Dart – February 2020

Friday 21st February

We had been nervously checking the weather forecast and the river levels (on the very useful Rainchasers website) for the last ten days, as half the country seemed to be flooded following Storm Ciara and then Storm Dennis.  Wales was badly hit, as were parts of the midlands and north of England, but Devon seemed to have been spared.  So we decided our trip to the Dart was ‘on’, and a small but select group set off from Chiswick – Fi (writing this!), Clare, Steve and Rob.  We all chose MXs, except for Steve who took a chance on the blue Dagger GT (which is now his new favourite).

Clare found a great deal at Northgate House, in the grounds of Buckfast Abbey, which meant we each had our own double en suite room – the whole place looked brand new, power showers and all, and a bar with a roaring fire for a small nightcap – luxury! 

Saturday 22nd February

Fi’s nephew Nathan (a Devon local) joined us on Saturday morning.  Our inspection at Newbridge showed the river lapping onto the ledge, suggesting a nice, comfortable, fairly high level.  (Rainchasers calls this level ‘medium’, but we all agreed it felt higher than any club trips in recent memory!)  Quick shuttle, then we’re all afloat to paddle the Loop section (Newbridge to River Dart Country Park).

A very enjoyable trip.  The higher level meant there were almost no rocks to hit, the rapids had a bit more speed and volume than usual, the waves were a bit higher, so we had fun bouncing down the wave trains.  Lots of practising – ferry glides, breaking in and out, and playing in some of the (smaller!) waves.  Successful descents of the main features.  Lovers Leap was quite a roller-coaster, waves smacking you in face.  At Triple Drop, T1 was quite hard to spot (Rob didn’t!); T2 had a ridiculously boily eddy, that some of us failed to get in (Fi!); and T3 held it’s usual sting in the tail in that final wave (to which Nathan succumbed!)  We all agreed to steer well clear of the spiny bit of the Spin Drier, but found it slightly easier said than done!  Portaged Holne Weir on the left, then a final wave train after ‘broken weir’, down to our exit at RDCP. 

The day had turned out to be dry and sunny, so perfect paddling conditions.  We reckoned the levels had risen slightly on the water, later confirmed by Rainchasers.  Quick foray into the hardware shop in Ashburton, followed by a substantial afternoon tea in the quaintest of teashops, and finished the day with dinner and ales at the very pleasant Abbey Inn, 5 mins from the accommodation.

Sunday 23rd February

Just the four of us today, Nathan having used up his day pass.  Another dry sunny day.  Decided to do the Loop again – levels about 1.5 feet higher than yesterday, but some reassurances from local paddlers encouraged us it would be fine.  And it was.  The level was certainly higher – waves bigger, current faster – but didn’t necessarily feel more difficult.  Just to be sure, we inspected Lovers Leap and Triple Drop, only to find our carefully chosen routes impossible to spot on the water!  Steve and Rob’s inspection was slightly longer than Clare and Fi’s, as some extreme chatting meant they overshot where we’d left the boats by about 1/2k J.  Steve got in some good leading practice (and also some good rolling practice!)  Rob mentioned a few ‘interesting moments’ but I couldn’t possibly comment, and Clare just sailed down gracefully, deciding to save her ‘rolling practice’ for the last 50 yards!

Excellent trip – thanks everyone!