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It's Much More Than Balloons!
Northampton Balloon Festival
Member Name: chrisandmark
Northampton Balloon Festival
Advantages: Get to see hot air balloons take off, great funfair
Disadvantages: Pricey in some areas of the festival
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 I’ve literally just sat down to write this review as I walked back into my house in Birmingham at 2am. We’ve 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) children’s 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 you’re 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 couldn’t tell you about every single stall, but believe me there’s something for everyone. There’s 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 you’ll want to buy everything at some of them!
The food section is also brilliant. Most of the food places are lumped together, but you’ll find the odd donut kiosk dotted around the shopping stalls. There’s 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 can’t 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 isn’t as extensive as the food however, so if it’s just a cold drink you’re after then I’d recommend just buying it with your food to save on the queuing!
The fair is brilliant. There’s 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 kid’s 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 she’d be staring at the screen so hard!
It is one of the more expensive fairs I’ve 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 there’s the Hook-A-Duck stall (I won a giant Minnie Mouse!), tombola and good old fashioned Waltzers.
For a quick freebie when you’ve finished on the fair, head across to the Warburtons van. Shaped like a huge fresh loaf you can’t miss it. As you go in you’ll 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 she’d 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 it’s 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 you’ll 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! It’s 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 didn’t know a hot air balloon was so big!
If you can stay until late into the evening you’ll 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 can’t 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, I’ll definitely be there.
Northampton is just off Junction 16 of the M1, follow the signs to Kingsthorpe and then to Abingdon and you’ll soon see the huge yellow AA signs directing you to the Balloon Festival. From the M1 I’d say it’s 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
Summary: A fantastic day out for all.
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