The High Life

Most of us have probably looked out over the Irish landscapes from the comfort of a warm padded seat, safety belt firmly attached, and staring through a tiny misty porthole window on the side of an aeroplane. What would it be like to be able to see all around, outside in the wide open space?

Taking off from the Porchfields opposite Trim Castle 'Hunky Dory' is the largest Hot Air Balloon in Ireland.

Having never done it myself we discovered that our Residents Mairead & Declan are with 'Irish Balloon Flights' and so we asked them to tell us more.

What's it like?

"It's awesome..........amazing........ an opportunity of a lifetime experience that you've just got to try. You see from a whole new perspective and the views are absolutely stunning."

A birds eye view of the River Boyne.

Your not scared of heights then?

"(Mairead) Absolutely terrified of heights, I find escalators a real challenge but not this. You feel safe and it's such a calm, gentle and slow experience you barely notice yourself being moved. It's frequently silent when the burners are off so it's just the sound of the birds and leaves rustling in the trees as you float smoothly over."

How did you discover it?

"By complete chance. We we're looking for something to do one weekend and Googled 'fun things to try in Meath' and discovered there were these balloon flights in Trim, so went along for a look."

How often do you go flying?

"As often as possible. We've been involved for 6 years now and the company has been flying since 2000."

Where does it take off?

"The company has flights from several areas around the country but usually fly from Trim Castle. Morning and evening flights are usually between April and the end of September. Weather has a huge impact and we only fly when the conditions are calm, dry and clear. "

Flight over Cabra Castle Hotel.

This balloon is 'Mystique' and there's highly likely to be a marriage proposal taking place each time you see it.

How long is a flight?

"It's usually an hour in the air and 3hrs in all if you include the time it takes to get to the take off point, set up the balloon etc. Everyone is welcome to help and it's quite an experience to see the size of the balloon canopy when it's laid out on the ground.

Depending on the wind we can travel quite a distance in an hour and we have GPS trackers and monitors so we know exactly where we travel. Before take off the pilot will be monitoring the weather and in touch with Met Eireann. Depending on where we take off we're very conscious of any restricted air space, events, crops and livestock, especially horses, to ensure we're not a nuisance to anyone."

2000 ft above Meath

Over the roof tops of Navan Town Centre

Over Bective Abbey

"We also recognise the areas we pass over even from 2000ft up key features stand out well."

Click on the image to enlarge the example flight path Athboy to East Navan

What about the landings?

"These usually happen in stubble fields and where will depend on the wind. We don't need a runway and so it's more often a gentle graceful touchdown. We do need the landowners permission to gain access to retrieve the balloon and we're in constant radio contact with the pilot and farmers to ensure we pick a good site."

Landing in a freshly cut field

Is it as expensive as flying by aeroplane?

"Probably more but packages start from around €160 for the basic deals and then upwards if you wanted to include a hotel break with meal as part of the experience. I've bought and given 'Gift Vouchers' which is a great way to introduce someone."

"There's space for up to 16 people plus the pilot and it's not a squash, there's a central divider to ensure we remain evenly balanced especially since everyone wants to look out over the side."

16 passengers over the fields of Meath

"If you're wondering who's taking these pictures there's a 'Go Cam' permanently hanging from the balloon canopy."

Is there in-flight catering?

"No such luxury I'm afraid, but you can bring small snacks although you'll be too busy looking out you'll not feel hungry. There's a glass of bubbly or juice on landing to mark the special occasion."

A loo?

"Afraid not."

You've taken on a role as crew, does that mean you now pilot these?

"No far from it, we're part of the 4 crew. To be the Pilot you need a Commercial Hot Air Balloon Pilot's Licence. "

Inflating takes around 30min

Gentle smooth lift off.

We're left to follow.

Balloon Chasing.

Keeping track and waiting for landing.

Are there any nearby balloon festivals?

"Referred to as 'The Meet' the Irish Hot Air Ballooning Championship takes place in September and is the longest running National ballooning event in the world. It’s having the 46th event over in Galway this year and has been held in Trim in recent years attracting over 40 balloons from all over the world."

"As well as actually flying there’s a spectacular musical lighting display using the balloons in the evening."

There's a vast number of video clips on YouTube highlighting the events.

You 'Fly' overseas too?

"We take any opportunity that comes up and we've been as far as Dubai which was an amazing experience. Sometimes we combine holidays with events and our most recent escapades took us to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico, USA."

Albuquerque International balloon fiesta is only second to Ireland for the longest running ballooning event. It’s a 9 day event held in October each year. So after an early (4.30- 5am) start each morning, we head to the 365 acre balloon Fiesta Park. The actual launch field is ~80 acres. What makes this so special in my opinion is that it is one of the only aviation events in the world where the general public can actually meander freely throughout the launch field while 500+ hot air balloons are preparing to take to the skies. Its an unbelievable sight & magical experience."

"Following briefing & just at daybreak,  a small number of balloons launch to assess speed & wind direction at different altitudes. This is known as 'Dawn patrol'. "

Then over the next hour or more, up to 500 hot air balloons of all shapes & sizes take flight (PICS)

We had the honour of being the 1st balloon launched for 'Flight of the Nations'

Crew awaiting our landing

A variety of balloons on display.

"Following every flight, all crew & balloonists meet back at launch field for 'Tailgating' Everyone gathers around open back jeeps, trucks, chase vehicles & enjoy the sunshine & heat with all kinds of food and drinks…… and of course the traditional glass of bubbly!"

On a previous occasion in Dubai

Any tips or advice for a first flight?

"We're often asked if it's cold up high and everyone is really surprised when we say no and that it's OK. There's tremendous warmth from the gas burners and so the balloon is full of hot air and we're directly under it. We also only fly in clear calm weather and so you move with the wind rather than against any cold breeze.

We've also got Pauline Baker who is one of the most experienced pilots holding a number of World Records so you're assured you're in very good hands."

The Hunky Dory Balloon also featured in the amazing 3D trailer that Sky filmed in the series 'Britain and Ireland from the Sky' in 2011 with an article in the Meath Chronicle.

If you're inspired to give it a try then make contact with Irish Balloon Flights:

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