Ever since Arthur Street’s Communications Company sponsored the 1988 British National Championships held at the old East Devon College, Tiverton, he has been involved in Balloon Meets all over the place. His Ride Business, Aerosaurus Balloons, had been the Balloon Activity Directors on behalf of The Lions Club of Tavistock and Tavistock Round Table for the Westcountry Balloon Fiesta at Tavistock, West Devon, almost every year since 1996. Sadly this great event was cancelled in 2012 due to insurance issues and increasing overheads. Following a failed attempt to reintroduce the display on a smaller scale in 2013, unfortunately there are now no plans to reintroduce the event in the foreseeable future. All was not lost though and, since its inception in 2011, they have now become the Event Directors for the Tiverton Balloon Festival held at the combined campus of Petroc College and Tiverton High School, Bolham Road, Tiverton, part of the old East Devon College. Always a popular venue in a fine flying area (weather permitting!) this year the Festival was held over the weekend 12-14 July so when Steve and Helen Bray realised they may need a flight or two to get current before Metz they decided to head for Devon and make the most of it. Helen penned this report for Hot Gossip the London Regions’ Magazine. Thanks to her for allowing us to publish it here.
Looking at the back pages of Aerostat in spring, Steve and I were struck by the timing of Tiverton Balloon Festival just a couple of weeks before Metz so hopefully a good opportunity to make sure of those pesky 3 flights within 90 days. Dave Johnson had been before and, while flying wasn’t possible that year, still came back saying what a good time they’d had. Any balloon festival which is fun with no flying has to be tried, so we booked ourselves in and over the last few weeks watched with amazement as the Jet Stream finally did its thing.
As well as giving Steve those three flights even before we headed south west, conditions were also looking great for our trip to Devon. Classic Friday traffic (plus time well spent stopping to congratulate Chris Dunkley on the arrival of his granddaughter that morning) meant we arrived not long before evening briefing with our crew still hours behind. No problem, Dorothy (Mandy Dickinson’s aunt, so well used to balloons) came to join in, even helping to put up our tent on the neighbouring field, then our next door campers heard we were light and offered a driver! Liking it down here already……The speed with which everything happened meant I took a little time adjusting to the fact we’d been chucked in the air were floating over what proved to be classic British farmland. Small fields, undulating terrain, lots of laid-back cows and sheep but also, the joy, a decent choice of cut fields and set aside. Luckily neither pilot nor driver were phased like I was and a lovely hour in the air followed by Dave-the-driver finding a local who offered to phone the landowner and get immediate permission to come on in, proved a perfect start to the weekend.
The site of the festival is Tiverton High School, which unlike many still has a significant amount of outdoor space, all well used by the festival. We were given a decent sized field for camping and refueling with the briefing room (aka drama classroom) next door, loos provided and reasonable showers (as long as you were no more than 4ft tall) in the sports hall opposite. We even managed to save tent space for crew Mark 2 (all female again I’ve just realised – how does Steve do it?) who arrived in time for semi-darkness tent-erecting and a cooling glass of cider (or maybe it was wine) before setting the alarm for 5.30 the next morning. Ok, it’s early, but with the launch site 30 seconds away (a whole minute by foot) it could be so much worse.
To cut a long ballooning tale short, for once, every single slot was flown that weekend Sunday evening was a bit gusty apparently but hey, we were home by then and all were amazing. Of particular note were the farmers, they were all so friendly and pleased, even keen, to welcome us. Twice choosing a field with small children beckoning us in may have helped there! Also the scourge of large farms, with anonymous owners many miles away, doesn’t seem to have hit this area yet. Some of the smaller roads were interesting to retrieve on being narrow, occasionally twisty, and with dense hedges. Never mind, there was almost always a circular route you could take rather than having to reverse up a narrow lane which was a good job, the state of my reversing. Luckily we don’t need that skill overmuch in France a few weeks later! The comic moment of the weekend was Steve running up the track to show the retrieve crew the route into the field, then missing it (twice) as they drove back!! I am pleased to report I can pack away a 77 envelope by myself, and they weren’t actually that long.
A spine tingling moment for me was when we flew from a field slightly north of the launch site, on Saturday evening, and flew directly over the site. I’m used to mass waving but we’re normally taking off too rapidly to hear any noise. It seemed really weird to have the festival crowd cheering you enthusiastically for doing what you want to do anyway! Maybe that’s how Olympians feel?
Other entertainment was provided during the day and after the evening flights, including two small music stages (there was comedy on Friday evening), Tiger Moths overhead, a craft and local produce tent (mmmm, the ice cream and cider, can’t decide which were the best) and of course balloons inflating in the afternoon and a compact and bijou Night Glow, complete with fire dancers. The new Paddy Power pants balloon took part in the former and is certainly an amusing talking point! Unlike some special shapes it also went for a flight in the evening, but only a brief one (boom, boom).
Now of course we are biased because of the weather, and four successful flights, but we all agreed it was a fantastic meet, incredibly friendly, and one we’d love to return to. Now, should I hope that England don’t qualify for the 2014 Football World Cup so we can go back next year?
Pictures Richard Cole, Bob Small, Steve Bray & Co.