I'd always wanted to do it, so I booked a flight from Newbury in Berkshire and took teenaged nieces along with me. We helped inflate the horizontal balloon with air before the burners were lit to heat it. We climbed into the basket that came up to about waist level and held on as directed. Take-off was fast. I had expected a gentle and graceful rise. Not a bit of it. A final squirt of flame, the helpers let go, and we shot up into the sky. Within seconds the onlookers were dots on the ground, and we were half a mile high.
The other feature which surprised me was the tremendous forward velocity. We had waited to catch the still air of the evening. Even so, the balloon was carried forward at real speed. We headed first over railway lines, then a river with a small stone bridge. A flight of ducks took noisily to the air as we soared over them. Cows and sheep tended to gallop away as we passed overhead. It was a slice of England, pocket handkerchief fields and hedgerows, woods, villages and country lanes.
We came down on a cricket pitch outfield, just after the last over of the day had been bowled and while players and supporters were enjoying the evening sun and a cool pint on the pavilion. Cricketers and spectators gathered around to help. We gained the impression that having a multi-coloured balloon drop out of the sky was the perfect ending to a day's play. It was an excellent first time for me, and I did it again several times.