We like our days out especially trips down to Zebedee Balloon Services just outside Hungerford. As there are usually a few balloons to inspect and a very nice pub up the road it seems the only responsible thing to do. To make matters even more pleasant we usually go down our local seaside road, the B4009, as its really old and takes you over God’s Wonderful Railway and The Thames at Goring what is quite posh.
This time around we had the promised Bishy booked weather yet again. After checking over a pile of cylinders in the cavernous store, off we set to the very traditional Folly Dog Leg launchsite. This site has been the home of the 3.4.40 Region ever since Monty Golfer made a chicken fly and remains very popular with good tree cover and overlooking Hungerford you can fly in most directions for quite a while. Whilst red kites circled menacing over Celia’s small dog and another called Trixie with a pink bow that seemed to be under the care of Roger we set about checking out the chosen envelopes. First out was G-OVET a rather pretty Cameron sensibly sized O-56 with a picture of a cat on it which frightened the hairdresser's dogs under a car. Built in 1996 and originally owned by veterinary Ed Macholc was in really nice condition and up for grabs on the Zebedee List for £1750. A bargain and sure enough it sold very quickly, to another vet we understand from Pete.
Next up was Irish balloon EI-BSN. Now this was a jolly thing and all green at that being the old Smithwick's Brewery number. It was a tad musty but passed a serious bit of grab testing from John. Problem was, what to do with it? It could be put onto the UK register but the CAA have a sense of humour cost and procedure-wise, and all that, so we called the Irish CAA who couldn’t have been more helpful. €50 would get the ARC sorted and with minimal fuss they were happy for us to issue it and release it to service. Not quite what we usually get from Gatwick. So there we were with an authority (not that we didn’t already have it under EASA) to inspect and issue ARCs for Irish registered balloons. Not sure what this will be up for but it’s a craicing little balloon.
There was sudden break on proceedings whilst a Chinook flew very low and slow behind the trees confusing the Kites and ruffling Pink Pooch’s bow. Then Roger was out with the bins clocking a Jodel. Those boys! Back to business for us though and we had a good look at G-BUVB which seems to have turned up everywhere all at once recently. This is now a Zebedee-owned balloon and very fine it turned out to be. It’s a T&C 77A built in 1993 and hardly flown since and currently has 117 hours, which is certainly genuine. It only ever had one owner (until Zebedee) and came from Newcastle upon Tyne. This will make a nice envelope for someone if Pete can be persuaded to sell it and the CAA ever get round to transitioning it.
Last on the list was, unusually for us as we tend to do the biggest first and work back, a mightyish Cameron Z-250, G-CBFY. Straightaway we thought things would not be going to go well. The faded fabric was a big giveaway although this is not shown too well in the picture. This was owned by Mike Gabb and hadn’t been out for while but Pete wanted to have a look at it to see if it was salvageable. First impressions indicated that it didn’t look like it would be. I don’t think there was ever going to be any hope for it but nevertheless we gave it a good going over. John had his fingers through it in a jiffy and out came the grab tester and first impressions were proved correct. It was in a sorry state and the fabric gave way on all the colours apart from the green and yellow below the hyperlast, which wasn’t very generous, and selected red and blues continued to give up until the equator. Relatively speaking it had low hours for a ride balloon at 350ish but lack of hyperlast in the critical upper areas probably explained that. A report was prepared and it was deemed well beyond economic repair. Shame really as it would have been a pretty balloon in its day.
Time was flying if not the balloons as the wind had got up a fair bit and we’d clearly missed lunch. Now, Pete’s old local The Tally Ho! had closed a couple of years ago and, having been bought by a developer, was threatened with becoming a housing estate. The locals took umbrage to this and set up a ‘Save The Tally Ho!’ campaign. After loads of lobbying the local council, letters to MPs and Planning Appeals they eventually managed to buy it from the developers and now its set to re-open in September or October all being well. We had been going to the Pheasant Inn just over the M4 on the Roman Road Ermin Street so plenty of history there. It did do a fine range of beers and a cider called Pheasant Plucker which was very moreish. When we first visited some years ago it was just a brilliant pub with fantastic food. It still is but it now has a huge hotel bolted on the back and has been made-over in that dull green and everso popular grey and the Pheasant Plucker is no more. It isn’t what it was but it remains a good eatery although on this occasion we were well late! If you’re travelling down to Bristol it’s a good stop and only a few hundred yards to the north of Junction 14. Take note though, with the locals now owning the Tally Ho! there will soon be another good watering stop as its about the same distance from Junction 14 to the south on the Hungerford road just past the Hungerford Newtown sign. Formally known as the Oxford Arms there has been a pub on the site for over 250 years and its had a rather chequered history but regular working parties and a refit with secondhand stuff should return its former cosy friendly local pub atmosphere. Locally its rumoured that the Newtown was created in about 1350 as a result of the Black Death in Hungerford but its more likely a result of the local estate expanding, whatever these days it is smaller than it once was but still retains its community spirit and, at its heart, the pub. Plans are to incorporate a B&B, Community Shop and, lo’ and behold, a micro-brewery. Looks like it can’t get opened soon enough and as Pete Bish owns a bit of its going to be first round to him. Now, apparently, in the hedge between the school and the church was once a unique chain driven bucket well. Wonder if its still there?