Bristol Balloon Fiesta

Festival fatigue in Bristol is a possibility. So far, we are immune. Being newbies, we have embraced multiple festival opportunities, Upfest, Nature-fest, Veg-fest, Eat Drink Bristol fashion a celebration of food and drink (maybe that wasn’t a festival), the Harbour Festival, the festival of stone (really) and the cycle festival. This isn’t an exhaustive list of all we’ve been to, or all that are available. One single weekend there was Veg fest/Upfest/Mayfest and a couple of music festivals. We missed; Folk, Comedy, Ideas, Shakespeare and Architecture. Bristol likes a festival.

Much anticipated has been the Balloon Festival, which is actually called Bristol Balloon Fiesta (Not sure how that differs from a festival). It began on Thursday and I packed a picnic and headed to the site with the intention of watching some balloons go up at 6pm and maybe hanging about until the Night Glow at 9. The Night Glow being lit up balloons and music. I know no more because I couldn’t hack the fiesta.

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The fiesta features a huge fun fair. Each ride (and I know I sound old) playing booming music, louder than the next ride’s music, all in competition with the fiesta PA. The PA kept up a constant commentary, including a pre-recorded lengthy list of sponsors. The food stalls were mostly of the fair ground type; burgers, candy floss, pizza, with long queues. It was very crowded. There was a small rock band in a corner. Lots of those fair ground stalls with a prize of an almost life-sized cuddly animal. I don’t want a giant stuffed polar bear, my house is too small, my son disagreed. Everyone got a bit fractious.

There are other things to see over the weekend; red arrows and ariel displays. However, I was ‘over’ the whole balloon festival. Then, on Saturday morning, I got up early and heard the loud whoosh of balloon burners. Just above the house two balloons were visible. Outside, I discovered we were right under that morning’s flight path.

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There is something captivating about watching a hot air balloon drift across the sky. During the fiesta they go up in mass ascents of up to 100 balloons, watching a string of balloons in the stillness of the early morning is memorizing. You forget you haven’t cleaned your teeth and are chatting to your neighbours about the loveliness of it all in an outfit which is half night-clothes and half from the washing basket, while your hair stands on end.

Β In pursuit of balloons, we watched the Saturday evening ascent on a busy hill surrounded by picnic-ing families and portable BBQ’s. It had it’s own festival atmosphere. My son found other children to play with and spent the waiting time rolling down a hill.

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By Sunday I was caught and out of the house by 6am and settled on a spot above the suspension bridge (thanks to Mutterings of a Fool for the tip).

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Had I known which direction they were heading I think the harbour side would have a good spot.

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At about 6.45 am the first balloon appeared from behind some trees. Followed by dozens more, moving across the sky and fading into the distance, until they become ghostly shapes lit by crisp, bright, early sun light.
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I love the balloon fiesta but from a distance.

Things to know about the balloon fiesta.

The balloons go up at 6 am and 6pm in mass ascents.

Find a nice hill. Crowds gather on hills around the city (take a picnic blanket, food, wine).

The balloon ascents are dependent on weather and the twitter feed of Bristol Balloon Festival only confirms shortly before the balloons take off that they are actually flying: @bristolballoon

The direction depends on the wind, again the twitter feed doesn’t give details of which direction. Check the Met office weather forecast for wind direction.

Although the balloon ascents are 6am and 6pm they don’t seem to start to time. Patience is required. It is worth it.

20 Comments

  1. jfb57

    Brilliant post. That is exactly how I felt about the fiesta. We had grand daughter with us so had an excuse to leave after the Thursday eve ascent. I’m now hooked on balloons though & of course very proud to be a Bristolian.(I live here therefore I am one!)

  2. Midlife Singlemum

    I wrote this yesterday: I went to the balloon festival in Bristol 11 years ago. It was rained off. We walked back to the car in torrential rain after seeing one balloon optimistically inflated and none actually take off.

    What a wasted opportunity to see something spectacular.

  3. mutteringsofafool

    yeah we did the Fiesta itself just once and never bothered again. Such a dull event in the end with all that fairground crap. I love watching them at dawn rise above Bristol and float away, in fact you may remember I had that photo as my very first blog header πŸ™‚

    1. helloitsgemma

      I very much remember that photo, it was the photo that inspired me to find out more about the balloon fiesta and pop it on my Day Zero List. So thank you and thank you for the tip – the suspension bridge was the perfect place to see it.

  4. Mel

    I can’t wait to see Bristol. Do you know of other places where they have balloon festivals? This is such a beautiful shot, looks like a perfect picture for greeting cards or calendars, what do you think ? πŸ™‚

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