Having lived there for two years, I know it well at street level. But last year I was lucky enough to see it from a whole new vantage point – floating high above in the basket of a hot air balloon.
Bath’s a popular place to go hot air ballooning. When the weather’s right, flocks of them set off morning and evening from Royal Victoria Park in the city centre, the roars of the burners drawing people to their windows as the balloons rise into the sky.
For take-off we were lying down in a seated position, unable to see anything but the side of the basket. Then, with a jolt, we were upright, and when a few moments later we were allowed to stand and look over the side, the crowds watching below were already becoming specks.
The thing that amazed me was the silence. The hum of traffic and everyday life was inaudible as we floated above the city. Occasionally, the sound of a car horn reached us, but otherwise all was silence, stillness and peace.
It gave me a new perspective on the area I know well: the city roads; the narrow-boat-filled Kennet & Avon Canal and the River Avon meandering towards Bradford-on-Avon; not far to the south, the green swell of the Wessex Ridgeway, with its white horse above Westbury.
Hares and deer in the stubble fields darted as we drifted above. Cows and llamas, less concerned, simply gazed or grazed.
All too soon, our pilot was scanning for a field to land. Spotting one to the west of the town of Melksham, he lowered us down. Not far from the ground, he decided against it and we set off again, flying over the houses so low we could say hello to people out in their gardens – I think the whole town must have come out to greet us as we drifted overhead.
Then it really was time to land, we passengers hanging on tight as the basket bumped, lurched, bumped again and came to a stop. As we packed away the balloon and drove back to Bath, I don’t think I was alone in thinking one thing – when could I go up again?