It was a mate, Chris Charlton, who first mentioned the idea to me some years ago. We both live in the Dee valley and with our other exploits it became a real desire to run the whole of the Dee in a single day. We needed a number of things to come together: enough water in the upper reaches but not too much for the difficult section around Llangollen, the bigger waves at Trevor and the weir at Overton; in addition enough daylight and Chris and I being free at the same time.
On Monday I phoned Chris, 'Have you seen the water level? Are you free on Wednesday?' There was no need to mention what I had in mind. Chris has been a little under the weather and needed to make a decision on Tuesday.
I was out on Bala Lake coaching on Tuesday so didn't get hold of Chris again until late in the afternoon. Not only was Chris on but he had organised the food and a mate John Hilton as support and backup.
Wednesday: alarm went at 3.30 and I was straight into paddling kit. Breakfast was an obligation and rather forced down. 4.15 and the boys arrived to pick me up
5.15 and we were underway on Llyn Tegid
The sluices, just after leaving Llyn Tegid and the confluence with the Tryweryn, were a minor portage.
The first weir was easily paddleable but it was steep and we didn't want a wetting or bailing at that time of the morning.
The upper reaches are fairly straightforward but delightful. This is an area jealously guarded by the estates and fishermen but they were still in their beds.
Between Llanderfel and Corwen, passing my village of Cynwyd, the river is relatively slow but there is a flow and we were cracking on.
John was waiting for us on the bridge in Corwen. Brew was made and breakfast scoffed. A welcome leg stretch.
A little more than needed on this break back into the current. I now sure if Chris was performing for the camera or warming up for the challenges ahead?
The current was now picking up.
Very typical of the easier rapids on this section. Nice and bouncy and the main task to take dry lines or slow down to avoid shipping water. It is worth noting that we weren't taking photos on the bigger rapids, Chris reckoned I would be better employed using my paddle.
Just emerging from the tree after a fast and exciting run down the left had side of Horseshoe Falls, the feeder weir for the Llangollen Canal.
Agreeing on the line down the Chain Bridge falls and the lead into the Serpent's Tail.
The water was a lot bigger down at our level! The idea being to cut through the V and keep to the right of the main wave train. Down ahead of us the river narrows into the Tail. (Notice the muppet of a window cleaner on the ledge outside the hotel: no safety gear above a class 2/3 rapid).
We lined the boat down a small side channel to avoid the large stopper that the rest of the river flows into.
Then onwards through the Mile End Mill White Water site and a lack of photos. Some very big waves and some very committed moves to avoid the biggest stuff. This pic is of the nice bouncy stuff leading towards Town Falls.
The main falls are Class 4 and we had no intention of running that (I have done it but it needs a long period of scouting and we didn't have the time). So it was onto the trolly for a quick run through town.
Back on below the town and onwards. This was 10.50 and mile 31. We both felt the tension launching onto this next bit. Although most would be straightforward there was an awkward rapid at Trevor and the two weirs at Erbistock and Overton.
Tucked back behind us are a number of awkward stoppers and large waves. We took it on river right but had a brief misunderstanding. Chris wanted to accelerate left above a large pair of stopper and avoid them that way. I thought we were going right! At the last moment we accelerated and took it through the right edge but took water an board. The photo gives no impression of the size of the waves on this one.
A fair bit of water was sloshing around in the boat which made it sluggish on the next moves and slightly less stable. We broke out below the bridge for another sort and food stop. This was mile 35 and half way in terms of distance.
The Pontcysyllte aqueduct completed in 1805 and spanning our route.
The weir above Erbistock. Lethal on river right in most water levels (there are exceptions). The river slows upstream of the weir and there is plenty of warning.
We could have run it tight left but a quick bit of lining was dry and secure.
The eddy above the weir at Overton is on the right and tight on the top. Unlike the previous weir there is no slowing of the water at this level and it comes on you with no real warning. A quick drag up the bank.
It is runnable at this level close on the right bank but I have seen that line blocked by a tree jam at the bottom. At lower levels the right hand side dries and boats can be portaged over the weir itself, lined or indeed run down a shoot. I have been here once in monstrous water and the weir gave me nightmares the following night.
Once the weir was passed the technical problems were over. But this was the last of any reasonable speed from the current. The Dee begins a slow meandering across the Cheshire plains. Both of us changed to bent shaft (elbow) paddles; Chris was using a Greyowl but I had my carbon Wenonah a real treat after paddling with a big stick through all the technical stuff. It was a case of settling into a rhythm for the next seven hours or so.
Cruising with bent shaft paddles. I never let Chris use my Wenonah in case it spoils him.
It is quite unsettling just how much the river loops on itself and twenty minutes or more apart you get to see the same set of trees or farm but from a different angle. I just switch my mind off and paddle but I cannot resist asking Chris if its the same tree/building/set of pylons just to play with his mind (its good being mates).
Below Fardon the river the is considered a navigation and the banks are lined with small shacks, sheds and jetties. The occasional headwind died completely as evening drew on.
A private bridge on the Duke of Westminster's estate.
We had seen sunrise now the day was ending.
It was mirror calm as we paddled into Chester. John was waiting for us just above the weir. The water was now tidal.
A final photo 9pm in Chester having paddled the seventy miles from Llyn Tegid. The companionship of a tandem pair! Mind we look a little bent.
The trip took 16 hours on Wednesday 2nd May.
Because of the water level we only saw three fishermen in the entire day: at lower levels and at a weekend it would be thick with anglers