With The River Thames meandering through areas of picturesque countryside and vibrant towns, the English county of Oxfordshire is rich in both natural and historical significance. A hot air balloon ride over Oxfordshire provides the perfect opportunity to view the county from an entirely different perspective.
The main launch site in the county is conveniently based near the centre of Oxford, home to the prestigious university. Being the oldest university in the English-speaking world, the Universityof Oxford was established in the eleventh century and has remained one of the most iconic educational institutions of the modern day. Taking up much of the city, many of the beautiful college buildings and gardens can be seen from the air. The University Church of St Mary the Virgin is the epicentre of the University surrounded by various college buildings and designed by Nicolas Stone with its baroque porch and eye catching spuires.
The Bodleian Library, or known simply as The Bod opened in 1602 and forms an important part of the University today. The original home for The Oxford University Press, The Bod takes its place within a square of beautiful university buildings, including The Clarendon Building and the Sheldonian Theatre. Now used as administrative offices, The Clarendon Building overlooks the iconic Broad Street, where many of the colleges reside. Designed by Christopher Wren, theSheldonian Theatre is used for various occasions held by the University, including graduation ceremonies and is unmissable with its prominent eight-sided cupola pointing up towards the sky.
Separate to the University, Oxford is home to the church of St Michael and its Saxon Tower. Forming part of the original city wall, the Saxon Tower is the oldest building in the city. Oxford Castle was build for William the Conquerer in 1071, which has also functioned as a prison and a place of execution during its past.
Moving north-west from the city towards the Midlands you might encounter the country towns of Banbury, home of the Hobby Horse Festival. From above it is possible to encounter the gothic-inspired Banbury Cross, which scales fifty-two feet high and features states of Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V. Close by you will find another great launch site, based in the market town of Bicester. Setting off from Bicester Airfield, the surrounding area is renowned for its link with the military. The airfield itself became a Royal Air Force station during the First World War and is now home to the Windrushers Gliding Club.
To the west of the county you will find a range of hills known as The Cotswolds. Nicknamed the Heart of England, the area was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966. Covering an area of 790sq miles. The Cotswolds is the largest of the 40 AONBs in England and Wales. With many quaint country towns and villages breaking up gentle countryside as far as the eye can see, there are plenty of fantastic photo opportunities to be had. Renowned for being the centre of the regions wool industry, Chipping Norton is the highest town in the whole of Oxfordshire. Burford is a popular tourist destination with an interesting blend of medieval and Early Modern British architecture that should not be missed.
If your hot air balloon ride takes you towards the south-east of Oxfordshire, you may encounter the wonderful town of Henley-on-Thames. Built on the banks of the UKs most famous river,Henley-on-Thames is home to the Royal Regatta. Taking place over the first weekend in July each year, the Royal Regatta is one of the worlds most prestigious boat racing events. The Henley Cross is a magnificent collection of 60 oak trees planted in the shape of a Victoria Cross, perfectly captured from the comfort of the balloon basket.
No two balloon flights are ever the same, so where you fly and what youll see, be it chimney pots or countryside, is really up to the wind (with a little help from your pilot). Just dont forget totake your camera, binoculars or camcorder to record the magic of a balloon flight experience.