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Monday, May 23, 2022

VIDEO: Up, up and away in a beautiful balloon flight in the Shropshire countryside

Shropshire Live took a hot air balloon flight across the beautiful Shropshire countryside – but it took some persuasion!

See the video as Shropshire Live takes to the air in a hot air balloon

Heights are not for me!

When Virgin Balloon Flights contacted us to ask if we would like to come along on a balloon flight we couldn’t say no. But a series of situations left only one team member available on the day of the flight – that would be me and I’m not good with heights!

There is something rather magical about a hot air balloon, whenever you are out and about and see a balloon in the air, everyone’s eyes are automatically drawn to the floating wonder. ‘Look, look over there, it’s a hot air balloon!’ you excitedly shout to whoever is with you. But for me, I have always thought it looks alluring, but there is no chance of you getting me in a basket thousands of feet in the air. Anyone with a fear of heights will know that familiar, irrational feeling that encompasses us when heights are involved.

For example, walking along Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, near Llangollen, it all seems ok to start with, but within a matter of moments, my legs start to tremble and I cling to my mobile phone for dear life as I try to capture the view from the railing. My palms are clammy and looking directly down over the side is never remotely a possibility, or I feel like it could turn into that Mr Bean sketch at the top of the diving boards!

Next, is the London Eye. Just those three words give me traumatic flashbacks to my experience with the capital’s attraction. Barely five minutes in my hands began to sweat, my breathing quickened and the constant looping internal monologue of ‘I want to get off’ began. Hardly level with the roof of the building behind us and I was panicking at the height. I sat paralysed on the seat in the middle of the capsule for what seemed like an eternity.

So now hopefully you can understand my reluctance when asked to take a balloon flight, it is like going from level 1 to 10!

The backup plan

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The Virgin Balloon Flights head office is based in Telford and they had just received their sparkling new hot air balloon and asked if we wanted to see and fly? Although I had already agreed to go along to see the new balloon inflated and chat with the team, I was not going to take a flight and arranged for a happy replacement, my sister-in-law Louise. Unlike me, she was super excited to fly the Shropshire Live flag and take the flight while capturing some stunning photos and video from the air.

But Maria, Head of Marketing at Virgin Balloon Flights, really didn’t want me to miss the opportunity and so offered me a place, just in case I changed my mind. Maria explained that she too is not good with heights, but told me that going up in a hot air balloon is a completely different experience and she had happily flown numerous times. She said the balloon drifts up slowly and your view is of the landscape and horizon, you don’t get the sense of height you would looking directly down – a seed had been planted!

As the big day approached, I started to have an internal argument in my mind – am I really not going to take this opportunity to see beautiful Shropshire in all its glory from the air? The other half of me said- no don’t go up you will hate every minute of it, have a panic attack and embarrass yourself Martin – you fool!

On the day of the balloon flight

The perfect weather for flying at Sleap Airfield, Wem

I awoke early on the Friday morning, too early – it was 3am, my head was awash with nonsense and fear, ‘I can’t do it, why should I do something I wasn’t going to enjoy?’ I made a decision – I’m going to politely decline. But after a coffee and a shower, I had once again swung my thoughts the other way, this will be an amazing experience, I can do this.

I drove to the launch site of Sleap Airfield in Wem in complete silence, I think I had already committed myself by this stage, thanks to extra encouragement from family and friends.

On arrival, it was a glorious morning and sunrise. I saw the basket and was surprised by how big it was, I pictured something much smaller with sandbags around the side – maybe I had watched too many films! The inside of the basket was split into 5 sections – the middle for the pilot and gas canisters with 4 outer sections for passengers, with space for 4 passengers in each.

Martin steps inside the balloon as it is being inflated with cold air

I met the Virgin Balloon Flight team who made everything very relaxing and enjoyable, you even get to help unpack the massive balloon. Being up close to it you don’t appreciate how big it is and as this was over £80,000 worth of balloon, I was scared to even touch it!

The fans started and the balloon slowly started to inflate, after around 20 minutes it was fully inflated. The balloon was now raring to lift off, maybe now was a good time to slip away – no, no you cannot back out now – it was though time for a nervous toilet break!

Up, up and away we go…..

On heading back to the balloon I was taking a video when I noticed my fellow passengers had disappeared, my sister-in-law was in the basket waving – without thinking I rushed over and clambered into the basket. The burner blew in the hot air and we were unleased…..are we moving….is this actually going up…..oh yes we are! I felt a slight nervous wobbling in my legs but I was committed now, plus no one else on the flight seemed at all nervous, everyone was happily taking videos and photos and waving – in fact, to my surprise, I was very calm, everything just seemed so slow as we just drifted up ever so gently and I was able to admire the breath-taking view.

The one thing that is so strange is the quietness, only hearing the occasional blast of the gas burner fire up as we rose delicately upwards. Considering I was with another 12 people in the basket everyone seemed silenced into sheer amazement at this wonderful panoramic view of the county.

The higher we went, the more amazing it became. Although it was a slightly misty morning we drifted above the mist and there was a beautiful blue sky and beaming sunshine, it was not cold and nor did you feel any wind – it was like floating on air – oh hold on we were!

It was at this point I felt so happy that I had beat my internal negative dialogue and a huge sense of accomplishment. I was conscious that I wouldn’t look directly down over the side, I didn’t want to spoil this feeling but there was always an option to sit down in the basket if I did feel uncomfortable.

Rising above the mist covering Shropshire to expose the beautiful blue sky above

….it strangely felt like we were going into space!

Seeing the world from this perspective really was something else, and looking off into the horizon and the blue sky, it strangely felt like we were going into space!

I must admit though, when someone asked Chris, our pilot, how high we were, and he replied 4,000 feet – I did have a wave of fearfulness, ‘that’s rather high isn’t it’ I thought, but before the panic could settle in we slowly began drifting down and I felt a lot happier.

The mist had cleared, and I decided now was the time to tentatively look down over the side – and I did – and it was fine – it was spectacular and beautiful, I watched the people below like dots and what looked like toy cars driving around Shropshire’s country roads, I would happily spend all day doing this – hearing the crows in the trees and the odd sheep baaaaaaa – this really was something else.

The perfect weather for flying at Sleap Airfield, Wem

Back down to earth

Like all good things our trip was coming to an end and a landing point was identified we could see the Virgin Balloon Flight team on the road trying to catch up with us and sure enough, we took our seats for the landing, we landed so smoothly I was completely confused if we were on the ground or not?

Once we had exited the basket I was buzzing, it was disappointing to see the balloon being deflated, we all helped pack up the balloon, which was great fun and I had a chat with the pilot Chris Sanger-Davies, Ken Karlstone the CEO of Virgin Balloon flights and the lovely Maria, Head Of Marketing – which you can see in the video above.

And then to top off an amazing morning we all gathered around and popped open the champagne and excitedly discussed our fantastic morning.

It was an experience, one I’m so glad I did and that I will never forget! So, if like me you would really like to try a balloon flight but are nervous about heights – just go for it, you will love it – sometimes in life, you have just got to go with the drift!

Chris the pilot and the passengers enjoy the views of Shropshire

Thanks to Virgin Balloon Flights

Shropshire Live would like to thank all the team at Virgin Balloon Flights.

A big thank you to Virgin Balloon Flights for letting Shropshire Live come along
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