Rob and I recently had a fantastic experience. I’ve lived in the Lake District for most of my life and I didn’t think that there was much I hadn’t seen, until a birthday present from Rob gave us the opportunity to see it from a hot air balloon.
The hour-long flight took us over the southern Lake District and Windermere, places I’ve seen thousands of times. All the key points were easily recognisable, but the landscape still looked very different. The flights always take place just after dawn or just before sunset (something to do with air currents, apparently), so there were long shadows exaggerating the inclines of the fells and reflections on the lake. Everything seems greener as you get the full advantage of the leafy canopy from above, and we spotted all sorts of animals going about their business from ubiquitous farm animals to the larger wild animals, such as deer. We all helped with setting up the balloon and I must admit to being a tad nervous once we’d leapt into the balloon basket and were waiting for take off. The amazing thing was that I didn’t even notice we’d left the ground, it was so smooth. Landing was as easy as pie too although avoiding the cow pats on landing was a little more tricky. Then it was champagne out of the back of a landrover and a meal in one of the pubs in Windermere’s surrounding villages.
Our trip got all our friends and relatives making Phileas Fogg references. Phileas was the lead character in Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, where he and his faithful manservant, Passepartout, set out to win a wager. Phileas reckoned he could get around the world in eighty days, which he did, by the skin of his teeth, having rescued a maiden in distress, led a mutiny on a ship, and lots of other adventures. And as for hot air balloons? Phileas said, ‘highly risky and, in any case, impossible’. That’s right, he never travelled by hot air balloon!
So why the image of Phileas in his balloon? Hollywood, I’m afraid. The Oscar-winning 1950s film, starring David Niven, had him leaving Paris in a highly ornamental balloon. The image has become so popular that it’s even been used on the front cover of ‘Around the World’ books, despite its absence from the original plot!
The real ‘around-the-worlder’ was Steve Fossett. The late adventurer is the only person to date to have taken a solo balloon flight around the world, in 2002. It took him 14days, 19 hours and 50 minutes.
I'd like to offer a big thank you to High Adventure for a brilliant trip.