Somerset is as famous for its Cheddar cheese and strong ciders as it is for its coastal towns, sweeping beaches and areas of outstanding natural beauty. A hot air balloon ride over the area provides the perfect opportunity to view many of the county’s landmarks from a completely new perspective – or more specifically from anything up to 5,000 feet.
If you’re looking to explore southern Somerset, then a hot air balloon ride from the county town of Taunton – ‘town on the River Tone’ – is a fantastic way to start. In fact, anything else just wouldn’t be cricket: the town sits in the spectacular Vale of Taunton Deane between the Quantock and Blackdown Hills and its skyline is dominated by several impressive churches including that of St James, which towers over the grounds of Somerset County Cricket Club’.
Whilst ballooning over Taunton, it is possible to see beautiful Vivary Park, home of the annual Taunton Flower Shower, and Taunton Castle, which dates back as far as the Anglo Saxon times of 710. The Bridgewater and Taunton Canal is a fantastic sight to see too as colourful barges can be seen wending their way along the waterway. More unusually, military pill-boxes can be seen on the banks of the canal as it was planned to be a Stop Line to halt invading enemies during WWII.
Ilminster is another great launch site in south Somerset. This charming market town lies half way between Yeovil and Taunton, close to the A303, and takes its name from the 15th Century Minster church and the nearby River Ile. Well known for its striking architecture, Ilminster’s church is one of the most noticeable of all. Its perpendicular structural design and ornate stained glass make it a beautiful building which stands tall above the market square’s medieval patterned streets. Described as Ileminstre, meaning ‘The church on the River Isle’, the town is noted in the Doomsday book of 1086, although records of Ilminster date as far back as 725.
North east of Illminster is the infamous town of Glastonbury. Today the town is best known for its famous festival when the world’s top musicians and stars descend on the nation’s most famous farm for a 100,000 strong annual music marathon. If that’s not your scene then you’ll most probably adore the serene picture of rural perfection that is Glastonbury for the other 363 days of the year. Just a short distance from the historic Cheddar caves and just a hop skip and a jump from beautiful Devon, you can be sure that a flight from Glastonbury will be a feast for the eyes.
Further north, Bristol is the home of Hot air balloon rides as it plays host to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta every year. Now an internationally renowned festival, attracting over half a million visitors, the balloons launch from the Ashton Court Estate – 850 acres of woods and grassland, once the gracious home of the Smyth family.
A Bristol hot air balloon ride also offers the opportunity to view Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s masterpiece – the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The great Victorian engineer never lived to see his creation finished but today it attracts a huge number of sight-seers as it has become the symbol of the city. You may also be able to catch a glimpse of the S.S. Great Britain – Brunel’s other great contribution to the maritime world. After a life as a luxury liner, troop ship, cargo vessel and floating warehouse, she was towed back to Bristol from the Falkland Islands in 1937 and restored to her former glory.
Just a stone’s throw away is Bath, ‘the finest place on earth, for you may enjoy its society and its walks without effort or fatigue’ according to 18th century traveler James Boswell.
With its well-preserved Roman remains and famous baths, compact centre, historic buildings, pretty shops and set in spectacular countryside, Bath truly is a ballooning paradise. It is brimming with heritage and beauty and without a skyscraper in sight! Within minutes you might find yourself looking down on the atmospheric village of Lacock, virtually untouched since the 18th century. It will come as no surprise, when viewed from the basket, that this village often features in television and cinema such as the BBC’s Cranford, Pride and Prejudice and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.