Take off might be rough and landing may be worse but if you’re game let’s give it a go,” says David Partridge, managing director of hot air balloon company Air 2 Air, who reassuringly tells me he built his first balloon in his back garden.
“Rough” sounds distinctly dangerous. Your intrepid reporter may go to reasonable lengths for a story but nobody said anything about heights. Kate Adie I am not. Ambitions to dice with death in war zones have long been replaced by the gentle pursuit of new yogurt stories. But I’m standing in the Royal Crescent in Bath with 2,000 spectators and a photographer urging me to get into the basket. This looks no bigger than something that would hold a couple of tins of Fortnum’s patÃ©, fuelled only by a Bunsen burner and thousands of feet of nylon.
I do as I’m told and gingerly climb in. The balloon is being held down by a crowd of ruggedly handsome men – which seems like another good reason for staying firmly on the ground – but suddenly they let go and we’re off. It’s like being in a very fast glass lift – or at least I think it is, but I have my eyes shut. “It’s just brilliant,” Partridge says as he leans over the edge of the basket to take some shots of rapidly disappearing terra firma.
Gradually as we glide above the trees and out into the countryside I begin to agree with him. Apart from the hissing of the burner and the noise of a few barking dogs there’s complete silence and the ground looks like a film set.
He adds: “Some people are quite apprehensive when they first take off and look a bit green but end up wanting another go.”
His company organises flights for corporate days out, incentive and competition winners, and for individuals, at a cost of about 130 a head. They fly from 150 different locations nationwide.
Our flight takes place on a hot, though windy, summer’s day, but all participants are given an air coupon valid for a year so if the flight is cancelled because of bad weather it can be rebooked. Among those that have used Air 2 Air for promotions and incentives are Vauxhall, Bell’s Whisky, The Sunday Times, Toshiba and Nikon.
An hour hence, as the sun begins to set, Partridge looks for somewhere to land and consults the retrieval vehicle, which is tracking us on the ground. We spot a likely looking field – no animals, crops, irate farmers and, most importantly, no electricity pylons – and head for it.
The descent is rapid and the basket touches down with a jolt, drags on its side and then rights itself. Despite being warned that it might be bumpy, the landing is fine. We climb out ready to help the recovery crew fold the balloon, only to be charged by some pigs who are more startled than we are. However, once the local farmer has rounded them up we can get on with our complimentary champagne and check our diaries for a date to do it again.