Newest Review: ... the balloon festival started my brothers and me would walk down to the racecourse early in the morning and watch the balloonists fireri... more
Rather deflating after a while...
Northampton Balloon Festival
Member Name: thedevilinme
Northampton Balloon Festival
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.
Summary: You missed the moment