Last Year's Festival

We were again rewarded with a large entry, our largest-ever, in fact, with 15 balloons and their crews making the journey to Strathaven – the Strathaven Balloon Festival is internationally-known and very popular in the hot air ballooning community. Crews assembled in our Green Flag Award-winning John Hastie and George Allan Park (recently voted best in Scotland and 4th-best in Britain!), just after 17.00 on Friday 23rd August and after their reunion and a quick snack, the pilots held their first conference of the event, considering the weather reports and aviation forecast. Very quickly, the message spread around Strathaven: “They’re going up!”

On a beautiful evening, the crews chose their positions within the main Festival arena in the John Hastie Park and began to unpack their craft. Rapidly, the huge envelopes were spread out, baskets and burner frames put together, burners fixed in place and the main cables from the envelope attached. Each balloon’s final attachment – the all-important anchor rope – was made fast to the crews’ vehicles, and inflation could begin.

The growing crowd of spectators (many summoned by the Festival’s Facebook and Twitter news) watched spellbound as the enormous, brightly-coloured envelopes were inflated – the work of just a few minutes – and final flight checks conducted by the pilots, as crews settled down in their baskets.

Then this year’s first launch began, first one and then a host of hot air balloons rising, surprisingly-swiftly, from the arena and soaring over Strathaven’s rooftops and church spires. The evening sky was full. The 2013 Strathaven Balloon Festival had well and truly begun!

The remaining crew members tidied the launch kits, climbed aboard their pursuit vehicles and, in touch with their pilots by radio, headed off across country, chasing their aircraft until the pilots chose landing sites and brought them down, all returning to earth safely.

The whole area of Avondale, with Strathaven at its centre, was alive with excitement, crowds watching form vantage points such as the War Memorial Hill and gazing as the huge craft drifted over our wonderful landscape of rivers, fields, trees and hills.

Saturday morning, at 6.00am, was gloriously sunny and still. The crews met briefly to discuss their flight plans and then it was “Action Stations” as they set up and inflated their balloons, before flaring the burners and casting off into the bright, cloudless sky. Our SBF team concentrated upon setting up the Festival site for our Family Fun Day – the professional entertainments were already in place and we added the Strathaven Superstage, marquees and stalls. Everything was ready for 2.00pm, when the Bellshill Concert Band sounded a fanfare and Provost Eileen Logan stepped up to the mic to declare this year’s Festival open. She then walked around the Festival, joining the 6,000 visitors who thronged the sun-drenched scene. Meanwhile, 2 enormous hot air balloons were tethered and inflated in the lower arena, to give everyone a close look at them: they would not fly, of course, during the day, but children were given the chance to “fly” in the baskets, a few feet off the ground.

The John Hastie Park was full of families enjoying all the attractions and performances – and full of excitement, for the star attraction of the first Fun Day, the Quack Commandos, were due to appear, their second visit to the Festival. Unlike 2012, when rain limited the occasion, we watched, amazed, as Gregor’s Border Collie went through its remarkable paces.

Afternoon gave way to evening, but the Festival show went on, with continuous live music on stage and the entertainments in full swing. Just after the 6.00 o’clock Pilots’ Conference, both arenas were again filled by busy balloonists, eager to take to the still-cloudless skies. And then they were off! Thousands gazed upward in and around Strathaven as the colourful envelopes (the word we use for the balloon “skins”) soared up and away. A perfect evening flight.

Our evening’s spectacle and fun were not over, however, for the weather conditions were just right for our spectacular Evening Glow. As night fell, the excitement among the crowd of over 4,000 spectators grew, while the live music played. Sometime, in the midst of it all, the balloons were retrieved and returned to Strathaven. Then the darkness in the arena was speared by the flames of numerous balloon burners, as crews, their craft securely tethered to heavy vehicles, inflated their envelopes and the balloons reared up in front of us. A sudden dramatic fanfare on the loudspeakers, and the Strathaven Balloon Festival Evening Glow began! For some 20 minutes, the balloons, lit by the bursts of flame from their burners, seemed to dance together in the arena, jostling as the evening air wafted them. A final fanfare and all was dark. An enormous cheer from the crowd, and it was time to go – another early start to-morrow.

Sunday dawned bright, calm and – thank goodness – still dry! Just after the Pilots’ Conference at 6.00am, the crews unpacked and assembled their balloons and after the surprisingly-rapid process of rigging, checking and inflation, these amazing aircraft took to the skies over Strathaven and Avondale once again. All made safe landings west of the town and as always, crews were extremely grateful to the several farmers who lent a hand to recover balloons which had landed in the local fields. One of the distinguishing features of the Strathaven Balloon Festival is the unique warmth of welcome and help given by our local farming families, who enter so fully into the spirit of the event. Landing safely among the warm fields, bathed in sunshine, after glimpsing the Scottish Border Hills, the Isle of Arran, Ben Lomond and the Highlands around Glencoe, crews declared this to be as good as hot air ballooning gets.

Our Sunday Family Fun Day got under way on schedule, just after 1.00pm – more tethered balloon demonstrations, more performances on stage, more competitions and amusements. The highlight of the afternoon was undoubtedly our Strathaven Balloon Festival Battle of The Bands, for among the other musical treats, we enjoyed the tremendous commitment of 3 young bands, who sang and played their own numbers, each band with different syle, but all trying hard to win the prize of a recording session agt Strathaven’s famous Old Mill Studio. A winner declared, the show went on...

The weather still being very kind indeed, our intrepid balloonists set up their hot air craft once more in the arenas and with a final wave, headed upwards and away over the glowing fields, watched from every corner and rooftop window in Strathaven and its nearby villages.

The Best Yet! That was the conclusion of everyone who took part in our 2013 Festival, whether as crew members, performers or spectators. The Strathaven Facebook Page has never been so full of happiness and magnificent images of the craft whose crews had worked so hard to make the Festival a success.

Several pilots put their names down, right away, for our 2014 Strathaven Balloon Festival, for they love its unique atmosphere, being welcomed into our community and having the chance to fly over our beautiful countryside. Fingers crossed for good weather, once more!