We finally ran our first Ultimate Taste of Devon trip the other day - this is notionally a trip out over gilded water to bob sedately off Jurassic cliffs, looking at charismatic large animals, followed by landing on a white beach to consume a feast of local produce, before a shorewalk with a marine biologist then and five mile trek home along the cliff path. All to take place in the burnished sunshine of a classic Devon Spring. Our happy, contented punters would then retire to the pub to proclaim very loudly how splendid we were.
As the day approached, so did a gigantic, spiralling low pressure system from the mid Atlantic. These two seismic events - the Ultimate Taste of Devon, and the storm of the decade - met on the 29th April at 11 am in Dartmouth, with the centre of the weather system - basically a whirlpool of violently spinning cold air - sitting precisely over the chimney of the shop building. I walked to work that day at 45 degrees, eyes slitted against the driving rain, with the gulls flying backwards and people packing their possessions into their cars whilst shouting "It's the end of all things, grab the children" at passers by. It was, in a word, bad.
When I got to the shop, Andy was in the process of putting on more protective clothing than Sir Ranulph Fiennes, as the door rattled and groaned on it's hinges. The town itself was utterly deserted, as scirrocos of rain span down the street. Pub signs creaked and swung on their hinges, and no living thing was out in the open, as to do so would mean certain death. My thoughts at this stage was that only a deranged lunatic would pay money to sit in an open boat on a day like today, and then, hunched and staggering through the maelstrom, came five of them.
At that exact point, I loved being British. Such a refusal to accept the blindingly obvious is the reason we once had an Empire. It wasn't quite charging the cannons in the Crimea, but I'd venture it was fairly close. As Julia and Robin - our first guests - came through the door they did that special "stamp the water off the wellies" dance and muttered "Blimey, it's a bit fresh." As they said this a yacht went past upside down in the street and a van with an American typhoon chaser was seen speeding past as it ran for cover. Soon our other guests appeared, and we had a full complement of mad people.
And so to the boat. Literally nothing else was moving on the river, except for the odd duck cowering in the lee of a marker bouy quacking in alarm and paddling like a wind-up toy to stay in the same place.
Everyone cheerily climbed on board, piling into the stern to huddle together like Emperor Penguins in a blizzard as seen in one of the more lavishly funded wildlife documentaries.
"RIGHT" I hollered above the shriek of the wind, "WE'RE JUST GOING FOR A LITTLE CRUISE UP THE RIVER."
Everyone nodded with the look of the imminently doomed, and we moved sedately away from the quay. Backwards and then sideways as the wind took charge. Happily we had the horsepower to turn up-river, although unhappily this meant we were now going directly into the wind. To replicate this sensation it's probably best to stand directly behind a jet engine with someone hurling small ice cubes at our face.
"AND OVER THERE IS THE NAVAL COLLEGE. BUILT IN 1905." I roared, like it was a nice day and everyone on board was stone deaf.
We finally admitted defeat, and turned so we were going with the wind. I slowed the engines to idle as essentially we were being pushed along at a neat ten knots by the gale up our rear end. Here's a picture of us all in action. Please note the utterly deserted waters behind us and the shuttered frontage of Dartmouth.
We duly landed in the lee of the castle, and everyone piled ashore in good order. The nature walk was one of the shortest in history, the slight snag being that the beach was under about eight feet of foaming, heaving water. The seashore talk was along the lines of "There's the beach. Now, run, save yourselves."
Back to the shop, and a feast of bliblical dimensions laid on by Helen and Danii at the Dart to Mouth Deli. I could go into detail, but the best way to put it is - as ever - in a picture. Clotted cream from local farms, crab from the local fleet, smoked chicken from the local smokehouse - food so good it made you want to burst into song.
Next one on 13th May when the sun will definitely shine.