Hot air balloons scatter across sky

Hot air balloons lift off at the 36th International Balloon Fiesta

Hot air balloons are inflated ahead of a mass ascent at the 36th International Balloon Fiesta near Bristol

Hot air balloons over north Somerset

A balloon pilot checks the rigging inside a hot air balloon

First published in National News © by

Colourful balloons of all shapes and sizes were scattered across the skyline of south-west England today as 121 hot air balloons took part in a mass launch.

Half a million visitors are expected to descend on the city of Bristol, which plays host to Europe's largest ballooning event, this weekend.

The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, now in its 36th year, features displays by hot air balloons from across the globe.

Balloons ascend from Ashton Court estate at dawn and dusk, taking in glorious views of the city including the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Performances of the Last Post will be played on a violin, oboe, saxophone and dhol drum during the evening ascents to mark the First World War centenary.

Nightglows, in which the balloons are illuminated in time to music, take place at the venue each evening before firework shows.

The fiesta also includes a number of aerial displays from helicopters and aircraft, including the RAF Typhoon Display team, flown by 29 (Reserve) Squadron from RAF Coningsby.

Speaking at the mass ascent, organiser Ben Hardy described the sight as "fantastic".

"It has been a brilliant morning, we had almost 130 balloons up and the weather conditions were perfect," Mr Hardy said.

"The best bit for me is seeing all the crowds enjoying the spectacle, you see so many families and people having a great time.

"There are some interesting special shapes this year. My daughter is a huge fan of the Smurfs so that one has to top it for me."

Pilot Under Training Zack Daly, 16, one of the youngest balloonists in the UK, took to the skies with the supervision of his father Joe Daly, 55.

They are part of the only Irish team at the fiesta - which welcomes balloons from nine countries - and represent their home town of Waterford.

Zack, who will gain his full pilot's licence on his 17th birthday in February, said: "It was very good.

"The atmosphere was the best, with all the crowds. Flying here is a bit of a challenge but it definitely paid off today - the views were amazing.

"I like heights and unlike being in a plane, you actually feel like you're flying when you're in a balloon. It looks like a picture, it is so still up there."

Mr Daly, a lecturer at Waterford Institute of Technology, added: "It was absolutely fantastic.

"We are the only balloon here from Ireland and we are made to feel so welcome here in Bristol.

"Zack is probably the youngest pilot in the UK and he will be fully qualified on his 17th birthday. At that stage he will be one of the youngest in Europe."

This evening The Last Post will be played on a violin by John Archer, with Paul Sartin of Bellowhead performing a version on the oboe on Saturday night.

For the final rendition, Sarha Moore and Jas Daffu of The Bollywood Brass Band will play the Last Post on the soprano sax and dhol drum.

Virginia Crompton, executive producer of The Last Post Project, said mass performances of the poignant ceremonial call would also take place across the country in November.

"The Last Post Project is honoured to be part of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta and all of us are delighted to share these versions of the Last Post as part of the First World War centenary," she said.

The 2014 Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, a free event, opened at 12pm on Thursday, with a special shapes - featuring a Smurf balloon from Belgium - launch at 6pm.

It will finish at 8.30pm on Sunday, following displays including parachutes, wing walkers and Spitfire and Hurricane planes.

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