Industrial history - The Dee Estuary

An unusual vessel on the Dee estuary

The estuary of the River Dee leading up to Chester was at one time an exceptionally important waterway.

In medieval times, Chester was a more important port than Liverpool, whilst Parkgate on the Wirral side of the estuary was once the port for the packet service to Ireland. Heavy silting and the growth of Liverpool reduced the significance of the Dee from the eighteenth century onwards, though ships were built at locations such as Saltney and Connah’s Quay well into the twentieth century and Mostyn is still a busy port today.

Barge Afon DyfrdwyWalkers travelling along the Wales Coast Path on the estuary’s shores today might, however, observe an unusual vessel which has revived maritime trade on the upper Dee estuary and which has links to one of Wales’ most ‘high-tec’ industries.

The barge Afon Dyfrdwy (Welsh for River Dee) was built specially to carry massive wings for the A380 ‘Airbus’ which are built at Broughton, on the first leg of their journey to Toulouse, where the planes are assembled.

With the wings weighing in excess of 30 tons and some 45 metres long, road transport was considered impractical, so the shallow draft, low-profile barge was acquired in 2005 to carry each wing down to Mostyn. There they are landed and transferred on to a deep-sea ‘roll-on-roll off’ ferry for onward transport to France.

Each short trip between Broughton and Mostyn has to be planned meticulously with regard to tide, weather conditions and the ever-shifting sandbanks of the estuary. Too low a tide and the Afon Dyfrdwy could run aground; too high a tide and she could not pass under the bridge at Queensferry. Nevertheless, it is fascinating that an estuary that has seen commercial traffic from the earliest times still such traffic – albeit highly specialised – today.

As well as its industrial heritage the Dee Estuary is renowned for its excellent bird life and has been identified as a Wetland of International Importance. It is a busy spot during the winter, offering a home to some 120,000 waterfowl and wading birds along the shore.

Common birds like ducks, geese and swans can be seen in numbers along parts of the Coast Path in this area. The rare hen-harrier is sometimes visible hunting its prey along the Dee estuary and in the evening’s short-eared owls can sometimes be seen in the marshland.

To plan a trip and enjoy a walk on the Wales Coast Path in this area visit our North Wales and Dee Estuary page.