At the prize-giving at the end of the Icicle Meet on Sunday 4th January 2015, Pete Bish announced that after 43 Icicle Balloon Meets, the Dante Group has decided to call time on the meet. The factors that influenced this decision were:

(a) decreasing numbers of Dante members, remembering the sad loss of Alec Jenkinson and Pete Hornfeck, and reduced mobility and availability of others
(b) the loss of the Savernake launch site, which has made the last two meets harder to organise<
(c) the probable loss of the trade show room at The Elcot through redevelopment during the course of 2015
(d) the huge expansion in sport shooting and the money it generates on the estates of the area, making landing sites without aggravation more difficult to find.

Pete started the second part of prize-giving by asking for a show of hands from anyone who had been to the ‘full set’. Only John Baker, John Green and Pete himself, of those who were present, could claim that, with Mike Glue on 42!

Pete then went on to say that in Desert Island Disc style, the Icicle Meet was created by the Dante Group in 1973, probably at the suggestion of Phil Dunnington, our first Chairman. Phil is currently in Myanmar, not quite a desert island, but at least he has his luxury item – Allie!

The Icicle Meet started very much as a balloon meet with little organised socialising other than an informal prizegiving held on Sunday lunchtime in the bar at The Red House. The 20-something year old Dante members and partners camped en masse in the loft of one of the barns! Compare that with recent years where the social side has taken over, with crews staying at The Elcot, the trade exhibition, and the Saturday night dinner with after-dinner speaker. Where any flying did take place, whilst important for some, it is regarded by most as a bonus. In between, during the heyday of private ballooning in the 1980s and 1990s over 100 balloons would attend, with 1989 being the peak year with 143 different balloons making 146 free flights.

The flying sites have been Bradford’s Farm, Marsh Benham, Berkshire (20 years), Warren Farm, Savernake Forest, Wiltshire (21 years), Marlborough Common, Wiltshire (2014 only) and Folly Dog Leg, Hungerford, Berkshire (2015). Most launches at the 1975 meet took place from Tottenham Park, Savernake, although the briefings and base were at Marsh Benham.

Social venues have been The Elcot, Newbury College, Hungerford Town Hall, the Newbury South Hilton and the Swindon Hilton, before a return to The Elcot.

The Icicle Dinners started in the late 1990s and speakers have included Alan Noble, Anthony Smith (2), Phil Dunnington (2), David Hempleman-Adams, Brian Smith, Tim Orchard, Jim & Mike Howard, Marc Pacan, Robin Batchelor (3), Alan Carter, Chris Dunkley, Colin Wolstenholme and Pete Bish.

Over the years, particular stalwarts have been David and James Liddiard for use of their farms, David Smith for a lot of farmer relations work, John Green for countless trophies, and Celia Kunert for organising the social side of the meet. Pete Bish has for the most part been the front man for the meet, assisted by other members including John Crawford for met, Ian Culley on NOTAMs, Rog Kunert for maintaining an up to date set of maps, Dick Plume for Safety, Tasks and Prizes and balloon registrations, and Mike Drye for stickers and signs. Plus of course all the other members of The Dante Balloon Group who fulfilled all the other essential roles in the organisation and running of the meet.

The finale of the prize-giving was then to award the Marsh Benham Trophy (for services to ballooning in the Newbury Area) to David Liddiard, who was so receptive to that bunch of youngsters who came along to see him in 1972 to fly at his farm, base their balloons there, and most importantly hold Icicle Meets there, and dramatically change the second half of his life…!

Dante has been in touch informally with two groups of people about taking on the organisation of a meet elsewhere to replace Icicle on this important date in the calendar and is willing to make suggestions to anyone considering this. Please note there is no date for 2016, so watch the ballooning press.

Dick Plume on behalf of Dante Balloon Group

Icicle Meet 1993