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Floating toward the Pentlands

Yesterday we had a very special treat: Keir and I went up in a hot air balloon from Bush House, south of Edinburgh, and floated south-west for about 8 miles, broadly parallel to the A702, at heights ranging from tree-tops to 3000 feet. Each of us had been given an Experience Ecosse voucher as a present for a past birthday by son Sandy. Since ballooning demands still, dry weathe, it naturally took several bookings to get on a flight that went ahead. Our pilot was Pete Foster of Alba Ballooning, ably assisted by pursuit driver Tam. (Tam also has the delicate task of negotiating access to retrieve the balloon with whichever farmer's field is used for landing.) Pete is highly professional, refreshingly concise and calm in his safety briefings, and, as you can see, utterly dwarfed by his balloon:

PeteAlba.jpg

A feature of the experience is that everybody helps to manhandle, blow up and, later, douse the balloon. This gives you a much more hands-on sense of the scale and weight of this extraordinarily 19th-century form of transport by wicker basket. The pilot has no steering, only the ability to control altitude and hence perhaps to benefit from a different wind direction. Here is Keir, wearing thermal gloves and holding the mouth open while burners are blasting very hot air into it:

KeirHelping.jpg

Our 7 fellow passengers included another person on a birthday treat - his eighth. He did seem to enjoy the flight, but I found myself wondering what his mother, who came along sporting her D&G handbag and fashion shoes, will find to give him for his ninth. Keir and I were celebrating birthdays totalling 121 years, and I don't mean to suggest that makes us any more deserving than an 8-year old, but at least we could see out over the basket.

We also enjoyed watching the balloon's effect on the astonishing range of people and animals whom we overflew. It's difficult not to feel elevated when looking down over barking dogs, cantering horses and waving children. We were also buzzed by some microlite enthusiasts. Fortunately, in the air as at sea, motorised transport gives way to sail. Here's one of them:

MicroLiteR.jpg

We all enjoyed the eerily silent smooth take-off and at dusk had an exciting, but well-controlled landing: just a few bounces and the basket landed on its side. The departure from the basket was orderly and surprisingly trouble-free given that some folk had to climb down from the upper deck. The flight was rounded off by a glass of bubbly, and we returned to Landrick both elated and soothed. Brilliant!

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