FLYING in a hot air balloon has always been something I’ve wanted to do, and although I did once go up in a flight from War Memorial Park, it lasted only 15 minutes before coming down by the Chineham Incinerator.

The Virgin flight from the Four Seasons Hotel, in Dogmersfield, was an entirely different experience.

It was a warm afternoon when we met at the hotel to watch the balloon being set up.

My husband, who had come to watch, commented on how small the basket seemed for 16 people, but my thoughts were the complete opposite.

It was bizarre to think that a balloon could lift something of that size and weight into the air.

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The location is perfect for a balloon flight, giving participants stunning views of the countryside as they take off.

Climbing into the basket, we waved to the spectators as we slowly, and smoothly, drifted up into the sky.

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Apart from the occasional roar of hot air being blasted into the balloon, take-off was very peaceful and calm as we gradually floated upwards and further away from those watching below.

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I peered over the edge as the fields, which moments ago were a huge expanse underneath, multiplied into a patchwork of various shades of green.

I had anticipated it being cold and breezy as we gained height but, with a clear blue sky exposing the sun coupled with the heat of the burner, it was actually very warm.

Not having the best sense of direction, I relied on fellow passengers to point out areas below, as we drifted over Hartley Wintney and the impressive looking Elvetham Hotel.

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Pilot Mark Shemilt, who has been flying since 1989, was initially planning to land at Blackbushe Airport.

But it soon became clear that a plan when in charge of a hot air balloon doesn’t count for very much.

Earlier this year, I had interviewed Mark after his Virgin balloon drew attention when it came down surrounded by houses in Kempshott (read article by clicking here).

Although it was a controlled landing, it was difficult to understand why he hadn’t aimed for the nearby Stratton Park.

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I didn’t quite appreciate at the time the unpredictability of flying by balloon.

After around an hour in the sky, Mark realised we weren’t going to make the airport before it closed, and spotted some football fields nearby which looked an ideal spot.

But in the field next door an equestrian event was being held, and Mark was worried about scaring the horses.

We started our descent, and waved to the excited children below.

But just as I was about to brace myself for landing, up we went again, shouting bye to those on the ground.

The balloon had drifted slightly too far during the decent, and wouldn’t have made the intended landing spot.

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Much to the delight of the passengers, the flight was extended as Mark searched for somewhere else.

It’s a tricky business landing a balloon.

Mark explained that he has to look for somewhere accessible to a vehicle, where the landowners won’t object and away from animals, or electricity pylons.

Wellington College came into view on the horizon and Mark earmarked its acres of green space for landing.

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But the balloon had other ideas, and changed direction.

As we crossed over a railway line, a golf course the other side looked like a good option, but during decent we began drifting back the way we had come.

It was all quite exciting, really, and certainly added to the experience.

My heart did flutter slightly as some tall trees loomed in front of us, and I wondered whether the basket would clear them.

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But Mark is obviously a very experienced pilot, and, as he pointed out, ballooning is one of the safest forms of transport.

He explained that it’s best not to have too fixed an idea about where to come down, but see where the balloon takes you.

We drifted over houses where people waved from their gardens, so close we could hear a dog barking.

“Put the kettle on,” a fellow passenger shouted, jokingly.

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The wind picked up as we gained height again, the cool breeze providing some welcome relief from the heat.

I leaned back and relaxed, taking in the amazing views stretching out for miles and enjoying the peace and quiet.

Despite being unrestricted in the basket, I felt incredibly safe.

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Over an hour after our failed first attempt at returning to ground, landing came suddenly and almost unexpectedly.

We were over a green at Wellington College, in Crowthorne, where Mark had hoped to land quite some time ago.

He instructed us to sit down and hold on, and within seconds there was a bump as we gently hit the ground, then another as the basket bounced.

Staying upright, we clambered out to help pack away, which was great fun, fighting to squish out the air from the bulbous balloon.

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Everyone was given a goblet of champagne as we toasted our successful trip, before posing for a ‘survivors’ photo in front of the basket.

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