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River Dart Struggle Sunday 04th October 2015
A previous raft attempting the “River Dart Struggle”Photo © RAW 2014

Hundreds of brave participants are set to paddle and push their home-made rafts through torrents of river water from Buckfastleigh to Totnes on Sunday 4th October for the annual River Dart Raft Race.

And the South Devon Railway is running a special ‘early bird’ train for onlookers to view the spectacle in what is hoped to be one of the event’s biggest ever turnout with several hundred participants and supporters.

Organised by the Rotary Club of Totnes as a fun way of raising funds for local charities, the River Dart Raft Race or “River Dart Struggle” has been a popular local event for many years.

Over 30 rafts carrying up to 300 people between them in two to ten-man teams are expected to take part in the much enlarged 2015 event.

Some of the best views of the racing rafts going down the River Dart can be had from the adjacent South Devon Railway, so the steam railway has teamed up with the Rotary Club and will be running four steam trains the same day, plus an early morning diesel observation service departing Buckfastleigh at 08.45, just after the race starts.

The ‘early bird’ diesel special will slowly meander down the line stopping at key points along the way close to the river so that local people and visitors alike will be able to enjoy grandstand views.

With three Rugby World Cup (RWC) games taking place in Exeter on dates close to the race and a good number of travelling fans known to be visiting the area, rugby supporters are being encouraged to come along to support the event, and any potential raft race teams yet to enter who wish to fly the flag for any of the 20 RWC nations or wear their favourite local rugby team’s shirts will be welcome.

In addition, the SDR is offering good discounts on tickets booked on-line in advance which are valid all day so people can ride up and down as many times as they wish.

The ticket price reductions are £2.00 off for adults; £1.00 off for children/ OAPS; and £4:00 for families so that the on-line advance bookings prices are: £12.00 Adult & OAP, £7.40 Child, £36.00 Family (two adults plus two children). These tickets are also valid on the ‘early bird’ train.

The ‘early bird’ train will arrive at Totnes at 10.42 to pick up passengers at that end of the line and also dropping off those who wish to stay and travel back later on steam services. The ‘early bird’ train will leave Totnes for Buckfastleigh at 10.45, calling to drop off people at Staverton station to see the race in progress from the bridge and riverside walk.

For those in need of food and refreshments, the South Devon Railway’s Refreshment Rooms at Buckfastleigh will also be open early that day. And those wishing to travel later on and view the paddlers from the comfort of the SDR’s warm, steam-heated trains moving down the valley can also do so too, enjoying a moving vista of the action and fun on the water, plus the chance to cheer on the soaked, intrepid rafters.

Many supporters are expected to follow the teams’ progress by train as the SDR offers some unrivalled close views of the river over its seven-mile route, and people can have a full day out by catching a later train back after seeing rafts cross the finishing line. Supporters, friends and family of competitors wishing to travel by train are advised to contact the Rotary Club about purchasing reduced price tickets for the SDR.

The race itself starts from Buckfastleigh at 08.30 on Sunday morning and rafts will be despatched thereafter at one minute intervals until the last crew gets underway up to an hour and a half later. The finish point is Vire Island, in the centre of Totnes alongside the finishing line. Supporters, friends and relatives can watch all the excitement of the struggle as rafters approach the finish.

There will be live entertainment, food, merchandise stalls and live commentary from Michael Chequer of BBC Radio Devon, so it will be a fun day out for all the family.

SDR train passengers will be able to see the rafts almost alongside the railway on a number of stretches of the River Dart, and train tickets are valid for all day travel and passengers can take as many trips as they wish and break their journeys en route.

In addition to the 08.45 ‘early bird’ diesel service, four round-trip steam train services will be departing from Buckfastleigh at 10.45, 12.15, 2.15 and 3.45 and returning from Totnes at 11.30, 1.00, 3.00 with the final return train at 4.30 to allow for a full day out.

It is very important that onlookers fully understand that they must not trespass on South Devon Railway lines during the event, and the SDR will be patrolling key stretches to ensure people follow the rules about staying off the track at all times.

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© South Devon Railway Association 2015

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