We received one of the best-ever feedback by email from a passenger who flew with us over the Lake District in mid-May. Jackie wrote such a great account of her hot air balloon experience that we asked her to feature it on our blog.

Capturing an experience in words

While she has no formal training in journalism or writing as such, Jackie told us she always loved to “capture experiences in words.” She is a member of a creative writing group and used to write a monthly newsletter for a Buddhist Centre.

In her feedback to us, she also told us how happy she felt with our customer service:

The customer support and warmth from Virgin was superb.”

Without any further ado, we invite you to read about Jackie’s experience in a hot air balloon.

Hot air balloon flight on Jackie's bucket list

“May I complete one of my bucket list goals of experiencing a hot air balloon flight with you, please?

The anticipation, the waiting, the not knowing, all these ingredients created a delicious mixture of excitement and slight apprehension. The delicate combination of available dates and the perfect weather is like making that amazing risotto. I mean, what are the chances of having clear visibility, pretty much no rain, and minuscule wind and achieving this in the Lake District? The very location where it’s rare for all those factors to happen together!

But, on Monday 13th of May, those 3 things happened, making it possible for the mission hot air balloon to take place from Kirby in Lonsdale at 6 pm with Virgin. Three men, including one pilot and 2 assistants, appeared promptly with the balloon (in a bag) basket, propane glass, and everything needed.

One couple had waited 3 years to celebrate her 70th birthday with a balloon flight. 3 years and 16 attempts later…she did it! Another couple had 5 attempts. One man travelled from Exeter, another couple from Newcastle and there was a beautiful buzz in the air.

“I had no idea how large the balloon was”

I had no idea how large the balloon was! It was quite simply huge!

The Land Rover and trailer arrived and that’s when it started to hit me – it’s here, it’s real, and sometimes dreams do become a reality. The child part of me was filled with joy, excitement, and energy. The balloon would never take off with this much bounce in me!

We followed the vehicles over the road to the field. The basket was eased off the trailer via 2 ramps and tipped onto its side for the balloon to be attached. The balloon was taken from its bag and stretched across the field like a huge, long red snake.

When it’s fully inflated, the balloon contains 400,000 cubic feet of air. Then 2 jumbo fans were fired up, like the roar of awakening lions. The limp balloon became alive and grew, creases smoothed out like instant Botox and it got bigger and swelled. It was like watching some gentle, hungry monster, and it still grew.

2 passengers held the monster’s mouth open, and then it was fed with huge flames, and it grew some more. When it was sufficiently fed, it started to bob upright, casting a large shadow on the ground. It stretched upwards some more and seemed eager to tear away. We all gathered around the basket, ready to climb on board. This was not elegant, but it worked. Like eggs nestled into the appropriate compartments of a box, we were nicely secured. Our pilot gave us a briefing, and in a few more moments, we were off.

A gentle launch over the countryside landscape

The feeling of taking off was quite surreal; it wasn’t dramatic but gentle. The whole experience was very special. I didn’t even notice taking off, it just happened, like a giant, soft hand scooping underneath the basket and lifting us. The peace, the lightness, feelings of floating, the gasps of awe, and faces overcome with emotion with the experience were so touching. The giddiness of pure pleasure of completing a lifetime’s ambition to fly in a hot air balloon, drifting silently over the countryside, and seeing a different perspective on life was the most intense but beautiful feeling.

We slowly gained height. I had that first glance over the side of the basket, looking down and we were gliding gently over the top of a giant horse chestnut tree. I saw its candelabras of flowers and the different shades and textures; it was like magic.

What Jackie saw from above

Then I saw patches of flattened grass left by sleeping cows, cow patches I called them!

From a height, the patches looked like giant, silver thumbprints pressed into the grass. As we gained height, I saw small roads and a tiny river; I saw wide sheep and wide lambs. I saw a hare racing along, like a furry bullet, in a furrow in a field.

I saw 2 deer, startled by the intense sound of propane gas being momentarily blasted into the balloon above. They panicked, trying to find their way out of a field. They found an open gate and shot through it like balls from a pinball machine. They had such grace and elegance.

I saw dogs barking up at us; one even tried to chase us! I saw Morecambe Bay; I saw the Yorkshire Dales, including Ingleborough, one of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. I saw stunning accidental artwork created by farmers on their tractors and in their fields. Patterns and lines appeared down below as we watched. I saw gardens designed so intricately.

I saw “broccoli” trees. I saw so many shades of green and brown down below; I didn’t know that so many shades existed!

Every few minutes, our pilot would disrupt the most peaceful peace with a powerful roar of gas into the balloon. I saw the shadow of the balloon, a giant, dark blob, moving silently across the fields below. Shadows getting longer and the light getting warmer and glowing. Everywhere we looked, there was yet more to see and notice.

Back to regular reality out of a perfect balloon flight

After nearly an hour in the air and the light changing, it was time to start our descent. We gently dropped in height; small-looking things became bigger. We skimmed over a hedge, with a crunching sound coming from underneath the basket. We drifted some more, trying to locate a field without cattle or crops in it to land.

Chris, our pilot, contacted his guys so they could accurately locate us. Everything became bigger, even the blades of grass now seemed huge.

We braced ourselves for the landing. We were then snapped abruptly out of our dream states and back on terra firma with a bit of a jolt and a wobble. Once more, we were back on land, and life didn’t feel quite the same. We departed the basket as equally disgracefully as we’d climbed in.

Do it again!

We were invited to step inside the deflating red balloon, which felt surreal too. I’ve never been in a balloon auditorium before, but it all added to that very special experience. Helping to pack the balloon away was fun. I just couldn’t see how so much material would fit back inside such a seemingly small bag, even though I’d seen it come out at the start. There’s a technique, and you either have it, and it works, or you don’t, and it doesn’t…a good metaphor for life.

Would I do it all again?! Yes, without a doubt, definitely, but perhaps a different location for a fresh experience.”

If you enjoyed reading Jackie's story about her amazing balloon flight and would like a similar experience, take a look at our website page dedicated to the Lake District.