“ The balloon tethering, races and evening glows will form the centerpiece of the event. Alongside the balloons, the event will offer all the fun of the fair as well a wide variety of food and beverage and market stalls. The balloon festival will also host A fun packed 3 days entertainment programme from arena displays to staged entertainment for all the family. „
The Festival used to a big deal for the town, the British Grand Prix of hot air balloon racing, the latter our other big weekend. It made the Northampton Racecourse public park space come alive in August with people from all over the United Kingdom, and further, coming to see up to 100 balloons take to the sky. Even the early morning launches would see 50,000 people flock to the event to enjoy the mass launch and treble that for the evening launch, a spectacular sight when the weather was calm and the sun on full candle power against crisp blue skies. The growl of the gas burners and then silence thereafter a pleasing summers memory. You could almost touch the balloon baskets as they lifted off at an alarming angle from the two mile oblong of grass, the crowds below looking like trails or Army Ants if you were lucky enough to actually ride in the balloons, which I was. They raced each other for small cash prizes and the idea was to drop bags of flour out of the balloon basket and try and hit a target cross placed in a field somewhere juts outside of town. Many a confused cow or angry farmer would look like had been to a wild party with the Rolling Stones is winged by one.
The festival would use one half of the Racecourse for balloon launches and the accompanying stalls and things to do and the other half for parking. They never used to charge for the festival and perhaps why the crowds were so huge in the beginning, but once they did introduce admission for an internal concert arena for famous live bands - of days gone past - to enjoy after the launch and 'balloon glow' (40 or so balloons would tether fifty foot from the ground at dusk and give it the full flame) it felt like the council had decided the cost to run it was too expensive and its days were numbered. When they charged three quid to get in the crowds halved a year later and that was that. The owners of the hundreds of concessions on the site saw their stand prices go up and the footfall go down and if the weather was bad over the weekend then they ended up losing money. In fact the weather was always the decider how the festival would go. If it was windy the balloons wouldn't go up and after a few years even with a gentle breeze they wouldn't go up, preferring to save on expensive butane gas and remain deflated. And even when they did go up they would land as soon as possible once out of the spectators eye line. I think everyone just lost interest and, like a long marriage, it had run its course. The festival still exists in the town as it moved to Billing Aquadrome down by the River Nene. But there are only ten or so balloons there for the June event and one too many trees and caravans to get any bigger than that. It's a 'fiver' to drive in for the various events for a day ticket but public footpaths thread their way through the park so you can walk in free anytime. It's worth it if you haven't been to the Aquadrome before but a depressing place when the sun is in, where all the people who can't afford to fly to Benidorm go for their summer holidays.
The launch sight of the Racecourse has a bad reputation in the town for crime and delinquency and so it was really great to see it put to good use. In the 19th century it was a real race track with ten or so meetings a year, until the crowds got too big and drunks got run over by the horses, the last race in 1904. The Racecourse was also the seen of hundreds of public hangings from 1715-1818. It's not quite that bad today but certainly seedy. It has seen five murders in the last 50 years alone. The old but run down striking pavilion that would entertain the King and the grandees at the track races 200 years ago closed as a Thai restaurant 5 years ago and will reopen as a 'hippy commune collective' in the summer, no meat allowed, full of mazy middle-class people who don't want to work.
The joy of the festival was always down to the balloon launches though as the concessions and things to do on site where limited and boring. They used one launch area for displays but there are only so many Motorbike pyramids, Alsatians jumping though flaming hoops and parachute drops you can bare at these things. The concessions didn't sell much balloon related stuff, either. If you wanted to update your Irish country music collection or get some hippy pendants then fine but no chance of any help into joining balloon clubs, a closed shop by the looks. They do like to wear the full kit like pretend Top Gun pilots. In fact it soon became a market for all sorts of commercial stuff, from double-glazing to book a health spa in Brackley stands and the balloons swaying like drunks in the background and almost forgotten. Ultimately the council flogged the horse too hard by trying to make money from the stands and so it fell down on its face.
Have visited it at it's new venue this year (2009) at Billing Aquadrome...what a load of rubbish. I was never able to get to it when it was at the Northampton race track but was always told how great a spectacle it was...so was really excited about the spectacle I was going to see and thought £10 for parking was reasonable as there was no entrance fee. If you read this before you go....don't waste your time, money or petrol to go there as all it is is a glorified market with loads of tack being sold and loads of kids slides....in actual fact it should be renamed the 'Northampton Kids Slide Festival'!
When I lived in the town of Northampton I lived a couple of streets away from the racecourse where the balloon festival was held, a few days before it started the balloonists would test the balloons over the skys of Northampton and all the family would sit outside the front door watching the balloons going overhead it was spectacular, and you felt as if the balloons were really close to you.
When the balloon festival started my brothers and me would walk down to the racecourse early in the morning and watch the balloonists firering the balloons testing them and al the balloonists would all be in the arena firering up, it was great. They have a radio station, which me and my brothers would hang around next to for a while. We then went to look at all the different stalls to see what freebies we could get and then go home for dinner before setting off late afternoon for some more action and fun. We would watch the acts doing their bit in one of the arenas, and then moving on to where the balloons would be getting ready for their evening launch and we always hoped the weather conditions would be right for the balloons to take off so we could watch all these balloons take to the sky's.
We watched and visited for many years, and when I was old enough I finally got to go in the beer tents - but not to get drunk just to have the odd drink, I still enjoy it now. The last time I went was 3 years ago my oldest son nearly got lost through the crowds of people and it really worried me and my partner and decided to leave it till he got a bit older. We are planning making a day of it this year and are looking forward to it with great anticipation.
The balloon festival is a great family event and is well worth a visit, what I would say is make sure you have the younger children properly harnessed as it is very easy for them to get lost through the crowds.
A spectacular weekend to have out.
at the racecourse in northampton the balloon festival is an annual event that is a good weekend of events, stalls and fair, for the young and old.
I have only recently been going every year as i live 3 hours away but it such a fab place to take the kids.
All he stalls filled with everything you can think off.
Parking is on site a little expensive but aint it like that wherever you go.
The balloon are such a wonderful serene sight setting off into the sky.
The night entertainment i not been to but i heard it is wonderful they really do put there all into this yearly event.
So if you like to go either pack up a picnic or buy from the number of food stalls on sight, and make sure you make a full day of it as there so much to do, my kids especially liked the animal tent where you got to handle and feel some unusual animals.
Plus all the manufacturers give out bags of freeebies from pens , balloons, nappies, dogfood, just to name a few.
give yourself a treat this year and attend well recommended
Every August Northampton hosts a Balloon Festival on Racecourse Park; my sister lives practically opposite the park and has said how good previous Festivals have been, so today we drove down to see what all the fuss is about. It was worth the sixty mile (or so) journey.
The Balloon Festival is a weekend in dedication of hot air balloons and ran from Friday 18th Sunday 20th August this year, and on corresponding weekends each year from around 10am until late. We arrived at 11am and Ive literally just sat down to write this review as I walked back into my house in Birmingham at 2am. Weve had an absolute blast.
The huge park is split into three rough areas for the festival; the fair, shopping stalls and food. Everything is brilliantly laid out to help people see everything, with the shopping area in particular being vibrant and interesting in the way organisers have placed the stalls so the stock is spilling into the open space between them. It was like walking through a foreign market where you never quite know what to expect from stall to stall. The stall selling gorgeous wooden roses was located next to one selling (tacky) childrens rugs, the one with all the cute wooden baby toys was directly opposite a goth stall which sold predominantly cannabis related items. A brilliantly un-pc lay out.
There was lots of interesting things for sale here, stuff that youre not going to find on a shopping trip to the high street. My seven year old is unhealthily obsessed with Coca Cola and she was thrilled to find a stall which sold models handmade from various drinks cans. She immediately chose a hot air balloon in honour of the festival in (you guessed it) Coca Cola tins. My ten year old spent most of her money in a lovely spiritual stall, which sold really nice stuff not the melodramatic tat you normally find in these kind of shops. This one had pretty mood rings, sparkly dragon figures and mini handcrafted leather purses for kids and lots more all at very reasonable prices.
I couldnt tell you about every single stall, but believe me theres something for everyone. Theres a lovely book stall there which sells a variety of paperback and hardback books as well as 2007 diaries, calendars and notebooks with wildlife and floral themes. I grabbed a diary with a gorgeous photograph of a kingfisher on the front for the very good price of £2.99 and my sister bought a fantastic box of cherub notecards to use as Thank You cards for her wedding presents. Allow a couple of hours to really have time to look at the different stalls, and allow plenty of money because youll want to buy everything at some of them!
The food section is also brilliant. Most of the food places are lumped together, but youll find the odd donut kiosk dotted around the shopping stalls. Theres a pretty good choice too; noodles, burgers, jacket potatoes, hot pork sandwiches and the obligatory sickly smelling (but so moreish) donuts. I had noodles and black bean sauce which was deliciously fresh and authentic, my fella had a bacon butty which he said was delicious and the kids had a burger and ice cream and donuts and another burger In total our food for the day cost roughly twenty quid, but these kinds of festivals are always expensive on the grub sides so I cant fault this one for their prices!
There are also drinks stalls from Slush Puppie sellers, hot coffee stalls and even a licensed stall which sells a nice variety of beers for reasonable prices. The choice of drinks isnt as extensive as the food however, so if its just a cold drink youre after then Id recommend just buying it with your food to save on the queuing!
The fair is brilliant. Theres a couple of stomach churners that spin you into the air and indeed most of the rides are aimed at older people rather than children, although kids are well catered for with mini bumper cars and trampolines. My daughters loved the trampoline bungee jump where they were strapped into harnesses a few feet in the air and dropped down so they could jump on the trampoline and bounce up and down on the bungee cord. They had a go in the aeroplane simulator too which absolutely amazed my younger daughter when the plane did a somersault she grabbed my arm in terror as shed be staring at the screen so hard!
It is one of the more expensive fairs Ive visited, with each ride costing anything from £1 to £3.50 a go. They are fabulous rides though and well worth the money in terms of enjoyment and sometimes sheer adrenaline! For the more feint hearted theres the Hook-A-Duck stall (I won a giant Minnie Mouse!), tombola and good old fashioned Waltzers.
For a quick freebie when youve finished on the fair, head across to the Warburtons van. Shaped like a huge fresh loaf you cant miss it. As you go in youll be handed a Warburtons carrier bag containing lots of money off vouchers and the adults also get one of those trolley coin keyrings with the Warburtons logo on it. Their lovely bread is also constantly on offer as you walk through the small display inside, buttered of course, and you can scoff as much as you like of this. Of course my seven year old acted like shed not been fed for a week, eating the equivalent of half a loaf in the five minutes we were here. There are a few fun activities for kids in here such as guessing the main ingredient of bread, and why its good for you. Top stuff.
But the balloons. Ahh. the balloons. At various times through the day the festival holds hot air balloon races and throughout your visit youll be able to watch the ballooners getting their balloons ready for the amazing 6 o clock spectacle. At this time all the balloons are blown up, unteathered and up, up and away! Its an amazing sight watching one huge hot air balloon after another just floating off into the air. The Northampton sky was an absolute riot of colour as first the blue Nokia balloon went up, then the bright red Triumph balloon (the one with the semi naked lady, guys), then a yellow insurance one. Gorgeous. The children were enthralled, I was enthralled I didnt know a hot air balloon was so big!
If you can stay until late into the evening youll see the fab free live entertainment. The large stage is set up in such a way that you can see and hear from all over the park we went back to my sisters for a drink while the bands were on and although I cant say who was performing, I know they were good because I could hear every word from her kitchen window! After the entertainment came the fireworks. Wow, they were brilliant. The display went on for a good half an hour and was beautiful; well timed between each flurry of bangs and stars and a gorgeous array of sparkling colours. People were literally coming out of their houses and cars were parked up in the middle of the road to watch.
Stick this date in your diary for next year, Ill definitely be there.
Northampton is just off Junction 16 of the M1, follow the signs to Kingsthorpe and then to Abingdon and youll soon see the huge yellow AA signs directing you to the Balloon Festival. From the M1 Id say its a twenty minute straightforward drive through Northampton. You can catch a train to Northampton Station and again follow the signs to Racecourse Park which is within walking distance.
Tel (for Balloon Festival info): 01604 838222
I have lived in and around Northampton all of my life (23 years of it so far) and I have been to the ballon festival 3 times in the last 5 years. I regret that i had not started going to it sooner.
The ballon festival weekend is a wonderful day out for all of the family, the atmosphere that surrounds the bullons and the people flying them is very exhilarating and make you wish that you were going up in the next ballon that is about to take off.
There are literally hundreds of ballons to go round and look at varying from the more traditional ballons to some very large, weird but most wonderfully shaped ballons you will ever see, from the Budweiser bottle to rupert the bear, the technology these days pretty much allows them to have and make a ballon in to anything that they want.
There is so much to see and to do that you will really struggle to fit all of it in in just one day,I would suggest that you stay over the weekend as there are some really nice little B&B's in and around Northampton at very reasonable prices, plus this way you will miss all of the traffic as you will not have to rush off early to miss the traffic as with most festivals etc it is always the traffic, queueing and waiting around that makes the day a little bit less enjoyable.
Highly recommend going, if you do want to stay the weekend I would recommend booking at least a month or so in advance.