Bristol balloon fiesta
The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is an annual event which happens in the English city of Bristol. The Bristol Balloon Fiesta generally happens at the beginning of August and in 2015 it is being held on 6th - 9th August 2015.
A brief history
The fiesta was first started in 1979 by a group of local hot air balloon enthusiasts, and has run at Ashton Court estate every year since then. Whilst it started with 27 balloons, it is now oversubscribed and for safety reasons the number of balloons permitted to enter is limited. However it is still common for over 100 balloons to take off at a time, and in excess of half a million visitors visit the Bristol balloon fiesta every year.
From it's outset there has been no entry charge for the Bristol balloon fiesta and this principle is maintained to the present day. This makes it one of the largest, if not the largest, free event in Europe. Instead the Bristol balloon fiesta is paid for by sponsorship, car parking fees and stall-holder charges.
Overview of activities
Over the weekend there are a number of events.
- On the Monday morning before the balloon fiesta weekend there is a launch of about 20-30 balloons from a location in the centre of Bristol.
- Ashton Court opens about midday on Thursday where there are various stalls and events and generally a large free pop concert.
- There is a launch of the special shaped balloons only at about 6pm on the Thursday.
- There are nightglows on the Thursday and Saturday nights.
- There are mass ascents at 6am and 6pm on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
- During the day on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday various events happen, such as motorcycle stunt riders and firefighting shows.
The mass ascent
As has already been mentioned the mass ascents happen six times over the period of the fiesta. In the best mass ascents over 100 balloons can take off in under half an hour from a very small patch of land, a feat which earned Bristol international balloon fiesta a place in the record books. This is all the more impressive when it is considered that launching land is at such a premium that there is only enough room to inflate less than half the balloons at a time!
The amount of mass ascents, and their quality is definitely weather dependent. For it to be safe to use hot air balloons the wind conditions have to be relatively calm, and there has to be no precipitation with good visibility. Some balloons are better at coping with more abnormal conditions than others, with generally the special shapes being the ones which require the most precise weather conditions to fly. However, I cannot remember a single year when no balloons took off, and so even in the British summertime there is at least one day with decent weather generally!
With the right conditions it is possible that the balloons can continue to fly for a very long period of time and for relatively long distances. However many balloons don't attempt to fly a long distance and instead try to catch the 'hare'. This is a balloon that takes off ahead of the rest, and the pilot from the 'hounds' which can land his balloon nearest the 'hare' wins a prize. This can lead to a great concentration of balloons landing in very close proximity to one another, which is great fun for the locals particularly children as the pilots are always very friendly.
Balloon Fiesta Video
The night glows
The night glows are one of the things which bristol balloon fiesta is most famous for. They are by far and away the most popular events of the whole weekend, and it is advised that an early entry is necessary to get a good view, with visitor number approaching 200,000 for each night.
In the balloon glow is an event where inflated balloons put on their burners in time to music, and as it is at nighttime the whole balloon is lit up. Generally approximately 30 balloons take part, and given the right vantage point it is possible to see them all flickering on and off in time to the music. On each night of the balloon glow at the Bristol balloon fiesta the night ends with a spectacular firework show.
As has already been mentioned the Bristol Balloon Fiesta is held at Ashton Court Estate which is less than 2 miles from the centre of Bristol. As the site is so close to the centre of a major English city it is relatively accessible. However, as with any location there are bound to be some traffic issues considering that there are over 100,000 people on site on each of the four days.
- A map of the fiesta
This is the Google map view of the Ashton Court estate, which should give an idea of the location of the site for the Bristol Balloon Fiesta.
There is a lot of car parking on the fields around the site, and this is the option that many people take. There is a charge for parking, but considering entry to the festival is free this is to be expected. As such some people park further away in local streets, particularly around Ashton Gate, the home of Bristol City FC. In the past there have been issues with the time it takes to leave the official car parks, especially after the night glows, but in recent times the delays have been kept to a complete minimum due to more advanced traffic management.
As has been mentioned, it is possible to park in surrounding streets and walk onto the site. However, it is worth noting that for the night glows the Clifton Suspension Bridge (shown right) is closed as people walking across the bridge can result in vibrations.
In recent years, the Bristol Balloon Fiesta organisers have also put on shuttle buses which take visitors to and from the fiesta from Bristol Temple Meads station and park and ride sites. As such access to the fiesta is now much easier than it was 10 years ago.
The 2009 Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
As can be seen the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is always a major event, and 2009 waas no different. Already all the slots for balloons have been filled, with the promise of many special shapes. Some, such as the Churchil dog, Jaguar car, Scottish piper, Tesco trolley and Stroud and Swindon house have been at the festival before. Others are making their first appearance at the fiesta, although at the present time these balloons haven't been revealed.
Once again there were two night glows, and for 2009 these were at 9.30pm on Thursday 6th and Saturday 8th August. As with previous years, the balloon glows were followed by a fireworks display.
The EXIT parachute team performed at the fiesta for the 15th year in the row. Also returning, after a popular response in 2008, were the Red Arrows display team, who performed for the crowds in the day of Saturday 8th August.
The 2010 Balloon Fiesta
The 2010 Bristol International Balloon Fiesta is due to take place from the 12th-15th August 2010.
Again there will be 2 night glows, one on Thursday 12th August 2010 and the other on Saturday 14th August 2010. In addition, there are the normal mass ascents at 6am and 6pm on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Finally there are due to be many events during the day - these will be updated here as soon as they are confirmed by the organisers of the the Bristol Balloon Fiesta.
- Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, 7th - 10th August 2014
This website gives details of the whole balloon fiesta, and in previous years there has also been the option of buying discount car-parking in advance of the event online.
- Bristol harbour festival
The other major annual summer event in Bristol. In 2009 the harbour festival occurs on the weekend before the balloon fiestaand is expected to attract approximately 250,000 visitors.
- Link to a company which offer balloon flights at the fiesta
Bailley balloons generally have a number of large balloons at the fiesta offering balloon rides.
- Cameron Balloons
The world's biggest hot air balloon manufacturers based in Bristol and a big supporter of the fiesta from the beginning through to the present day.
- Flights From The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
Fly from the 2009 Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.