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" The Big Balloon (Birthday Present) Flight "

Date & start time: Wednesday 4th May 2011, 7.30 am start.

Location of Start : The Gilpin Bridge Inn, Levens, South Cumbria, Uk ( SD 495 855)

Places visited : Laurence House Farm, Lyth Valley, Whitbarrow, Winster Valley, Bridge House Farm.

Flight details : 7.6 mls, 5216 ft of ascent, 1 hrs 20 mins.

Highest point : Airborne over Whitbarrow Scar 5279 ft - 1624 m.

Flew with : Ann and myself ( the dogs were still asleep at home) The pilot Graham and eight other balloonists.

Weather : A clear sunrise at the start of a beautiful day.


"The Big Balloon Flight" at EveryTrail

[ Alter the settings to zoom or change the Map, use Everytrail to download the Gps route ]


As may be suspected from the grey, almost white hair, I'm not as young as I like to believe I am

and to emphasise the fact that another big '0' birthday has come and gone, our children bought me a ticket for a balloon flight.

Today, after just one delay due to poor weather last month, the big day has arrived

and Ann and I take to the air over Cumbria.

After the 3.30 am bedside alarm broke the silence of the night

it was out of bed, get dressed and be on our way, heading to South Lakes via the A66, Penrith and the M6 to Kendal.

This was the first hint of sunrise over Cross Fell on the Pennines at just before 5 am.

Dawn at our meeting point, the Gilpin Bridge Inn car park.
We watched the sun rise on White Scar while we waited.

Gradually the car park filled as ten people gathered and waited for the magic hour of 6am

the appointed time to be there for our flight.

On cue, the Land Rover arrived and after morning greetings and introductions we scrambled in, ready for the short drive to Levens

where we drove into a farmers field with the balloon trailer in tow.

There now followed a well practiced routine for Graham, our pilot, and his two helpers (whose names escape me).

The first was to remove the basket from the trailer and rig it ready for the flight.

Time for a quick safety check of the burners . . .
. . . which lit the sky in dramatic fashion.

Although it was classed as a leisure flight we didn't get away with just standing and watching

if fact, helping with the set up of the balloon was one of the highlights of the morning.

First the balloon canopy was spread out across the field.

Then the basket was carefully tipped on its side ready to connect the cables and stays.

A large portable fan was placed alongside the neck of the canopy, held open by myself and a fellow balloonist

and we started to inflate the balloon, first with a strong blast of cold air.

All the stays are checked and the balloon starts to take shape.

Into the labyrinth.

As the fan did its work so the enormity of the structure became apparent.

That's Graham in there, checking the internal control ropes were properly set as the balloon expanded.

The neck was now able to hold itself open so I chanced a visit to the other end of the balloon

and caught the bright morning sun shining on the artwork of the structure.

(This was the view looking in through the top vent)

Now half inflated with cold air, the balloon starts to take shape.

A small party balloon filled with helium had been set adrift from the take off point to confirm the wind strength and wind direction.

All things were 'go' for the next stage . . .

The burners were lit and the first of the hot air was carried inside the balloon.

The effect was immediate . . . the balloon was starting to come alive.

First lift ...
the cold air fan is removed ...
the canopy is clear of the ground ...
Extra propane to boost the heat ...
Nearly there ...
Almost ready for take off ...

With sufficient hot air to keep it aloft, but not so much that it would take off without us

Graham did the final checks, fixed the navigation Gps and we all climbed aboard.

On this cold, slightly frosty South lakes morning

the noise of the burners at full power

broke the silence of an otherwise quiet field.


- - - o o o - - -


A blast of warm radiant heat

bathed our faces as we looked up

to see the flame.

Full power as the flame shoots high into the neck of the balloon.

The Land Rover . . . with the reflection of the flame in its windscreen.

- - - o o o - - -

A gentle sway under our feet made us look down . . . we had left the ground

and we were airborne in our lighter than air, flying machine.

Take off time 7.11 am B.S.T.

Our first view over the wall of Laurence House Farm opposite.

Our Land Rover, the farmer's quad bike, and one car by the gate

suddenly changed to miniature as we rose into the morning air.

The flight started from a field adjacent to Levens Hall.

Normally hidden by trees, it was to be revealed in all its glory.

The ornate gardens and fine topiary complement this fine 'Stately Home' which dates from the 1590's .

It is open to the public . . . check out the details here

Looking down on the River Kent as it makes its way south and west to the sea at Arnside.

High above the trees now, we can see across to White Scar and along the A590 road.

Below us the village of Levens . . . set out like a model village.

Our original southerly drift has changed now to a north westerly one as we leave the ground winds behind and join the main airflow at the higher level. The low level airs were the cool catabatic winds flowing off the Cumbrian fells towards the sea. Up here we join the helium tracer balloon's flight path as the forecasted light winds carry us north up the Lyth Valley towards Windermere.

Our balloon casts a shadow on the fields behind Gilpin Bridge where we first parked and met up this morning.

White Scar can new been seen as it really is . . . the southern escarpment of Whitbarrow.

The meanders of the River Kent are set out below

as we look across to Arnside Knott on the left and Grange over Sands on the far right.

We settle in to the routine of the flight . . .
. . . time for a quick team photo.

"Flying High" over Whitbarrow Scar

A second shot, a little closer in.

Looking down this time on Scout Scar with Brunt Knott and the Staveley fells behind.

Graham could turn the balloon using the side vents in order that we could all enjoy the views of the fells.

The northern end of Whitbarrow with Windermere and the Coniston Fells behind.

We are probably up at about four thousand feet at this time.

Looking across the Winster Valley to Gummer How and Moor How on this side of the lake.

The pyramid of Caw Fell can be seen at the western end of the Duddon Fells.

An extra burn of gas takes us towards our highest altitude . . .
. . . 5279 ft above sea level at 7.29 am this Wednesday morning.

We're half an hour into the flight (42 mins less the Land Rover journey), 1 hour 40 mins since we met up at Gilpin Bridge.

We've covered 3.24 miles and we're travelling at 15.3 mph, in time with the wind. Max altitude of the day 5302 ft.

Tracklog, altitude and speed, courtesy of the Gps.

High above Storth and Arnside with Morcambe and Heysham in the far distance.

Up here we have a slight haze but above us there's evidence of really clear air with hardly a cloud.

Plenty of time to look around . . .

Click here or on the photo above for a Loweswatercam 360 degree annotated panorama.

As the flight continues we lose height and head down for a closer look at Whitbarrow Fell.

Unlike the more famous Lakeland fells in the distance, these are limestone escarpments with a whole different appearance.

Strangely there's no sense of vertigo even though we are looking directly down.

There's no breeze as we are travelling at the same speed as the wind

and there's not a sound apart from the chatter of the crew and the occasional roar of the burners.

Looking down on the village of Row . . .
. . . and the fence line of Wakebarrow Woods.

The most surprising technical aspect of the flight was the speed at which we climbed and the speed at which we descended.

Grahams use of the burners, plus a natural delay of twenty or thirty seconds, controlled our altitude and rate of descent.

Closer to the ground, our shadow is cast on the fell side below.

From here we could see the rabbits out on the grass or suddenly scurrying for cover.

Our shadow dwarfs a large Oak tree on the left.

Ann enjoying the views from the basket.

The pilot judges the rate of descent and the edge of the escarpment ahead

to make sure we clear the ground with sufficient margin of safety.

Drifting gently over the edge.

Broad Oak Farm . . . the bends in the road matching the map exactly.

Though they were not quite in the photo at this point

the children of Low House waved and called to us as we passed overhead.

Identify the animals . . . looking straight down gives little sense of perspective.

Are they cattle, sheep, horses . . . maybe even a giraffe or camel looking at the shadows cast by the low morning sun.

Question answered . . . a herd of Alpaca

A low pass over Woodside Farm.

Down below we spot our Land Rover and trailer shadowing us as we fly along.

This close to the ground the winds are light and fickle.

I imagine Graham is already looking for a suitable landing field.

The rock outcrop is called Scale Hill, the same name as the small hill just a quarter of a mile from our cottage in Loweswater.

The cattle are aware of our presence and moved to a different field.

It's like the Wilder Beast of the Serengeti . . . only greener !

Mmmm . . . I wonder which field the breeze will take us too.

As we rounded Scale Hill the Gps showed us doing a complete circle in one of its eddies.

The sheep cross the top of the rocks as we pass by.

Very little height now as we seem to have almost stopped over this field.

The breeze has other ideas and we are pushed sideways towards the trees and the fence line.

A burst of flame in order to stay clear of the tree canopy.

Still not certain which field is ours . . .

It looks like this might be the one . . .
. . . and the ground crew are in agreement

We touch the ground with the gentlest of bumps . . . it was so smooth you could say we just "settled quietly on the grass".

A steady haul in of the top canopy sheet and the hot air is rapidly vented.

There's no way the balloon is going to take off again now.

The canopy collapses, momentarily on top of us,

but the actions of the breeze and the ground crew encourage it away and to settle on the ground alongside.


The once proud hot air machine lies helpless on the ground . . .

. . . what was left of the hot air venting from the top and side vents.

Like the discarded skin of a giant snake, all that remains is the empty cast.

Flight over, time to relax and share a glass of bubbly.

Graham recites the Balloonists Prayer ...
and anoints each forehead ...
with a splash of Champagne.

- - - o o o - - -

" The winds have welcomed you with softness . . . the sun has blessed you with his warm hands.

You have flown so high and so well that God has joined you in laughter

and set you gently back again into the loving arms of mother Earth."

- - - o o o - - -

" Two new Balloonatics "

Time to pack the large balloon into a small pack, load it back into the trailer

and climb aboard the Land Rover for the return journey to Gilpin Bridge.

Retracing our steps . . . this time at ground level.

Back once more at the start . . . after a wonderful morning flight . . . and it's still only 9.30 am

I lie in bed later than that on some non-work days !

- - - o o o - - -

If you want details of how to "Go Ballooning" . . . click here or on the balloon above.

They have flights all over the UK.

- - - o o o - - -



Technical note: Pictures taken with either Ann's Canon 75 or my Canon G10 digital camera.

Resized in Photoshop, and built up on a Dreamweaver web builder.

This site best viewed with . . . four children to buy you a big birthday present.

Go to Top . . . © RmH.2011 . . . Email me here

Previous walk - 28th April 2011 Blencathra via Three Edges

A previous time like this - 13th April 2009 A Helicopter Tour of the Northern Lakes

Next walk - 7th May 2011 OFC 10th Anniversary Celebrations