Come on up and see London

25th September 1998 at 01:00
Would you like to fly in my beautiful balloon? Definitely, as long as it is tethered and has a totally enclosed gondola.

The London Balloon Experience offers the thrill of balloon ascent in complete safety, leaving you as Luke, aged nine, says, "Feeling bouncy back on earth".

The balloon is filled with as much helium as it would take to fill half a million party balloons and rises to 400ft. Tethered just south of the River Thames, in Vauxhall, it commands a breathtaking view of the monuments and street plan of the city, with the vista of greater London stretching away to the encircling hills.

Suddenly all that primary topic work on urban geography falls into place - there are bridges between important places, railways arterially linking town to suburb, spires straining against the sky. And for the older traveller, the contrast of architectural styles leaps out: the Tate Gallery, pompous and well-meaning, Big Ben, strident and sturdy, the MI6 headquarters, sleek and modern.

As sheer thrill, the ride is unusual - at first tummy-lurching in its rapid ascent, it is oddly gentle at the top of its tether, rocking and revolving gently in the air. In adverse weather conditions, it either does not fly or flies with a reduced load.

The 15-minute ride is suitable for groups of up to 28, though it would be better to divide a young class into two, to enable them to easily move around the gondola.

The balloon is very near Vauxhall City Farm, which might make for a good day out. Parking can be a problem - best to ring to check.

Bookings and information, tel: 0345 023842, or 0171 587 1111

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