River Dart ' 3* White Water Training

The Beginners...

After packing the car, literally to the brim, and snarfing down a supper of fish and chips...Phil, Bradley, Alice and I were off. It didn't take long for Bradley to be fast asleep which left me and Alice to keep Phil awake/entertained whilst driving! We learnt a lot on that journey, how Skeletor lost his face (an acid accident apparently), which character we would be if in Star Wars (on waking up Bradley was forced to guess which we each went for), who Shee-Ra is and a rendition of the theme tune from He- Man...Eventually we did make it over the moors and were reunited with the others (who were looking rather cosy in the bunk house kitchen).

Glynn and Helen (having brought down her box file of maps) showed us where we would be paddling the next day...which brought it home to Alice and I what we had signed up for *gulps*. It would have been nice to say that after a greats night's sleep we felt refreshed and ready for what the Lower, Lower Dart had to throw at us, but instead we learnt to pack earplugs and a stick (to poke the snorers with)!

Day 1: The Lower, Lower Dart

The kayaks were whipped off the cars and we all took our time getting our kit on properly (Alice has 'issues' with the 'Cag of Doom' and Iwith the stupid flooding trousers). Bradley started getting the kayaks across the mini ravine whilst we waited for the shuttle runners to return. We were soon waving the 3 star assessment group off on their merry way and into our briefing with Glynn and Helen....even Bradley looked a bit nervous at this point but Phil didn't bat an eyelid! So with the hand signals agreed and our 'REAL' emergency word sorted (still not convinced Banana is the first word that would be coming out of our mouths...maybe 'insert chosen expletive 'Banana''!?) we were soon on the water!

Alice, Phil and Bradley took to the water like ducks (maybe not as elegant ducks mind) but I had a few teething problems....G&H had us practicing ferry gliding in the first jet but on being a nervous wreck, I decided to float backwards instead of glide across, had a further unsuccessful attempt at eddying out and crashed into the (first of many) rocks...that Glynn had pointed out to avoid not 5 mins previously! Thankfully it didn't end in a swim and Helen was on hand to unpin me! That seemed to set the standard for the rest of the day and it wasn't too long after that I did end up swimming! A failed attempt at breaking into the jet saw me float off with Helen chasing after me...

It wasn't long after that we hit a fairly fast rapid which Phil pummelled down in his Burn, I made it down without swimming (much to my relief) but was no longer the only soaking wet one. Bradley went for it quite gung-ho, went over and enjoyed the delights of a swim. Then along came Alice who made it safely down the rapid, made the mistake of relaxing and got caught out by the pesky jet...and went for a swim too. Once everyone was back in the kayaks and had made it across the jet to the other side, we had a cheeky little play in the waves.

After a couple more smaller rapids we came to the 'Rock Garden' or 'Graveyard' (Glynn told us that name for it after we had got through it thankfully!) Phil was quite impressive catching all the eddies, ferry gliding here, there and everywhere....Bradley enjoyed having a play too but Alice and I were happy to just get down it...especially since we hadn't really experienced what it was like bumping into, going over and trying to get around large rocks! It was time for lunch after that and a bit of map reading. Alice was shocked to see we had barely gone on an inch on the map given how long (it felt) we had been out there.

I went for a second swim at some point (there were so many over the weekend that it's all a blur) and Glynn had fun convincing me a big weir was coming up...the others were a bit disappointed when it turned out the weir had long been collapsed so it was more a little wave train...you can guess who was relieved!

Eventually it was the end of the line and we all got out at Staverton station. The steam train made an appearance causing Bradley to get caught over the other side of the tracks whilst carrying his kayak and we all had fun waving (at Bradley) and the hundreds of children with party hats on!

Day 2: The Loop

Alice and I thought G&H had lost their marbles letting us loose on The Loop! After a warm up it wasn't long before our little group was watching the 3* assessment group get onto the water, literally, just before a drop. We all took the easier entry after the bridge where the water was low but perfect for us beginners. Once warmed up on the water everyone seemed to be far more confident and having fun...Phil was playing in eddies all over the place, Bradley the king of edging and Alice and I were happily giggling/screeching away (managing to ferry glide and get into eddies) and occasionally cursing the odd the rock!

We practiced edging/ferry gliding and breaking into a strong jet where there was a big eddy; amazingly no one went for a swim. Then we had fun going down bigger rock gardens and drops one- by-one using hand signals between eddies. Alice got herself stuck in rocks halfway down and had to be dislodged by Glynn, but made it down safe and dry. We had a chit chat to some of the other Kayakers around (and had fun giving them nicknames ie Dangermouse) and carried on thoroughly loving the surroundings (we actually noticed them today, bit too stressed to look around Saturday). Phil, Helen, Bradley and Glynn had fun playing where the Webburn joined the Dart... apparently they can now say they have played on Grade 4 water *Ahem*!!!

Then we got to the Washing Machine...we were told what to avoid (the middle) and watched Glynn go down to the left at an angle...Phil managed it perfectly, I got down the drop fine but had gone too far to the left, hit the ledge and for some reason stopped paddling so over I went. A few bumps on the backside but I had fun swimming down the jet and was rescued by several friendly kayakers (one of which was quite good looking sorry, l don't mean you Glynn, he he)! With me safely set down on the bank it was Bradley's turn...he also walloped the ledge, got flipped 90 degrees but managed to right himself (rather impressively) and stayed dry! That left Alice who had been a little nervous at the top but who got down it absolutely fine and the colour started coming back in her cheeks! We had fun eating lunch and listening/watching out for others who went for a swim.

We went through a bunch more grade 2 rapids (more rock cursing, but it was fun) and got to a bigger/ faster stretch just before Lovers' Leap. Phil went down first (he was now helping as another 'rescuer' because he had improved so much), followed by Bradley who had been continuing his ultra sharp edging into eddies. I was the next one to go down...swimming! I hit a rather large rock that sent me sideways, lost my balance and over I went, closely followed by Alice who pretty much did exactly the same, on the same rock...we were clearly just testing Glynn and Helen's rescue skills...can they rescue two at the same time!? We're not entirely sure who was rescued first but Alice (once on the bank) went off to sit behind a rock to recover...her face having met two rocks when she capsized. I sat trying to work out where the path was so I could walk back after also meeting a rock that hurt! Poor Phil and Bradley...they had to try and get the paddles/boats before they went down the next rapid! Phil ran the rapid backwards whilst trying to catch one of the kayaks and rescued it downstream. Helen tidied up on the river, getting the boats, paddles, Phil and Bradley to the bank! After composing themselves, it was time for Alice and me to get back in the kayaks and across the jet! Bradley did his best at calming me down when I had eventually made it across and Phil kept a good position in case he was needed again. Alice trooped across but the next few smaller rapids it was a case of building confidence back up and a bit of rafting! I rafted with Helen and pretty much closed my eyes for most of it but you could hear Alice being told 'it will be fine, just don't let go' and then on hearing a 'boof' half way down Glynn saying 'you're going to have to let go...'!

It was then time for a few more bigger rapids so us two ladies had to fly solo...the guys were pros now and flew down the rock infested rapid but I ended up sitting perfectly balanced on top of a large rock, was spun 180 degrees and then proceeded to go down backwards which resulted in another swim....the water was kind enough to throw me (kayak and paddle) straight into a (rather painful) rocky crevice half way down. Another rescue test for Glynn and Helen! Glynn and Bradley tried to get back up to me...eventually Glynn managed to get out of his kayak, traverse the rocks and get to me, now in tears *bows head in shame*. Helen, rather impressively, managed to ferry glide from rock to rock, back up to where Glynn was trying his best to convince me to get back in the kayak. Eventually all three made it down....me and Alice were both extremely glad to hear it was the triple drops next as it meant they could get out and walk!

We all watched Glynn take on the triple drop set of rapids...Phil was quite eager to give it ago but having surveyed them for a while, it was advised they might be best left for another day. Phil's rule is 'if Helen advises not too do something, then he won't be doing it'...a very good rule indeed. Bradley wanted to do part of it but seeing how it's an all or nothing affair, we all carried our kayaks around it.

We got back on the water for another few rapid runs...me, practically hysterical on realising I was about to do another big rapid (possibly the Tumble Dryer), was led by Glynn pointing out where all the rocks were (which seemed to make me head for them even more) but after some good advice from Phil ('just lean forward and paddle') made it through without swimming and actually enjoyed a few big waves! Alice sailed through it all too...hit the occasional large rock but kept her nerve and only screeched a few times. It was time for Alice and I to get out again for a big weir...so we carried our kayaks whilst watching the others shoot the weir. Alice bravely got back on the water to do the final weir but I decided to play with a dalmatian puppy that was trotting by (and that I'd had enough swims for one day) and do the end on foot!

Glynn, Helen, Alice, Bradley and Phil all shot down the weir in style and paddled a very big and bouncy wave train to the finishing line...

A MAHHOOOSSSSIIIVVVE THANK YOU to Jen and Simon for organising the trip, to Phil for driving and to Glynn and Helen for their patience, encouragement (Glynn 'I WILL get your confidence back') and of course, their excellent rescue skills!!!! Despite a few facial injuries it really was an awesome weekend.

- Lynds