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A brief history of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

22/01/2021 Mark Features

The sight of multi-coloured balloons rising into the skies above your city isn’t enjoyed by everyone across the country, but in Bristol, it’s an annual occurance. The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta has gained critical acclaim over the years and is now counted among the largest hot air balloon events in the whole of Europe.

While government restrictions amidst the pandemic meant no official event could take place last year at the fiesta’s favoured site of Ashton Court, expert balloonists still managed a heroic flypast to wow watchers. Social media channels were buzzing with balloon pictures as Bristol residents caught a glimpse of these amazing lighter-than-air aircraft sailing across the August skies.

In the following passages, we’ll take a quick trip through time and explore the history of this balloon event.

Origins of an air show

The fiesta was held for the first time in 1979, from September 7th to September 9th at Bristol’s Ashton Court, and hot air balloon teams from all across Europe travelled to take part. On account of the favourable weather over the three-day festivities, more than 100 balloon ascents were achieved, and the Bristol Balloon Fiesta began its epic rise to fame.

Mass launches are still made at the festival now, although it has extended to four days over the years to accommodate the thousands of hot air balloon enthusiasts who arrive for the celebrations. Although they are always subject to the weather, balloons take off twice a day, with launches at 6am and 6pm. Onlookers around the city and at the launch site are amazed each year when over 100 balloons rise into the air as one and drift across the sky.

Incredible additions

Over the years, this ongoing event has diversified greatly, and today, it features many other astonishing sights for guests in attendance to enjoy. A crowd-pleasing attraction known as the “night glow” sees hot air balloons fully inflated with balloon pilots igniting their burners to light up their balloon’s envelopes in time to music after dark falls. The night glow is held on the fiesta’s opening night and again on Saturday evening accompanied by a spectacular display of fireworks, which is believed by many to be the highlight of the whole event.

Air displays on a smaller scale also take place, with both the world-famous Red Arrows and the Typhoon team taking part in aerobatic displays.

Record-breaking balloons

On August 10 in 2013, the fiesta broke a record when 74 of the balloons launched set down in a single field in nearby Keynsham. The very next year, the achievement was bested when 90 balloons landed in the very same place close to the factory formerly operated by famed chocolate maker Cadbury.

Although it’s too early to tell, fans of hot air balloons all across Bristol and beyond will have their fingers firmly crossed that the 2021 edition of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta will get the green light and carry on this grand tradition.

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