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Sunday 5th October


Early – 1                                                                                 23 September 2014



With hundreds of brave participants set to paddle and push their home-made rafts through torrents of river water from Buckfastleigh to Totnes on Sunday 5 October for the annual River Dart Raft Race, 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 of up to two thousand 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 already booked to take part in the much enlarged 2014 event, but which is still open for late entries.


Some of the best views of the racing rafts going down the River Dart can be had from the adjacent South Devon Railway (SDR), so the railway has teamed up with the Rotary Club and will be running four steam trains the same day, plus the early morning diesel observation service departing Buckfastleigh at 09.05 just after the race starts proper.


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.                                                            More follows

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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, the mid-point of the seven-mile line.


For those in need of food and refreshments, the South Devon Railway’s Refreshment Rooms at Buckfastleigh will also be open that day from 08.00 onwards for breakfasts and hot drinks and, as an additional spectacle, around 100 members of the Healey Driver’s Club and their classic cars will be starting off on their annual Exmoor Rut from the station in the morning.


And those wishing to travel later on in the day 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.


Teams entering the race are encouraged to seek sponsors for their efforts in addition to the £40.00 entry fee per raft, and the funds raised all go to local charities supported by the Rotary Club of Totnes.


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.


The race itself starts from Buckfastleigh at 9.00 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, Totnes.


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.                                                                More follows



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In addition to the 09.05 ‘early bird’ diesel service, four round-trip steam train services will be running on the day over the pretty line 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.                        


As well as the rafts, countryside lovers can also enjoy some secret, stunning scenery from the comfort of steam trains as they snake leisurely down Devon’s glorious valley of the River Dart, and walkers can take advantage of some beautiful walks from stations too.


Geoffrey Hyde of Totnes Rotary's Raft Race Committee said: “This year's River Dart Struggle looks likely to be one of the best supported for many years, with 30 rafts and upwards of 300 team members now booked to take part, so there should be plenty of excitement for the teams, their supporters and spectators alike.


“In particular, spectators travelling on the South Devon Railway's trains that run right along the Dart, will enjoy a grandstand view of the teams as they make their way slowly down the river to Totnes.               


“It should be a great day out for everyone and a fun way of raising much needed funds for local charities, and we’re still open for late entries!"


Commenting on the event, SDR Spokesman Dick Wood said: “The Raft Race is always a fun event which raises money for good causes and is a treat for many local people who come to enjoy watching the valiant entrants do battle with the River Dart in their home-made rafts.


“There are some superb views of the River Dart at this time of year, and there really is no better way to see the race moving along than from one of our relaxing trains. The teams taking part really deserve medals as their rafts often come to grief in the tricky waters!                                              More follows           




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“We’re running the ‘early bird’ train as an experiment to see if it’s a service that people will want to use to see the race because the diesel railcar has great panoramic windows offering terrific views.


“But, if we’re really busy for the 09.05 early bird service, we’ll use a bigger train hauled by steam instead to cope with demand. And the presence of the Healey Drivers Club with their classic cars in the morning will also add to the attraction of the event.


“It’s also very important that onlookers fully understand that they must not trespass on our railway lines during the event, and we will be patrolling key stretches to ensure people follow the rules about staying off the track at all times.”


With ample car parking at Buckfastleigh on the A38 Devon Expressway, the South Devon Railway is just 25 minutes from Plymouth, Exeter and Torbay.




1)             Further information and news about the River Dart Struggle can be seen at:, or from Rotary Communications Committee Chairman Peter Thornhill on 07449 334307 or

2)             Further information about the South Devon railway can be seen at:

3)             To arrange photography or filming, please contact Dick Wood on the number below, but some pix of last year’s event are attached for your use.


Issued by Dick Wood on behalf of the South Devon Railway,

Mobile 07711 552947, e-mail: or