Category Archives: United Kingdom

Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2018

Our second attempt at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta! This year we decided to camp overnight – well, I say camp,  but it was a lot more civilized than that – we spent two nights in this splendid vehicle

whilst all around us there were brave souls in tents  – not my idea of fun.  The campsite was actually Cotham rugby pitch, which meant there was a clubhouse, showers, toilets,  an outside tap for water and a bar to get beer and hot food all close by!

The Fiesta is run over 4 days and IF the weather had been more benign those four days would have been packed with exciting arena activities like wing walkers and  parabatix,  but as we all know, in the UK that is a big ‘IF‘.

This year’s programme included 6 mass launches – one at 6 am and one at 6 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – I’m not sure but  I think I may have witnessed the only one that happened  – the Saturday dawn launch. The organizers were at the mercy of the rain and wind for most of the weekend – a real shame.

This is what greeted me as I headed down the hill towards the main arena

 

I was not alone! It was like an army on the march

The first balloon we saw was this owl

 

although I don’t think he actually left the ground.

There were around 40 ‘Special Shapes’ balloons – I spotted 9 – this motorbike, the dog, Bertie Bassett, a fire extinguisher, a lion from Longleat, Paddy Power’s green Y fronts, a Minion, a Panasonic battery, a fish and even a Scottish piper!

From Friday to Sunday there were two mass launches planned each day of over 100 balloons – one at 6 am and one at 6 pm. There were all manner of food and drink stalls, bars, trade stands, a fun fair, huge inflatable slides all around the huge arena – lots to keep people happy – but 12 hours is a long time between launches even for your stalwart Fiesta fan – so my advice is to pace yourself! Or just plan to see one. Of course, this sort of thing is completely weather dependent and the weather wasn’t cooperating!

I watched the mayhem in the main arena – dozens of balloons jostling for space, inflating in a matter of minutes and taking to the clear blue skies over Bristol, watched by masses of spectators, cooking burgers and bacon on portable barbies! I wouldn’t trust myself to make a coffee at that time in the morning let alone be in charge of a barbecue.

I headed back up the hill in the general direction of our campsite but I noticed that in an area over to the right some of the balloons were landing – another photo opp.

By three o’clock the rain had set in so there was little activity in the main arena – we should have been watching the likes of Lee McCrory perform his aerial antics, but things were turning decidedly damp so we headed back up the hill (again! certainly got some exercise on Saturday!) and bide our time in the comfort of our mobile home. But nocturnal activities were also a washout, the Night Glow, where they tether the balloons and illuminate them, was cancelled. The firework display did go ahead, which went some way to ameliorating my brother’s disappointment at the Gin stall being closed!!

There was no improvement in the weather by Sunday and an air of despondency and resignation descended on the campsite as people decided to pack up and go home early.

 

I really felt for everyone concerned in the organisation of such a huge event as well as all the spectators who didn’t see a single balloon lift off, especially as we have had weeks of wall to wall sunshine!!

I didn’t feel for some of the food and drink stalls which were happy to charge outrageous prices (for sometimes almost inedible food – you know who you are!) My best buy was a disposable rain poncho from the Hospice stand – £1 – a bargain!

So ……….. here’s to next year. The Balloon Fiesta is a great spectacle – and no one can do anything about the weather…………

so let’s hope for sunshine.

Homage to the Dandelion

The grass and fields and hedgerows around where I live are awash with dandelions –


– they resist any attempt to eradicate them, keep the pesticide industry going almost single-handed and seem to mock us as they pop up on our manicured lawns, flaunting their bright yellow petals.

The name ‘dandelion’ comes from the French ‘dent de lion’ or ‘lion’s tooth’ , used to describe the marked indentations along the edges of the leaves and the ragged appearance of the tips of the petals.
But why do we so begrudge their presence?
Every part of this plant can be used:
the roots can be ground and roasted to make a caffeine free beverage, although more palatable to my mind are dandelion and burdock (or dandelion wine for an extra kick!)  made from the petals. The leaves can be blanched or sauteed in a similar way to spinach and added to salads and soups; the dandelion is also used in herbal medicine for liver infections or as a diuretic. It is even used as a dye, although the resultant slightly muddy brown colour (called ‘caramel’ by the more charitable) is disappointing, given the original glorious yellow of the petals.
Its colour alone would persuade me to rebrand it! It’s a flower! Let’s cherish it! We love the colour yellow! All the best things in life are yellow! Gold! Saffron! Buttercups! Butter! Egg yolks! Sunshine! Submarines!
Think how many songs have the colour yellow in their titles – you should be able to think of at least TEN. This is one of my favourites
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICkWjdQuK7Q
My dad was never a gardener. His idea of keeping the place tidy was to sally forth, scythe in hand, once the grass was knee high.  Dandelions thrived! And so did lots of other pretty things like these:

And so did dandelion clocks – the fascinating, spherical seed heads which appear after the flowers and use the wind (or excited little children ! – the hour is however many puffs it takes you to blow all the seeds off the ‘clock) to scatter those seeds to the four corners of the garden, producing masses more dandelions the next year! So Dad was nurturing a wild life garden long before our present  ‘crop’ (oh!dear!) of TV celebrity gardeners advocated them!


But the real reason they are there is for these little guys:

……….the army of pollinators, buzzing busily from bloom to bloom – they don’t care whether we think it’s a weed or a flower!

Edinburgh – city of castles, kilts and whisky.

Just back from an action packed few days in the Scottish capital. This tourist malarkey is exhausting!
Now, I know a lot of people are a bit funny about getting on ‘the tourist bus’ but, as far as I’m concerned, there is no better way to get your bearings in a city you don’t know. A couple of circuits round the main streets and some helpful commentary from the guide and you can make a much more sensible decision about where to alight for a more leisurely gander at the ‘places of interest’ you are actually interested in.
Of course,  nobody visits Edinburgh without going to the castle, perched atop the Mound, just beyond one of the main thoroughfares, Princes Street.
armour2 bars
beams
cannon2

    


And the other attraction, if that’s the right word for it, which is ‘de rigeur’ is the Royal Mile, The taxi driver who took us from the airport to our accommodation in Newhaven Harbour advised us to do the ‘Royal Mile’ from top to bottom, i.e. walk from Edinburgh Castle downhill to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The lady we rented our excellent accommodation from said the same thing and when you see it you quickly realise why!  It is very steep and as the name indicates – it’s a mile long – exhausting! even if you have had your porridge!
By far the most obviously touristy place was the area around the castle  where you find ‘The Scotch Whisky Experience’ and the ‘Tartan Weaving Mill’ and also magnificently turned out pipers playing those haunting laments on the bagpipes. There are myriad tartan shops sellingall sorts of garments, mostly in the familiar red plaid  (it put me in mind of the old joke – you can have any colour as long as it’s red! )  and lastly, black double deckers which will take you on a Ghost Tour. The icing on the cake was a sighting of Braveheart! He was having some fun with some young lads and I thought he hadn’t spotted me but … I was wrong!

 

 
       
The Royal Mile is full of shops, bars, cafés and beautiful traditional buildings. At the bottom end is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where I believe the Queen is in residence for a week or so every year, performing official duties. Behind the Palace is Holyrood Park – again, if you’re feeling energetic you can walk up to Arthur’s Seat, an old volcano where – I’m told! – you get some great views across the city.
HolyroodPark1   ParkPan1
parkpan13   



You can take tea at the Palace Café and, suitably refreshed, wander round Queen’s Gallery or marvel at the interesting Scottish Parliament Building. Designed by catalán architect, Enric Miralles in 1999 and opened by the Queen in 2004, it caused some controversy when it was built. Personally, I loved the design but it differed radically from the traditional buildings around it so I can understand why opinion was split.


       

The weather in Edinburgh wasn’t brilliant – quite cold and damp, so we decided to spend a couple of hours on the wettest day at the National Museum. As it turned out, it was quite interesting because the Scots were an enterprising bunch of engineers and industrialists – it’s not every museum that boasts a full size locomotive or a whisky still!
photo 1

   

The other iconic structure that is definitely worth going to see is the Forth Bridge – as emblematic of Scotland as the kilt or the bagpipes. We took the short train ride  to see this familiar sight close up – everyone has seen it in photos or on television, even if they have never been to Scotland – it is legendary as the bridge that never stopped having to be painted! Of course, then someone invented a special striking red coloured coating that didn’t have to be continually replaced – so that was a relief! The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is the same colour so they must use the same stuff!


We discovered that there are in fact three Forth Bridges –  a road bridge (suspension design) and a rail bridge (cantilever design) and now a third – a new road bridge, still under construction, which will be a cable stayed design (don’t ask me, I don’t know the difference!)
The bridges span the Forth estuary and are indeed an impressive sight. The little town of South Queensferry lies between them, with its toy boats and life boat station – reminiscent of small Welsh seaside towns on a drizzly, damp weekend.

   


I enjoyed my trip to Edinburgh and will go back some day to see more of Scotland. By sheer coincidence another iconic piece of engineering was passing through our local railway station on the day I travelled north –  the Flying Scotsman!!