SHREWSBURY: ON TOP OF THE WORLD AT 102

carlotta niles 1Centenarian Carlotta Niles with the balloon she rode in France on her 102nd birthday, above, and back at home in Shrewsbury, below. (Photos by Betsy Ford and John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

carlotta niles 061715 2Two years ago, reflecting on her first 100 years of life, Shrewsbury’s Carlotta Niles told redbankgreen that she was pretty much through with foreign travel and hot-air ballooning.

But on May 27, Niles celebrated her 102nd birthday in a gondola high above France’s Loire Valley.

“I was physically able, so I thought, ‘Oh, I’d better go,'” she said Wednesday, as she flipped through a collection of photos from the adventure. “It’s scads of fun.”

No longer as mobile as she once was, Niles had to “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle” into a gondola laid onto its side to accommodate her. Once aloft, she soaked in the views of the French countryside dotted with chateaux, or castles. “It was just super,” she said.

Niles, the daughter of a silent film star, began ballooning after the death in 1987 of her husband, Jonathan, who used to take her on annual birthday trips to London and Paris, but never wanted to leave the cities, she said.

“So after he died, I said, ‘damn it, I’m going to go ballooning,'” she recalled with a bright laugh.

What does she recall about that first ride?

“It’s not a bit scary,” she said. “You’re with the air, so you’re not aware of motion. It’s wonderful.”

She’s now ballooned in seven countries, she said.

On the latest trip, she traveled with her daughter, Diana, and two grandchildren, staying in a 17th-century farmhouse restored as a bed-and-breakfast that she rhapsodizes.

She also got “whisked through” airports in a wheelchair, met a child who marveled at her age, and found herself treated by adults “not like a person, but almost like a… well I don’t know,” also because of her advanced age.

“I’ve been very, very lucky,” to have lived so long, she said.

An inveterate bridge player, Niles has been working with a coach to improve her game, and loves showing visitors her terraced backyard.

As for future adventures, “I told the girls I had such a good time I seriously would go back tomorrow,” she said, waxing on the “just divine” attractions of the French countryside.