GUIDE TO THE RIVER DEE
(Corwen to Horseshoe Falls)
NAME OF RIVER: Dee (or Afon Dyfrdwy if you're Welsh...)
WHERE IS IT?: It flows from Bala lake into a beautiful valley paralleled by the A5 for much of the way. There is a classic harder stretch below the one described here.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: The river can be paddled from Corwen. However, the usual access point for this stretch is Glyndyfrdwy (bonus points for correct pronunciation, Dyfrdwy is the name of the river, Glyn mean on the side or bank of, so this is Deeside or Dee bank in English). From the A5, turn towards the river by the Post Office/shop, go across the railway (real steam trains...choo, choo...). Access during tours is via a field on the right of the road just before the river bridge, downstream and river right of the bridge. To find it on a map, go up stream (west) from Llangollen, after the town bridge, the next road bridge is at Chainbridge (although the chain bridge itself is pedestrian only), and the next after that is Glyndyfrdwy. This field is 4x4 only if it rains as many people whom I have pulled out will testify.
There is an emergency only (according to the tour access agreement) egress at Rhewl, where the minor road running along the north of the river comes down to the bank. Other than that, the next (legal) egress is at Horseshoe falls. Get out river left above the falls and walk along the tow path past the Chain Bridge Hotel. On some tours you can park above the hotel, in which case carry over the metal footbridge that crosses the canal. You can also paddle down the canal to Llangollen if you do not want to do the next (grade 3 with bits of 4) section.
APPROX LENGTH: 12 miles from Corwen, 5 miles from Glyndyfrdwy.
TIME NEEDED: Depends a lot on level as well as play time. If low it can take 3 hours just to do the section from Glyndyfrdwy (including playing). The flat bits get hard work in modern short boats. If high it can be done in an hour, since most play spots wash out.
ACCESS HASSLES: A joke. The local landowners/ anglers/ etc. must be laughing their socks off. As of the winter of 2003-4, there is no recreational access to the Dee. The Tour weekends have been cancelled by intrasigent fishermen, so the WCA are now advising paddlers to make their own decision about the river. What this means in practice, is that paddlers are paddling the river at their leisure, with due environmental sensitivity.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: The best place to check level is at Eddylines (Nomads/Tombstones/Mile End Mill....) in Llangollen where there is a gauge opposite the shop door, on the island. The usual summer level of about 2-4 and this would be a scrape on this section of river (academic given the access situation). Winter level varies from about 4 (bit rocky but certainly goes) up through "where's the gauge?", to "where's the island?". At high levels things get washed out above Horseshoe Falls, giving some bouncy grade 2 stuff and a lot of trees to keep out of.
GRADING: Grade 2. There is one rapid near the end of this section that just about reaches 3- at low levels (4 on Eddylines gauge) but washes out at higher levels.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Horseshoe Falls. This is a horse shoe shaped weir (there's a surprise) built to provide head waters for the Llangollen canal. It is VERY dangerous. At very low levels, people do shoot the main drop, but at anything above this the towback is enormous and will suck you into the middle of the horse shoe, out of range of throw lines. This place kills. The route down is hard left over some broken rock steps and between some tree covered islands. Watch out for pins and strainers. Technically there is no access to run this drop at all, but loads of people do on tours. Inspect every time as fallen trees block routes every winter. See egress above if you want to walk this. Loads of people do walk, even if paddling the whole of the rest of the river, so it gets a lot of respect from hardened river runners. The approach to Horseshoe Falls is very clear. A left hand bend into a long (0.5km?) straight flat stretch with a strong wind in your face irrespective of what the wind is doing anywhere else. Big white house visible ahead above the river. As you approach the right hand bend at the end you can hear the falls easily, and the water gets very sluggish. There is a small bay in the bank river left on the outside of the bend that makes a good landing point (if a bit muddy and slippy).
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The section below Corwen offers long winding stretches through rural countryside, with regular easy Grade 2 rapids which can be run on sight if you are confident. The photos should give you some idea of their character.
From Glyndyfrdwy the river is a fairly straight forward grade 2 run with a number of good grade 2 rapids, enough space between them to pick up the pieces and a few good play/coaching spots as well. Great in a traditional open boat. Good for a first proper white water river trip. Used by locals for 4* and L3 coach training/assessment in open and kayak. Warm up on the wide, fast shoot at the access point. Get a few ferry glides and break in/out to settle into the boat. A few hundred yards down
stream the river turns left into the first bouncy grade 2. Easy for leaders to cover with a number of breakouts mid-stream and left bank.
Other notable features include:
A weir that runs most of the width of the river, where you can see the railway line river right above. There is a green shoot river left. Forms a good surf wave at medium levels. Disappears completely at high level.
An island on a gentle right hand bend, which runs either side. Left is more fun, going through some nice waves at the bottom.
A section which is completely blocked river right by strainers and runs straight through bouncy waves river left. Great play wave on the left about half way down, but dire consequences with strainers if you mess it up. This leads on to a small friendly wave next to a low bank, with a bench seat on it. Coffee and surf practice.
Bouncy grade 2 section below a white house/pub river left, with low lying field river right. Run river right for an easy ride, or river left into a solid eddy and then high cross for more of a challenge.
Wide bouncy run after a left hand bend, with three good breakouts on the left.
These are not in the right order, because I can't remember the order, but nothing is too serious anyway. I'll try to make a note of the order on the next tour and send an update.
OTHER NOTES: One of the truly 'classic' rivers of the UK, let us all wish for a future when it can be paddled sensibly and quietly at the individual paddler's whim. There is pleasant and access hassle-free easy paddling on the river downstream near Chester.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Adrian Pullin and Mark Rainsley.