Hot air ballooning thrills for garden centre owner
East Belfast man, Robin Mercer, owner of Hillmount Garden Centre, has literally just returned from the starry skies after competing in one of the hot air ballooning calendar's most prestigious events.
For the 19th time, Robin was the only competitor from the island of Ireland to participate in the international Sagrantino Challenge Cup in Italy with over 50 competitors from across the globe and although he didn't bring home the prize of 1,000 bottles of wine, he has won the competition in previous years.
He had the opportunity to choreograph a night time balloon light show for the 50 plus competitors and admits when he's not managing his family owned garden centre, there's nowhere else he'd rather be than high above ground in his balloon.
Robin said: "Ballooning is something really special. It's a lovely way of seeing the world. It's not like being in an airplane or helicopter. You are able to admire the view from 360 degrees. You don't know where you're going to go or where you're going to land - it's something really special."
His love for hot air ballooning began 20 years ago and has taken him beyond flying in Northern Ireland and Italy to competitions and festivals in USA, Philippines, France and even on a flight across the Burj Al Arab in Dubai.
Robin owns one of Northern Ireland's favourite garden centres with his son Alan. Hillmount has been serving the local community with a team of 80 local staff for almost 80 years. The garden centre family's flagship store is at Gilnahirk with a second store in Bangor and a third garden centre is being added to the family in Ards in autumn.