren went off which signalled that the balloons were allowed to take off. The kids were incredibly excited and we had great fun spotting which balloon would take off next. There was a cheer each time a balloon took off with everyone on the ground waving them off.
Some of the balloons gained height quickly and disappeared off over Bristol. A few others took a while to get going, and one in particular looked like it landed in a tree just over the brow of a hill before rising into the sky again. It was an amazing spectacle seeing the balloons heading off, one I hope the kids remember.
We left around 7.30pm which seemed to coincide with thousands of people arriving for the night glow (when the balloons are lit up to music) and fireworks. We hopped straight onto a shuttle bus back to the railway station. I dread to think what the queues would be like later in the evening, I was rather glad that I wouldn’t be finding out.
Our balloon viewing wasn’t quite over…..we spotted ‘Daisy’ from our train window as it had landed in a field a few miles out of Bristol. A perfect ending to one of the highlights of our summer!
- Bristol Balloon fiesta is held at the start of August each year. Entrance is free, although there is a charge for car parking (£6 if you book in advance). There are plenty of food stalls (not much for vegetarians) but expect to pay festival prices.