Bristol is quite the unique city. It’s arguably the thriving capital of the south west, especially in terms of youth culture and the arts. It’s become a haven for students and graduates who took one look at settling down in notoriously-cramped London and decided to flee in the opposite direction. High employment, delicious gourmet restaurants, a heady mix of contemporary arts music and stellar attractions such as science museum At-Bristol and the Cabot Circus megacomplex have only increased the city’s fame and importance in the south of England.
This certainly makes the city an exciting place to be. One of the most famous attractions in Bristol is the weekend-long International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot air event in Europe. Now in its 37th year, the event is spectacular, free, and a lot of fun. Inspired in the 1960’s by an enterprising gent named Don Cameron, the fiesta is an enormous event where the skies above the city are pockmarked with over 100 floating wonders against a predictably grey cloudscape of the sort that only the British are capable of being happy about.
OISE’s own Roland Hunter, Principal of the Bristol training centre for professionals and scholars, attended the event with 20 students and staff. Weaving their way for what seemed like an age through the Ashton Court estate, they eventually found a grassy spot where they would base themselves for the afternoon. With the camp established and the weather taking a turn for the ominous, the group split into two to explore the festival before the show started that evening.
We make base camp here, team.
They explored the fields, sampling the many offerings that the excited Bristolians had to offer. Fairground rides, inflatable slides, delicatessen and beverage stalls, confectionary, plus waves and waves of revellers. The rain encroached over the horizon, as rain often does, so the group returned to camp. Games were played to pass the time whilst the sky grumbled and threatened, but mercifully it remained gentle and calm before the show.
The first balloon rose above their heads with blasts of searing flame. The crowd cheered and applauded as the iconic machine ripped its way into the darkening sky. Other balloons followed, lurching uneasily from the sodden ground. The sight of the ascending titans was a cheerful sight - and then, of course, the rain folded in, soaking the entire court. Umbrellas shunted up in defence. But Roland and his group were left short - 4 umbrellas to a group of 20 - an unfortunate lesson to learn at such a miraculous moment.
The lucky ones
It was a fun, albiet wet, experience, and a unique sample of British culture. Roland and the group hurried back to the bus as scores of balloons wafted into the sky above the city. The Balloon Festival was assembled by a group of inspired hobbyists who took their passion across the sahara and the mountains and the Atlantic before settling back in their home city to entertain guests for free. It’s a reminder of what can be accomplished with a mixture of skill, cooperation and compassion. It's a shame the clouds drove Roland and the students from the field - but after all, what’s England without rain?
Written by Sam Kearns, Community Manager.