This weekend, Jack and I had a few firsts. First time renting a car in the UK (for me, anyway). First time driving in more than 2 years (for him). First time using our new tent. And first time hot air balloon festival-goers.
Saturday morning we were up bright and early to get everything together, pick the car up and get on the road to Bristol. Jack managed to upgrade us, so we had a nicer car than we should have (spoiler: thank god, because those climes along north Devon coastal roads could not have been managed by a car in any way inferior to what we got) and we packed up the tent, sleeping back, blow-up bed, overnight bags and cameras. We were unprepared, in hindsight – didn’t bring flashlights, extra water, didn’t arrange for a pump for the blow-up bed (which, although featuring a camping scene on the front, was only inflatable by plugging into an electric current!) or get ourselves chargers for our phones in the car… too bad. Not a huge deal.
Saturday after setting up, we only really had about 4 hours until the Balloon Festival, so went to the fair grounds for the rest of the day. The festival was absolutely rammed full of attendees (it’s free!), so we pushed our way through crowds to get food, people watched, and ride a swing ride. Eventually the balloon launch started! The festival takes place on this large estate set in a valley, and the launches have to be staggered 1 – 3 at a time so that balloons don’t collide. They launch, then quickly move away, over the horizon, to float above Bristol and its suspension bridge. The only thing is? That’s kind of out of sight, so you don’t really appreciate how astounding it is as you’re deep in a valley and the balloons are somewhere beyond the horizon. We watched the full launch and – in the dark and drizzle – found our way back blindly to the road and camp site. Fireworks happened belatedly, so we saw them from the distance, and then crashed.
Sunday we were up bright and early at 6 am to catch the morning balloon launch, which was so much nicer than the evening one. We made our way down towards the launch area around 7 (so, an after after the scheduled launch), but that turned out to be perfect timing. From the campsite, you descent down towards Bristol, so are even higher than the Clifton Suspension Bridge. When we arrived the balloons were all suspended above us, frozen. Beautiful. We took far better pictures in the morning and a few hours later we packed up camp and got back in the car.
Our plan was to drive from Bristol to Exmoor, stopping at Lynmouth or Lynton in Northern Devon. The drive there was terrifying – small country roads and really steep inclines, but it was beautiful when we got to Exmoor. We went to Lynmouth and spent 3 or 4 hours walking around the city – climbed a hill to have a latte on this hotel porch high up in the hills, walked around a waterfall, admired the sea shore and got the very best fish and chips I have honestly ever had ever sitting on the stoney beach. The drive home was at least 5 hours, so I read aloud about 50 pages of the book I’m reading now about the Periodic Table of Elements (which is much better than it sounds). I’m pretty lucky to be with someone happy for me to do this – sounds pretty obnoxious in retrospect!
For the whole of the weekend, we set out a fairly ambitious itinerary to make the most of the rental car. What I didn’t really appreciate was how long it had been since Jack drove, and so combine that with learning the gears & idiosyncracies of a new car + the incredibly narrow, harrowing English country roads + all the surroundings to pay attention to when on the highway + not having driven to any of the destinations we had in mind before + all the new challenges thrown at him anyway + natural nerves, getting used to driving again + my intense anxiety as we whipped around tight corners with basically no shoulder: oh dear lord. We drove through some beautiful areas, so it was a shame we were both so wound up about what ifs.
Here are a few pictures from the weekend!
Here’s the rainy fireworks show that we (sort of) caught on our walk back to the campsite:
Approaching Lynmouth in North Devon