The enormous red and blue balloon bulged off the ground, swirling slightly with the breeze. The wicker basket started to tilt upright. Swelled to its full size, the balloon sat there, wanting to rise into the summer blue above. As it strained against the ropes, we clambered in. But our weight wasn’t enough. It wanted to fly. With one last shot of hot air, unhooked, we were free, climbing above the playing field.
The silence was incredible. I was expecting winds and noise up there, but as we floated over the Essex countryside, I got a true taste of a bird’s paradise. Gliding with the wind, we breezed over fields, farms, houses, lakes and rivers. We were a whisper from above, waving down on those below, excited to see us flying over them.
The sun was out in full force, the sky perfectly blue, shining light down on the greens and browns of the English countryside. Swooping over prickly forests and patchwork fields we were both greeted and feared by horses, cows, sheep, chickens and dogs. As we passed silently, they ran towards us, curious and brave; or they veered away, keeping their eyes on the bright coloured bubble in the sky.
It was a magical flight. At times I felt famous, waving at children from the special ship. At other times, we simply enjoyed our view over the country spreading out towards London in the distance. The peaks of London landmarks crept over our hazy horizon as we sailed further, until we turned away again and we were left with simple greenery. Lone trees in fields became my favourite thing to spot and capture: little worlds unto themselves, grand and separate.
Breaking the silence was the sudden cracking sounds of snapping branches –creatures moving swiftly through the forest below. Two large wild boars had spotted us and were pelting it at breakneck speed, twisting and turning through the trees. I never knew there were wild boars in Essex. But there are. And they can run fast for some big bellied beasts.
While our take-off had been all plain sailing, and our flight a wonderfully smooth ride, our landing was not. Our pilot chose the bumpiest field of all we had flown over, full of streams, prickly trees and fires. Still, we got into our landing positions and it was fun to land like that – just short of the fire, and on our sides like a drunken dustbin. Its contents fell out the side, laughing, delighted.
In the excitement of our landing, the silence had disappeared. We were back on land, two legged animals with voices. For an hour we had been sky travellers, enchanted by our bird’s eye view on the world below, silent and happy.
And that silence and beauty now rests in our memories. Here we are, back on earth, brought down with a bang.