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Italian balloonist lands near Pitscottie

On 5 October 1785 a strange object landed in a field near Pitscottie in Fife. The hydrogen-filled balloon of the Italian Vincenzo Lunardi had just completed the first aerial voyage in Scotland. Lunardi had taken off from the grounds of George Heriot’s Hospital in Edinburgh and drifted 46 miles across the Firth of Forth into Fife.

Plaque commemorating Lunardi’s flight near Pitscottie

Vincenzo Lunardi was born in Lucca in the Kingdom of Naples (in pre-unification Italy) in 1754 and achieved fame in 18th-century Britain and later in Europe for his daring aerial exploits. He served in London as secretary to the Neapolitan ambassador. Previous to his flight in Scotland, Lunardi had accomplished several balloon ascents in England.

Vincenzo Lunardi in 1784

Although Lunardi made, arguably, the first significant journey through the air in Scotland, he was not the first to make an ascent in a balloon. A year earlier, the Scot James Tytler, Lunardi’s great rival, made several short flights in a hot air balloon in Edinburgh.

Lunardi’s exploits inspired developments in clothing fashions, including, famously in Scotland, the balloon-shaped Lunardi Bonnet, which features in in the poem by Robert Burns To a louse. Observing the creature on the head-covering of a smartly-dressed woman, the poet exclaims – how dare it defile “… Miss’s fine Lunardi, fye!”

Street sign in Cupar

In the nearby town of Cupar, a residential close, Lunardi Place, and a care home are named after the pioneering Italian balloonist.

The plaque near the site of Lunardi’s landing is located along the B940 road between Pitscottie and Peat Inn at grid reference 56°17’49” N 2°56’17” W.


Lunardi plaque image © Kim Traynor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Lunardi portrait image, Science History Institute, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Street sign image © Paul Vyšný, CC BY-SA 4.0