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Tour 2004

Index

11 - Chester to Farndon, Dee Locks Branch, Tidal River Dee and River Dee.

Sunday 4th April 2004

Ed Mortimer and Martin Clark appeared by car and Peter Wright by rail. This was a logistics day in town to watch the tide make the weir and for Ed to explain the local "markers" for the tides over the weir. What we find incredible is that THERE IS NO TIDE GAUGE!!!!!! The first jetty beyond the weir and the old red sandstone wall is at a GUARANTEED level of 2ft 6ins over the weir and the lower jetty just beyond guarantees 1ft 10ins of water over the weir. 
A clean passage through the weir gate (rather impossible for a 60ft narrowboat or over) will add another 1ft 6ins available draught. The tide for Sunday 4th April was a 9.2 M at Liverpool (Alfred) and was in average conditions not deemed suitable, a 9.4M tide being the limit. Chester Weir can be said to be set at the 9.0M mark, compared with Liverpool.
Of course there are three main things that affect the height of tides, especially at the head of estuaries, these are air pressure, direction of offshore / estuary wind and the amount of fresh in the river. Conditions for Sunday were good, a N Westerly and lowish pressure, so the tide made the lower jetty level and was about 4 inches off the top of the higher jetty, some 6 inches better than predicted, a height that would have got us through the Watergate with a scrape. 
That evening we met up with Steve Parish and his wife in the Telford's Warehouse pub / restaurant / live music venue thingy in the old warehouse. We stayed on for food when they arrived, as by that time we could not be bothered to move. Food a bit pricey, but good quality with large portions. On form Timmy Taylor's Landlord.

Monday 5th April 2004

At 09:00 the BW Chester bods arrived and things swung into action, they started locking us down the Dee Locks Branch, while Martin Clark and Ed Mortimer wandered off across town, clutching long length of "official" looking blue rope and wellies. Ed had established that the Watergate was not locked at present, due to self operation by David Jones, the wooden boat builder at the top of the Dee Locks Branch. One of the smaller wooden Dee trip boats (45ft x 10ft)ish had already gone back through the Watergate on the last high Springs.
Having talked to the trip boat people, Ed had found out that this was not with out difficulty, due to logs jammed behind the gate, not allowing it to open completely and the fact that United Utilities (NW Water) had recently put a much longer orange floaty buoy strip to protect a water intake in the final Chester Bridge arch. This obstructed the limited final turn coming out of the Watergate and would have made it impossible to turn a 70ft narrowboat, as you came through the gate. 
The Watergate is a totally unique feature in the UK, it consists of a curved flume in the weir crest, normally blocked by a curved bottomed gate. This gate can obviously only be opened when the tide makes a level with the weir and its purpose is to enable increased draught, when going across the weir either for deep draughted (but biased towards round bottom boats)......or for using the weir on lesser Spring tides. 
Following Ed Mortimer's now famed beaching of loaned BW motor Narrowboats "Auriga" and "Ibex" on Chester weir, he particularly wanted Earnest's passages over the weir to be smooth and to have operated the Watergate himself. 
So back to logistics.........Ed and Martin had to get the the Watergate ready before the tide reached the cill, so that Ed could edge himself across to the none pivoty "island" side of the gate to release the temporary ratchet strap and to attach the blue rope to the gate. This was done successfully and the rope chucked up to Martin on the bridge. For "official" openings there is a gate in the bridge railings, which means you don't have to do the shimmy of death over the railings to get to the ladder and short walkway down to the Watergate.
Back to the early Dee Locks descent - this was because in the 1960's a low bridge deck was put across the back of the lower (tidal) lock chamber, this chamber is long, so boats have to be the other side of the bridge as the tide comes in and the level goes up. 
Now for the disaster that nearly stopped the whole River Dee passage.............coming out of the top Dee Locks Branch lock, the throttle cable broke. Neil got his normal "tidal" irascible self and started to dismember the Morse control........rather fortunately we do carry a spare. Come the rather bumpy uncontrolled passage down the flight we still had around two hours to wait in the tidal bottom chamber. 
With an hour to spare the new cable was on, so we were still on for the passage. High water was calculated using Laver's Liverpool "Alfred" tide tables at 13:14 (Liverpool + BST hour + 1 hour for Chester) come the Dee making a level in the lock, the BW bods opened the outer gates and left - we were then on our own. 
Paddy the chief BW hombre gave Neil his mobile number and asked if we could give him a bell when were either over the weir or back after a failed attempt! Tides operate on a sine wave cycle, so the initial flood is quite fast, the last bit going up to the peek is at the top of the sine wave, so can seem to take a long time. From our observations the tide had arrived about 15 minutes early the day before, so we had predicted we needed to leave Dee Locks at 12:30. With the benefit of having Ed stationed with his mobile at the weir, we were given the OK to leave at 12:35. 
It was a gentle passage up to the the old bridge, on an interesting and little travelled bit of inland water. Ed had wanted us to arrive under the bridge at about apparent high water, with not much water movement. The plan was to come through the centre arch, turn a circle to the right, then approach the Watergate close to the bridge arches. 
All went well..........in fact too well, the top jetty was covered and Ed gave us the choice of straight over the weir, but due to all the work he had put in, we went for the Watergate. Rather perfect alignment through the gate, no contact with post and gently nudged the 75 degree open gate (tree stump behind)............then the rather predictable thing happened, the stern smacked the gate as we turned to try to miss the floaty orange thing. At least we were cleanly through the gate, but the bow got caught between the navigation hazard of the floaty thing floats and yanked it off its mounting on the bridge. 
After untangling our selves from the pile of orange floaty things and attempting to direct them back to the bridge, we ploughed through the silted up approach to the gate, close to the wall and then plonked ourselves on the higher jetty, which had already lost about 3 inches of water level. Ed and Martin having closed the Watergate and tied it shut using the long rope, they came down through the massed tourists and locals to talk of "The last time we saw that done the barge got stuck on the weir!"................Ed just kept his head down and went quiet! 
After this we chilled out for a bit and recovered, starting to become an even bigger tourist attraction, we shut the Hatch and closed the curtains on the wharf side. To return the gate to the way we found it (i.e. with rope off and ratchet strap on) would require a wait, for level to go down the salty side of the weir and for the shunted up water to finish escaping back across the weir, something that does take a while. Ed and Neil departed to the park lodge to get the Chester City Council boat licence for our three days on their territory up to Farndon Quarry. The park lodge had only recently been leased out, so we had a trudge into town, to the main Chester City Council offices in the shopping centre.
After finding Emma, the lady that deals with such things we got our weekly licence (32 quid, less than three daily licences) Back to the boat the tourists had dispersed and Ed then had the shimmy / climb / walk of death to retrieve his beloved blue rope (actually found in the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal!) and for him to put back the ratchet strap. 
The United Utilities chain and padlock was dangling beside the post.....we believe it is attached to the gate by a shackle. Come Ed's return we decided to make Farndon that night so ploughed on up river (15:50) through the mass of moaning rowers. Come the edge of Chester the rowers disappeared and the short trip (the only one operating at that time) large trip boat winded behind us and we had the river totally to ourselves.
The Dee is rather wide and impressive up to the Duke Of Westminster's Eaton Hall estate. The house clock tower is rather over the top, a huge Gothic affair, rivalling Big Ben. 
Just upstream from the house is the private "Iron Bridge", in a rather tasteless light blue and white. Beyond the estate the river changes character, the tremendous meanders starting. This is though a strange area of many riverside chalets, now most are permanently occupied. Because the Dee had not yet finished ebbing off the shunt of water pushed up by the infrequent Spring tide over the weir, the flow was quite
fierce and some of the bends rather interesting to navigate.
At the confluence with the River Alyn, the retreating water marked out the shoal below and at the confluence, with some violent water, just keep well over to the left hand (east) bank. Beyond here the flow got less and soon the old Farndon Bridge came into view. From the distance down stream this looks like just one arch, but come arrival the other four arches were revealed. Pretty fast flow through the bridge, in the Summer the normal limit of navigation.
Just after the bridge to the left hand (east) bank is a Cheshire County Council picnic site and car park.  The handy fishing post and steps makes an ideal bow landing stage. It was a pretty tight mooring between willow trees, for one of the only public sites on the river bank. Arrival was at 19:15, then followed a lot of phaffing about with pins and getting ropes round trees. We were going to the "Boat House" restaurant, by the car park. This establishment befriended Ed in his couple of months up the river with NB Auriga, but unfortunately we found out it shut a couple of yeast ago. So strangely we wandered across the bridge into Wales and the village of Holt.
The first pub we came to was the Peal (or Peel) Of Bells, (it could not make up its mind!) with the church tower virtually in their back garden. Of course it was Monday night in Wales and we were not really expecting food...........a couple of locals lurked at the bar........the restaurant section was in darkness. Come Ed re-introducing himself things soon changed..........the restaurant was opened up just for us and and excellent and very reasonably priced meal followed, washed down with yet more Timmy Taylor's Landlord. Ed spent a good while catching up on all the local gossip.
Earlyish back to the boat for a quick coffee and whisky, then we retired, rather knackered.


Chester Weir Watergate. The tide makes the weir the day before our planned passage up. Chester. River Dee.


The tide makes the weir the day before our planned passage up. Chester. River Dee.


Chester Weir Watergate. River Dee.


We start off to get in position at the bottom of the Dee Locks Branch. Tower Wharf dry dock.


Entering The Dee Locks Branch Top Lock.


Dee Locks Branch Top Lock.


Dee Locks Branch Top Lock.


Dee Locks Branch . Approaching the Second Lock.


Dee Locks Branch Top Lock.


Dee Locks Branch . Approaching the Second Lock.


Dee Locks Branch . Second Lock.


Dee Locks Branch . The Staircase Tidal Lock.


Dee Locks Branch . The lift bridge


Dee Locks Branch . The Staircase Tidal Lock.


Dee Locks Branch . The Staircase Tidal Lock. Note the new throttle cable on the rear slide.


Dee Locks Branch . The Staircase Tidal Lock. Waiting in the bottom chamber for the flood tide to slack off.


Dee Locks Branch . The Staircase Tidal Lock. Waiting in the bottom chamber.


With the flood slackening off in the tidal River Dee we get ready to go.


Tidal River Dee - looking downstream.


Tidal River Dee. Looking back at the Dee Locks Branch tidal lock.


Tidal River Dee. Looking back at the Dee Locks Branch tidal lock.


Tidal River Dee. Looking up at the railway bridge.


Tidal River Dee. The railway bridge.


Tidal River Dee.


Tidal River Dee. Looking over The Roodee - Chester Racecourse.


Tidal River Dee. Grosvenor Bridge - once the largest stone span in the world.


Tidal River Dee.


Tidal River Dee. Chester Old Bridge comes into view.


Earnest appears below Chester Old Bridge. Tidal River Dee.


Cheshire County Council offices. Tidal River Dee.


Tidal River Dee. Chester Old Bridge.


NB Earnest below Chester Old Bridge. Tidal River Dee.


Tidal River Dee. Chester Old Bridge. We line up for the centre arch, ready to do a loop round to the right.


Having looped round above the bridge (clear of the weir), we swing round to parallel the bridge to enter the Watergate. Chester - Tidal River Dee.


Perfectly lined up, close to the side of the gate aperture. Note that Ed has a loop of rope round the gate, so once it is closed, the rope can be retrieved.


We swing round as hard as possible, the stern scraping the under water Watergate on the stern............


............and take out the navigation hazard of the orange floaty things! We now have to untangle the floaty things and plough through the silted up approach, the other side of the Watergate.


Soon the tide falls and the extra flow of the ponded up river water comes tumbling over the weir.


Soon the tide falls and the extra flow of the ponded up river water comes tumbling over the weir. Note NB Earnest safely on the first quay above the weir.


NB Earnest safely on the first quay above the weir. Ed and Neil discuss the passage. Chester. River Dee.


Ed Mortimer does the "Shimmy of death" over the River Dee Old Bridge railings. Bloke looks on bemused!


With the flow subsided Ed has to get the ratchet strap back on the Watergate.


"I don't think my wellies are high enough!"


The ratchet strap is reaffixed.


"Errr......am I going to get another wellyfull?"


We set off up river. Chester. River Dee.


Looking back at Chester Weir and old Bridge. River Dee.


Looking back at the suspension bridge. Chester. River Dee.


Rowers abound on the River Dee through Chester. River Dee.


Heading up through Chester. River Dee.


Heading up through Chester. River Dee.


Heading up through Chester. River Dee.


Heading up through Chester. Note the "mystery" vacant plot where a boatlift up to the Shropshire Union Canal could be built! River Dee.


Heading up through Chester. River Dee.


Council slipway. Chester. River Dee.


Looking back at Chester. River Dee.


Looking back at the winding large trip boat, this is as far as they go on the "short" trip. River Dee.


The River Dee at Heronsbridge. River Dee.


The A 55 Bridge. River Dee.


Eccleston Ferry. River Dee.


Looking back - the start of the Eaton Hall, Duke of Westminster Estate. River Dee.


Approaching the "Crook Of Dee". River Dee.


We are just rounding "Crook Of Dee". River Dee.


Aldford Brook - Eaton Hall backwater...best NOT to moor your boat up here!  :-)  River Dee.


Eaton Hall Iron Bridge. River Dee.


Iron Bridge detail. River Dee.


Pulford Brook. River Dee.


The start of the Almere meander section, with its characteristic waterside chalets. River Dee.


Almere. River Dee.


Almere. River Dee.


Almere. River Dee.


Almere. River Dee.


Almere. River Dee.


Almere. Looking back -  look at the flow on the river!  River Dee.


Almere. River Dee.


Almere. River Dee.


Almere. Looking back at the shallows near the River Alyn entrance. River Dee.


 River Dee.


One arch of Farndon Bridge comes into view. River Dee.


Farndon Bridge. River Dee.


Farndon Bridge. River Dee.


Our mooring just above Farndon Bridge. River Dee.


Our mooring just above Farndon Bridge. River Dee.


Farndon Bridge.


Our mooring just above Farndon Bridge. The building set into the sandstone cliff is the closed "Boat House" restaurant. River Dee.

The Tour Continues...


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