Devon Whitewater - 3-4 November 2012
Things got off to a promising start when I reached the Plume of Feathers pub / bunkhouse just before eleven on Friday night. In my response to my enquiry as to whether there was time to grab a drink before parking I was told not worry, the pub would stay open as long as I liked...thanks – well found, Josie! The landlord then attempted to find the rest of THCC for me, and was quite sure they must be in bed. I was quite sure this was impossible, given the pub was still open, and sure enough soon discovered half the party already ensconced in a cosy nook round the back of the bar, getting stuck into some local Otter Ale, the rest joining us shortly thereafter.
Having decided it was high time I got my 3 star white water, I had joined the coaching / assessment group on the Dart. After a massive and very tasty breakfast in the pub we chipped the ice off the boats and headed to the rendezvous, a car park at the Loop put-in and wandered around for a bit trying to spot the coach, Tom Budd, who apparently looked nothing like his website picture. Eventually we did find him and agreed to paddle the lower Dart. This worked extremely well despite quite a range of WW experience across the group: Tom turned out to be an excellent coach and found spots down the river where everyone could work on something at their own level, from getting on the wave at the top of the rapid to gentle ferry glides at the bottom. He also (what a gent!) offered to jump in repeatedly so we could get some throw-line practice (though perhaps he was just trying to cool down. This is the guy who says he would have been paddling in shorts had he not caved in to peer pressure and bought a dry suit). The whole day, despite being a little on the chilly side, was fun and confidence boosting and we all ended up happy to have made real progress.
For Saturday evening's entertainment, this habitual sea kayaker was expecting to witness some of the legendary white water rowdy drunkenness, and in this was sorely disappointed. Most of the group were already in bed before closing time. Though it turned out that this was probably a good thing, given the radical improvement of the river conditions overnight.
I woke up before first light, to strange sounds on my van roof, looked out of the window to see a large blob of snow sliding down the glass, and on further inspection a fair bit more of the stuff all over the car park. Fortunately, the river was protected and snow-free (the pub is in Princetown, home of Dartmoor prison and one of the highest points on the moor) and more fortunately still the rain, sleet and snow overnight had raised the water level considerably. My previous experience of the Dart loop had involved mostly picking my way round rocks, so this seemed like a completely new river. More of a surging torrent in fact. Not in flood, but definitely up into the grass and round the bottom of some of the trees and barely a rock in sight.
Our coach/assessor for this second day was Ian Dovey, who, in addition to doing our assessment as painlessly as possible (and passing us both), guided the entire group over some fairly meaty rapids with remarkably few (and short) swims. He made us walk both Lovers' Leap and Triple Drop to work out a line before paddling them and gave people the option of portaging round if they didn't feel comfortable. Though he did end up with a couple of people stuck in a fast recirculating eddy for a while (moral: if your guide says “ start in the middle then move to the left”, it's not a bad idea to start in the middle and move to the left).
Verdict: that was so much fun I’m going to go back and do it in a sea kayak.
and now some photos: