Balloon frenzy (or the day my kids discovered the art of picking glue off their skin).

We are lucky enough to live in a city that loves hot air balloons. Spring through autumn (but especially summer), when dawn and/or dusk are clear, dozens of balloons fill the skies. And due to the way the wind blows, they drift right over our house. We often wake up to skies of balloons – rainbow coloured, chicken shaped, countless balloons – low and lazy, we can hear the fire and see the flames as they heat the air. And when we go out for sunset adventures, a great summer tradition, they hang low in the sky above.

20140521-104200.jpg

My childhood was filled with memories of watching hot air balloons take off. The high school just down the road from us had a big field, and we’d go down once a week or so to watch the balloons be unrolled, inflated, floating. One landed in the field across from my house one day, and that memory of excitement is as bright as the balloon itself was.

Last summer we took the kids to our city’s International Balloon Fiesta. It always happens right around their birthday weekend, and they are already looking forward to this summer. We spent the day in hot sun, picnicking, watching planes do aerobatics overhead, riding Ferris wheels. And at sunset, we watched over a hundred balloons depart the skies. It was amazing.

We’ve been having jokey conversations about what sort of balloons we would design – because the balloons in our city aren’t just all colourful, but multi shaped – and so I thought, Hmm. Let’s make some to hang in the house. I cast my memory back to the third grade and some Christmas decorations I made in school, explained the idea to the kids, and we ran out into the garden.

Armed with glue, yarn, balloons, empty yogurt pots, tissue paper, and all sorts of stuff. An easy little craft, I thought. And I’ll put up a tutorial once we’ve finished them.

But OH THE DRAMA. We had popped balloons, glue covering most of our bodies, soggy wet yarn drying itself to the path in big clumpy knots.

At one point, little S actually fell backwards into the paddling pool while fully clothed. It was like a bad children’s movie! To her credit and determination, her grip on her wet balloon never faltered and though she was crying and covered in suspiciously green, ice cold water, she held the balloon up and safe.

This is as far we we’ve got:

20140521-104936.jpg

For our physical and emotional safety (only half a joke, folks!), we’ve decided to leave it for today and do more tomorrow. Don’t ask why there’s only one. What happened to the other one is busy being repressed by the owner of that ill fated hot air balloon. Maybe it’s gone to that clear, lightly breezy place in the heavens.

Best of Bristol – Willsbridge Mill

20140317-115701.jpg

There is one place we’ve gone that we have never had a bad day at – Willsbridge Mills. Whatever the weather or time of year, whether we’re on our own of with friends, it just never fails. There are so many different areas to explore, but what really makes me love it there is the aura of a bit of magic.

You can park on the main road by the mill, or disabled parking is available right on the site, but we always park in the ‘official’ carpark (on Long Beach road) which means we get to have a lovely little walk through the woods to get to the main area. And in the summer, the first thing you pass are masses of blackberry bushes. Yum!

20140317-115612.jpg

There are hills to climb, rocks to explore, odd little paths shooting off in many directions. Not to mention the big paths that feature history walks or bat walks! There are also brass rubbings, wood carved benches, and the like. But our favourite bit is always standing on the first major drain cover and listening to the water rushing underneath us.

The main pull to Willsbridge Mills is the little river/stream running through it. We’ve spent many summer days splashing in it, and this year we plan to see how far upstream we can hike in it. The rocks are very uneven, so very little ones may need hand holding to help keep their balance. There are loads of larger flat rocks, and you can stack them to make quite amazing rock towers in the water.

20140317-115817.jpg

There’s a long dock that runs along the water, with amazing carved benches (to be honest, the carvings everywhere are one of the main things I love about this place!). The dock also has a couple of steps with a handrail to help smaller or less able people get into the water easily.

Behind the seating area is a sloped small hill covered in vegetation. My kids spent a full forty minutes last week pretending to be ninjas as they created a circuit of climbing up the hill, then sliding down a muddy part on their bottoms.

20140317-120619.jpg

Also near the water is a large pond that is used for pond dipping. There are more wide, carved posts in this area – ideal for a snack break. There is also a larger lunch area that is ringed with curved tables and benches.

The final main bit of Willsbridge Mills is the nature garden. They’ve created beautiful gardens with lots of little areas to explore – more water, reclaimed tyres/sinks/baths full of plants and flowers, an amazing and colourful tile path, more carvings talking about what plants need to thrive, recycling, snails, etc. Plenty of little paths, sunny spots, and more little circle areas that would make for great picnics with friends.

There are also a number of large paths around the area – we’ve not gone far down many of these. Apparently one leads to a quarry, so we will definitely be exploring that in future visits.

20140317-120721.jpg
Last summer.

On sunny days, the area is quite shaded so it stays cool – and protected on windy days, so even in colder weather it doesn’t feel exposed or brutally cold. Last week was neither particularly warm or cold, and we went in the water wearing wellies and waterproof trousers (though I just wore sandals and barefeet! First spring water splashing is fantastic!)….though my wellies plan backfired somewhat as I didn’t account for the fact the river would be very swollen from recent flooding. So as the kids stepped into the water, it was just high enough to immediately spill into their boots! But such is the magic of the place that no one complained…

This is a spot that is usually quite calm and quiet, though obviously we are often there during school hours so that has an impact. There are flowers to smell, letters to trace with fingers, sticks to be floated along the water. I can’t recommend it enough!

20140317-120710.jpg