There are at least three River Dees in these isles, one in Scotland, one along the Anglo-Welsh border, and another in Ireland. In this case I was travelling the Anglo-Welsh one, a one-way trip from Farndon to Chester.
My wife and daughter planned to explore Chester for the day, so I arranged to be dropped off by the bridge at Farndon, to be collected by the waterside upstream from Chester Weir later in the afternoon. So, boat, dog and lunch were duly packed for a day on the river.
Access to the river at Farndon is quite good. The carpark by the old bridge is free and roomy. There is a small pontoon down a few steps, but plant growth and a sharp corner mean that it is easier to load the boat ashore, then slide it under the fence and down the bank than try to carry it down the steps.
The river was running a bit higher than usual from the look of things. The pontoon was submerged, so I held the boat against the bank while the dog clambered in over the stern, then shoed him forwards so I could reach the kneeling thwart myself.
A few moments were spent getting ourselves properly arranged then we broke into the current and turned downstream towards Chester.
The bridge across the river also crosses the border between England and Wales. Built in 1399 by monks from St Werburgh’s Abbey in Chester it used to carry a toll, and have a gate tower in the middle.
An important crossing point on the Dee, it was also the scene of civil war battles, and reputedly, the drowning of two sons of a welsh prince who are now supposed to haunt the area.
None of that drama was evident today however. A grey overcast blanketed the sky and even though it was quite warm, gentle drizzle fell.
The high river levels brought many plants closer to the water, and the flat light allowed their rich colours full rein.
The current was quite strong, giving me a steady push along the way. For a major river, the Dee seems quite small here, only around 30-40′ across, though it does run deep between high banks. Views are quite limited because of this, but the banks are tree lined and pleasant.
Every now and then plants protruded from the river some distance away from the bank. This toadflax with its reflection caught my eye.
Another few fronds of it stood in line against the flow.
Along both banks of the fiver for several miles downstream of Farndon, there stretched a scattered shanty town of weekend dwellings. Collectively known as the Huts, some were quite elaborate permanent chalets, while others were little more than ramshackle sheds.
The river ties itself in knots as it approaches Almere, and you find yourself paddling at all points of the compass in short order as it wriggles across the flood plain. Along the bank here are some beautiful weeping willows, dangling into the water. I enjoyed the lines of light and shade, and paused to make an image.
Passing the huts I had seen no-one, but now I had a spectator. Or she may simply have been admiring her own reflection…
Pink seemed to be the colour of the month as far as flora went – this amphibious bistort flourished along long sections of the bank.
Passing the village of Aldford, the river enters the Eaton Hall estate, the very private country seat of the Grosvenors (now Dukes of Westminster) since the 16th century. As I crossed the boundary, I was under beady-eyed inspection.
Aldford Iron Bridgecrosses the river hereabouts. It was built for the estate in 1824, carrying the ‘Aldford Approach’ to Eaton Hall. The Tudor-looking lodge next to it is in fact mock-tutor, but of the 19th century variety rather than 1980’s housing boom.
I enjoyed the elegant cast iron span, picked out nicely in sky blue and white.
I had been paddling for couple of hours by now, and it was time to look for somewhere to land and have lunch. The Crook of Dee, a large meander, offered the perfect spot – a wooded field margin with easy-angled banks and a flat dry area under mature beeches. Too good to pass by!
I moored up, and stretched cramped legs with a short walk. The dog was pleased to have a run as well, capturing a trophy from the water.
He didn’t have it all his own way though – the branch put up a stern fight!
A river tour boat, decked up to look like a Mississippi paddle steamer, passed by upstream as I sat by my stove, leaving me feeling a little like Huckleberry Finn roughing it on the bank.
That said, freshly brewed tea and a minute steak and fried onion roll isn’t a bad way to rough it!
A short rain shower encouraged me to stay put for a second cup of tea and a chocolate ginger biscuit or two under the sheltering beech trees, but before too long it passed and it was time to continue down to Chester to meet my wife and daughter. This fallen bough caught my eye, its ochre leaves contrasting with the mid-summer greens reflected in the river.
The A55 passes overhead soon after the Crook of Dee, and for a short while traffic noise intrudes on the quiet of the river. But before long that too gets left behind, and the Mile Straight brings the first views of Chester. I was glad there was almost no wind today. The current, that has been pushing me along nicely further upstream, had now died away to almost nothing, dammed back by Chester Weir, and the straight channel would make a formidable wind tunnel should the wind blow against you.
I began to see a few watercraft on the water now, single sculls from the many rowing clubs closer to the city centre.
Some very desirable properties lined the right bank, but the left side was open parkland as I turned the Earl’s Eye and started the final approach to Chester Weir.
The Old Dee Bridge crosses the river by the weir. The weir itself dates back to the 11th century, and there has been a river crossing here since Roman times, but the existing bridge mostly dates from the 14th century. From the look of the differing arches it has been built and rebuilt many times over its long life.
The weir marked my downstream limit. I turned around here, and travelled a short distance against the flow to one of the riverside pubs to complete my 20km journey with some well -earned refreshment. Despite the occasional drizzle and uninspiring skies, the trip had made for a very pleasant current-assisted afternoon, following the meandering border between England and Wales through green and open country.