What now? Me, thousands of feet in the air? As one who quakes climbing ladders why I so enthusiastically agreed to a hot air balloon flight, well, I’m still not quite sure. That ridiculous sunshine had a hand in it, plus all the chocolate Easter egg eating has been known to dial up my crazy – mostly though, who could pass that offer up?
The opportunity came by way of Kinross-based Webster Adventures who offer hot air balloon experiences for groups of up to four people. Since 2014, their signature bright orange balloon has been flying the globe, scooping world records as it goes. Closer to home, over the years it has been thrilling customers with hour-long rides over Perth and Kinross while also providing the perfect setting for a number of romantic proposals.
I mean this was all quite the spectacle, but I actually had to go UP in that thing…
Those weren’t on my agenda but I’ll take the (preferably middle-aged and safe) thrills thanks. Upon arrival in Kinross, I was met by lovely entrepreneur Daniel Webster whose businesses include luxury house-building, self-storage and local honey production amongst others. His balloon business is unique in allowing a minimum of two people to fly (making it perfect for special occasions!) where most other operators require five. He introduced our pilot Pete Forster who, with over 2000 hours of balloon-flying under his belt, was to steer, navigate and ultimately land the wicker vessel.
As I came to learn, ballooning is a pretty physical activity for those involved in the prep work, flying and dismantling. My family who’d come to wave me off, watched thrilled as the balloon was inflated. It wasn’t long before its giant, orange magnificence drew a crowd. I busied myself with taking pictures in efforts to contain my now jangling nerves. I mean this was all quite the spectacle, but I actually had to go UP in that thing…
Pilot Pete drew us together to check our suitability to fly and to demonstrate positioning in the event the balloon tilted over during landing. Then there was my hair. Who knew hair safety was a thing? With gas burners situated just above our heads in the basket, I’m grateful for the advice to tie it back before lift-off. It wouldn’t be that kind of a hair-raising adventure….
So we climb into the basket, we practice our landing drills, I respectfully note distance from burners to my head and then tuck hair into my jacket collar. Unnecessary perhaps but, well, safety first….
Anticipation was now mounting. Curious passers-by had phones in hands and were happily snapping. My kids’ capered about excitedly like recently-released zoo animals. Time for lift off….!
I braced myself for jerking and jostling but instead, it was the gentlest of movements as the basket hovered delicately off the ground before rising slowly and gracefully into the air. I forgot everything - the pictures I was supposed to be taking, to wave to my crazed children, to hang on to my hair as we swept upwards – I was immobilised. But not by terror. Instead, I felt an enormous, whole-body-swelling sense of exhilaration – the kind that makes you want to giggle and hug strangers (did plenty of the first, refrained from the latter…)
Perthshire fields in all their glorious spring colours unfurled themselves like a giant patchwork quilt.
But it was climbing further up that we really got the delicious stuff. There, bobbing gently on the air streams, people on the ground were pin drops, buildings all cutesy match box sized, Perthshire fields in all their glorious spring colours unfurled themselves like a giant patchwork quilt and the hills we hovered over arched up to meet us.
We’d hoped for a ride over Loch Leven but hot air ballooning isn’t known for predictability. Left at the mercy of the wind direction, we instead glided gently over towards Glenfarg with the support truck following us all the while.
Pete was a fountain of knowledge about the local area and on ballooning but when it came time to landing, his focus shifted. While customers are there to enjoy the ride, the pilot is already considering a suitable landing spot and despite continuing to chat, he was clearly intent on landing the balloon safely.
At this time of year, Pete pays extra attention to the suitability of landing sites. With so many wide-open fields there’s lots of scope for a safe landing but the presence of livestock is a huge consideration and Pete took great pains to avoid getting too close to sheep and cattle as we made our descent. Unfortunately as the wind changed direction, the empty field he’d earmarked became too difficult to reach so he lifted the balloon up to search again. Then there were the power lines and that pair of bulls – all putting paid to landing attempts.
The sun was throwing up all kinds of pink and orange wonderful as having eventually located an empty field, Pete brought the balloon safely down. With a reminder to hold on, bend knees and to adopt our positions, I steeled myself for a basket tip but instead, the balloon stayed up right. Touch down!
Customers aren’t expected to get involved in the pack up but it was all part of the experience as we got on our knees and worked together to squeeze out all those leftover feet of cubic air and wrap up the balloon. With the support truck there, we were headed back to Kinross within 15 minutes, rounding out a Friday night that for me, will go down in the history books.
If like me, you struggle with heights, please don’t discount balloon riding! In such capable hands, you can fully immerse yourself in the moment while savouring the sheer peace and serenity which only comes from floating high above the earth. If I’d followed the sensible, I’d have missed out on this incredible opportunity to put my head in the clouds and observe the world from a different angle. And don’t we all need to do that from time to time?
For further details on Webster Adventures, and to book an experience which costs from £130, please call 0808 169 6100 or check out their website.
Hayley is raising funds for Clic Sargent, the Children’s Cancer charity that supported her since she was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour.
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