Fairwell My Air Balloon — I Wish I Knew You Better

Demolition of a 240-year-old iconic pub

Matt Mason

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Anyone from the Swindon area heading north towards the M5, or people from the Midlands heading in the other direction almost certainly knows The Air Balloon. Even if you never knew its name until now, it is the pub that sits at the roundabout on the A417 just before you join the motorway.

By Philip Halling, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13169213

My earliest memory of the Air Balloon pub is childhood. I had family living in Shropshire area, so it was the first landmark outside of my hometown that imprinted on my brain, and one I got used to seeing in the summer.

For me, it was a weird gateway to the start of the school holidays and any anticipated visit to Ironbridge even though there was another 85 miles to go to see the famous industrial town and its intricate bridge across the River Severn.

Even as I grew up, the A417 remained a major route north deeper into Gloucestershire and towards the M5. When I started going to the Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre in the early part of the 00s, the same junction and the same pub became part of another set of memories — the start of the Christmas season.

In fact, the pub became (perhaps undeservedly) a magical place in my mind even though at that point I had never stepped foot inside the place. Travelling in the first hour or two of daylight at the end of November was almost certainly foggy which added to the decades-old childhood memories of this pub in the seemingly perfect location.

On a clear day, you can get brief glimpses across Birdlip in the winter, not so much in summer when the trees are covered in leaves. This too made this short stretch of road a little magical.

I always enjoyed this stretch of the Gloucestershire countryside. It starts with the brown sign for the Birdlip panorama beauty spot, a leisurely drive (well it was on a calm traffic) day and then finally it comes into view — first the roundabout, and then the pub itself.

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Matt Mason

Freelance writer. Medium is my place to muse and vent the serious and the frivolous: asexuality, childfree living, gaming, society, satire and more.