River Dee (Wales)

River Dee (Afon Dyfrdwy)
The River Dee at Llangollen
Country United Kingdom
Part Wales, England
 - left Tryweryn, Alwen, Clywedog, Alyn
 - right Ceiriog, Wych Brook
Cities Llangollen, Chester
 - location slopes of Dduallt above Llanuwchllyn in the mountains of Snowdonia
 - coordinates 52°49′56″N 3°45′56″W / 52.83222°N 3.76556°W / 52.83222; -3.76556
Mouth Dee Estuary
 - coordinates 53°21′14″N 3°13′33″W / 53.35389°N 3.22583°W / 53.35389; -3.22583
Length 110 km (68 mi)
Basin 1,816.8 km2 (701 sq mi)
Discharge for Chester Weir
 - average 29.71 m3/s (1,049 cu ft/s)
Discharge elsewhere (average)
 - Manley Hall 31.03 m3/s (1,096 cu ft/s)
 - Bala 13.06 m3/s (461 cu ft/s)

The River Dee (Welsh: Afon Dyfrdwy, Latin: Deva Fluvius) is a 70-mile (110 km) long river in the United Kingdom. It travels through Wales and England and also forms part of the border between the two countries.

The river rises in Snowdonia, Wales, flows east via Chester, England, and discharges to the sea into an estuary between Wales and the Wirral Peninsula in England.



The total catchment area of the River Dee up to Chester Weir is 1,816.8 square kilometres (701.5 sq mi).[1] The average rainfall over the catchment is estimated to be 640 millimetres (25 in) yielding an average flow of 37 m³/s. The larger reservoirs in the catchment are:


Natural course

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct carrying the Llangollen Canal; the River Dee runs beneath.
View down-river from the bridge in the centre of Llangollen (March 2007)
River Dee in snow at Llangollen (February 2007)

The River Dee has its source on the slopes of Dduallt above Llanuwchllyn in the mountains of Snowdonia in Merioneth, Gwynedd, Wales, and then passes through Bala Lake. The path of the river trends generally east-south-east as it descends off the Ordovician Denbigh Moors, over the man-made Horseshoe Falls and through Llangollen, generally skirting the outcropping Karstic limestone exposures north of Llangollen. East of Llangollen, Thomas Telford's Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, of 1805, carries the Shropshire Union Canal 120-foot (37 m) overhead.

One of the major tributaries of the Dee, the River Alyn (Afon Alun) crosses the Carboniferous Limestone from Halkyn Mountain and runs down through the Loggerheads area before making its confluence north of Holt. Throughout the length of the Alyn there are numerous swallow holes and caverns and during the summer months long stretches of the river bed run dry. These caves include Ogof Hesp Alyn and Ogof Hen Ffynhonnau. A significant part of this lost flow re-emerges in the Milwr tunnel, a man-made tunnel, entering the west bank of the Dee estuary and carrying 12 million imperial gallons per day (600 L/s). This tunnel was originally constructed to drain metal mines in Halkyn Mountain. Once the main River Dee approaches the Cheshire border and the Carboniferous Coal Measures, it turns sharply northwards before meandering up to Chester. This long stretch of the river drops in height by only a few feet. The rich adjoining farmland has many remnants of abandoned coal workings and deep clay-pits used to make bricks and tiles. A number of these pits are now being used as landfill sites for domestic and commercial waste.

At Holt and Farndon, Cheshire, the river crosses into England under a medieval bridge and then passes under the A55 road and continues northwards to Chester. At Chester the river passes and around the Earl's Eye(s) meadow. In the Chester region the river side is used as a recreation area with a bandstand, benches and boat cruises, being crossed by two bridges. The first is the Queen's Park Suspension Bridge, which forms the only exclusively pedestrian footway across the river in Chester. The second is the Old Dee Bridge, a road bridge and by far the oldest bridge in Chester, being built in about 1387 on the site of a series of wooden predecessors which dated originally from the Roman period.

Chester Weir, Handbridge, Chester, England (2002)
View of the Grosvenor Bridge, taken from the South bank of the river
Winter sunrise at Llangollen

Above the Old Dee Bridge is Chester Weir, which was built by Hugh Lupus to supply power to his corn mills. Throughout the centuries the weir has been used to power corn, fulling, needle, snuff and flint mills. The same weir was used as part of a hydro-electric scheme in 1911 with the help of a small generator building which is still visible today, used as a pumping station for water since 1951. However the first water pumping station here was set up in 1600 by John Tyrer who pumped water to a square tower built on the city's Bridgegate. It was destroyed in the Civil War but an octagonal tower built in 1690 for the same purpose lasted until the gate was replaced with an arch in the mid-18th century.

On this weir is a fish pass and fish counting station to monitor the numbers of salmon ascending the river, and also a weirgate for navigating the weir at spring tides. A little further downstream stands the Grosvenor Bridge (designed by architect Thomas Harrison of Chester), which was opened in 1833 to ease congestion on the Old Dee Bridge. This bridge was opened by Princess Victoria five years before she became Queen.

The other side of the Grosvenor Bridge is the Roodee, Chester's race course and the oldest course in the country. This used to be the site of Chester's Roman harbour until, aided by the building of the weir, the River Dee silted up to become the size it is today. The only curiously remaining reminder of this site's maritime past is a stone cross which stands in the middle of the Roodee which exhibits the marks of water ripples. To the end of the Roodee the river is crossed again by a second bridge, now carrying the Chester–Holyhead railway line, before leaving Chester. It was the scene of one of the first serious railway accidents in the country, the Dee bridge disaster.

Railway bridge in Chester, spanning the river between Curzon Park and the Roodee. Photo taken at high tide.

Canalised section

West of Chester, the river flows along an artificial channel excavated between 1732-1736. The work was planned and undertaken by engineers from the Netherlands and paid for by local merchants and Chester Corporation. It was an attempt to improve navigation for shipping and reduce silting. Chester's trade had declined steadily since the end of the 17th century as sediment had prevented larger craft reaching the city.

After four years' work, the river was diverted from its meandering natural course which passed Blacon, Saughall, Shotwick Castle, Burton and Parkgate and up the west shore of Wirral. Instead the new canalised section followed the coast along North East Wales. During this time, Sealand and Shotton were reclaimed from the estuary. Land reclamation in this area continued until 1916. The river's natural course can still be determined by following the bank and low bluffs that mark the western edge of the Wirral Peninsula.

The man-made channel, which runs in a straight line for 5 miles (8.0 km), passes beneath three road bridges. The first two are adjacent to each other at Queensferry. They are a 1960s fixed-arch bridge carrying the North Wales–England trunk road and its predecessor the New Jubilee Bridge, which is a rolling Bascule bridge completed in 1926. The third crossing, and the most recent, is at Connah's Quay. The Flintshire Bridge is a fixed cable-stayed bridge. It opened in 1999.

Between the second and third road bridges is Hawarden railway bridge, originally constructed as a swing bridge but now never opened. It carries the BirkenheadWrexham Borderlands Line line over the river.

A footbridge replaced the passenger ferry at Saltney in the 1970s.


Beyond Connah's Quay the river opens out into the Dee Estuary, forming the north-easternmost section of the North Wales coast and the western coast of the Wirral. Towns along the coast include Flint, Holywell and Mostyn on the Welsh side and Neston, Parkgate, West Kirby and Hoylake on the Wirral side.

The estuary is hugely important for birdlife and has been designated both as an SSSI and as a Ramsar site accordingly. Its value lies in the huge expanses of mud which are exposed between tides and the extensive saltmarsh developed on both sides but principally on the right bank north and south of Neston.

The estuary owes its origins to the scouring of a broad channel through the Triassic sandstones and Carboniferous mudstones by glacial ice during successive ice ages to form an iceway. The channel continues inland south of Chester but its higher reaches have long since been infilled with sand, gravel and mud. The process of infilling by mud continues to the present day as the rapid growth of the saltmarsh in the last century testifies, pushing the high tide line further out into the estuary.


The Chainbridge at Berwyn about three miles (5 km) upstream from Llangollen
The River Dee at Llangollen, after stormy weather


Large parts of the catchment are devoted to agriculture and there a number of abstractions made from the river for summer irrigation. The volumes involved are not however significant.

From Chirk downstream, the river valley has supported a wide range of industries that were initially drawn to the area by the presence of coal mines and later by the deep deposits of Carboniferous clays used to make bricks and tiles.

The coal industry in particular gave rise to a number of chemical industries some of which survive to this day and which both take water from the river and discharge their cleaned up effluent back into the river. Industries in the valley include commercial chemicals manufacturer, wood chip and MDF fabrication, cocoa milling, fibreglass manufacture, waste disposal (in old clay pits) and a great variety of smaller industries concentrated around Wrexham. The main impact on the river of these industries is their thirst for a dependable good quality water supply.

Currently the wings[2] for the Airbus A380, which are made at Airbus' manufacturing factory in Broughton, are taken downriver by barge to the Port of Mostyn because they are too large to be shipped in an Airbus Beluga.[3] However, the dredging of the river for the barge may be responsible for a weakening of the tidal bore.[citation needed]


There are a number of direct water abstractions upstream of Chester by three water companies and by the canal. The size of the abstraction is very large compared to the summer flow and the flow in the river is very highly regulated through the use of reservoirs to store water in the winter and release it in the summer. The whole system is managed as the River Dee regulation system. Below Chester water is also abstracted as cooling water by the gas-fired power station at Connah's Quay. Process and cooling water is also abstracted for the paper mill and power station at Shotton.

Water sports

The Dee used to be a popular whitewater kayaking and touring river (particular the grade III/IV whitewater section upstream of Llangollen). It stays high after rain for longer than most British rivers and is paddleable year-round (thanks to the River Dee Regulation System). Canoeing used to be allowed on about twelve weekends per year, and tens of thousands of canoeists descended on Llangollen for recreational paddling (several Dee tours were held every winter), slalom competitions, and wild water races.

Public access to the river is arranged by the Welsh Canoe Association. In 2003, negotiations with the angling associations owning fishing rights on the Dee broke down. The anglers wanted to restrict the numbers of paddlers on the river when paddling was allowed but the Welsh Canoe Association wanted to renew the previous agreement. As a result, all canoeing on the river was banned. In November 2004, a protest about the lack of access on the Dee, and to rivers across England and Wales, was held in Llangollen. More protests are likely in the future. Following the failure of the access agreement, many canoeists use the river at will from the numerous access points along its banks.

Canoeing is permitted on one 100 m long rapid 1 km upstream of Llangollen, and on some flat sections far downstream in England.

Each July the Chester Raft Race is held on the River Dee in aid of charity.


View of the Dee from the famous Grosvenor Bridge in Chester, looking down-river towards Curzon Park. Taken in Spring at high tide
Same view of the Dee in Chester, looking down-river towards Curzon Park. Taken in summer at low tide.

The river has been famed as a mixed fishery with salmon and trout fishing, mostly in the upper waters and a good coarse fishery in the lower reaches. A major pollution incident in the middle reaches in the late 1990s did extensive damage to the fishery from which it is now largely recovered.

See also

Moore Bridge.jpg UK Waterways portal


Further reading

External links and further reading

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