Dorset will forever be linked to the writings of novelist Thomas Hardy – Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd were all set in the fictional land of ‘Wessex’ which took Dorchester and surrounds as it’s inspiration. A napa ballon rides ride over the area provides the perfect opportunity to view many of the county’s landmarks from a completely new perspective – or more specifically from anything up to 5,000 feet.
A good place to start is Shaftesbury or the ‘Shaston’ of Hardy’s novels. The town is an ideal place to view both the breathtaking River Stour basin and the beautiful Blackmore Vale – a valley which runs from south Somerset into Dorset. As well as many fine historical buildings, Shaftesbury has one particularly famous cobbled street. Gold Hill featured in the famous Hovis bread advert: most people will be familiar with the iconic images of a young boy pushing his loaf-laden bike up the slope to the sound of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony.
Shaftesbury is a small market town with a history that goes back to medieval times and hill-top forts. From the skies you may be able to spy ancient Wardour Castle, quaint villages like Motcombe, Cherry Orchard and Sturminster Newton and even Glastonbury Tor on a clear day. Whichever direction the wind takes you, you’ll be able to appreciate Dorset’s fantastic patchwork of fields, farm-land and small forests.
Sherborne is a fine centre to base yourself and an ideal spot to explore the wide open skies by hot air balloon. Of particular note in this unspoilt area of Dorset is the Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin, now commonly known as Sherborne Abbey. It has been a Saxon cathedral, a Benedictine abbey and is now a parish church. Sherborne is literally packed to the rafters with historic buildings including Sherborne School, Sherborne House and the Almshouses. Sherborne also featured in Hardy’s books but as ‘Sherton Abbas’ and no balloon ride here would be complete without viewing the majestic Sherborne Castle.
Further south, a hot air balloon ride from Blandford Forum is as refreshing as the ‘Badger’ beers it’s famous for. The small market town on the River Stour is a fantastic place to fly over. Look out for the corn exchange, market place and six arch bridge, which are highlights of the Georgian architecture present throughout. Just south lies the small village of Blandford St Mary, home of the Hall and Woodhouse brewery, where ales like Badger Original, Tanglefoot, and Fursty Ferret are still made today. Although Champagne is the traditional ballooning tipple, after a balloon ride from Blandford Forum, maybe we should make an exception.