River Tees

The Tees must come close to being the SOC's favourite river - there are so many different sections, from easy beginner trips to among the hardest trips we paddle regularly, and with runs that go in almost any level - some just barely above a drought and others in biblical flood. As a result it appears quite often in our quarterly programme and perhaps even more often on the mailing list for short notice or fall-back trips. There are also Park'n'Play spots and placid water sections useful for training, practice or the introduction of novices to moving water. It has the advantage of easy online info to judge the level before travelling and of a minimum compensation release from Cow Green reservoir that tends to ensure some water (for abstraction lower down) even in the driest of weather. Unfortunately, although there is a gauge at Cow Green, the EA don't put the data on the website. The two most useful gauges are Middleton and the recently revamped weir at Barnard Castle. 0.6m is a minimum level on either gauge for a good paddle nearby. There's now also a live camera on the web which gives a good visual impression, although it is sometimes offline and one must wade through high-bandwidth video adverts before seeing the picture, so we can't really recommend it any more. It used to be by the bridge in Barnard Castle (so there was enough street lighting to see the level at night) but is now on Abbey Rapids, so is only useful in daylight, but is perhaps a more useful indicator when you can see it. This is real-time, so you can see what the river looks like right now, even (or perhaps, especially) if it is several hours since the most recent EA gauge update.

Because there is so much of it, we've split the descriptions into several pages by level of difficulty. Since the programme often features things like "beginners trip - probably Tees", with the actual bit to be paddled being determined by the water level, this is a more logical way of grouping various sections together... The harder bits of the river have more detailed individual descriptions. The easy trips page is now complete, and I'm adding photos to the intermediate trips page before writing the last section, but keep checking back for progress...

For beginners: Winston to Piercebridge often features as a beginners' trip early in the season, and can be cut down to end at Gainford if the level is a bit low. The section by The Sills in Barnard Castle offers placid water with a bit of a jet under the County Bridge, and more moving water (with attainment practice) upstream. There is usually water for practicing something, even at the lowest summer levels. A little further downstream, the Desmesnes (river left below the green footbridge) gives access to some slow-moving water below an old weir which has a wave to play on. This can all be a bit shallow at low levels, and a careful watch must be kept to avoid novices drifting downstream if the levels are up, as there is a bigger fall a short way downstream. For those who've done a little moving water before, Cotherstone to Barnard Castle is a good easy trip that goes with only a modest amount of water in the river. At high levels, care must be taken at the big gauging weir, but this has a long flat approach, so is not a major hazard as long as the group is under control. The section from Wynch bridge down to Middleton, and the following stretch down to Egglestone bridge are also easy trips, but do need quite a lot of water to avoid a bump and scrape.

For intermediates: The Tees offers a progression of trips harder than Cotherstone to Barnard Castle (which offers various play opportunities and practice spots even for those who find the straight run down a bit easy).

Some or all of the section down from Barnard Castle to Winston may offer the first significant set of rapids for those progressing, with a drop just below Barney, then easy grade 2 leading to Abbey Rapids (shown above at a fairly low level, gr. 3). Although this sees its fair share of swimmers, there is slow-moving deeper water making recovery of people and equipment fairly easy. It is not to be taken so lightly in high water, however. Continuing from here, it is possible to get off to a footpath on the right and walk back up, or continue to Whorlton, or all the way to Winston Bridge, a trip offering a lot of good waves and places to practice. Again, in high water, this section can get rather serious, with several river-wide man-eating stoppers.

The "Racing stretch" (seen above at a fairly high level) runs from Egglestone Bridge to Cotherstone, and is an exciting trip at most levels, but may feel a bit short. It's not uncommon to combine it with the sections above and below to make a longer trip.

For the more advanced: Barney-Winston and the Racing Section both offer lots of excitement in high levels, and since Cotherstone to Barnard Castle goes quickly in high water, it's possible, except in the shortest of daylight, to combine this whole stretch. The classic for advancing paddlers, however, is the Upper Tees from any of several put-in spots below High Force to Wynch Bridge (for a short but steep trip) or on to Scoberry bridge (for a longer and more fulfilling trip). This can be run at surprisingly low levels (not in a total drought) and is often run after rain in the summer months. In very high water, it gets to be a very serious trip. Dog Leg (Salmon Leap Falls) is a favourite venue for whitewater rescue training, as well as one of the most photogenic rapids in the North.

For the adventurous: we have one member who has set off to paddle Cauldron Snout. He didn't make it to the bottom, but what amazes most of us is that he successfully broke out and got off part way down. Cauldron Snout is at the extreme end of the physically possible and it has seen very few descents and even fewer without injury. For a taste of what is possible, see this video (nothing to do with SOC:). But from below this fall to somewhere near the top of High Force is a much easier trip. Don't miss the last eddy... There are also a number of obscure tributaries which go in high water - but none of these is exactly a favourite, so we'll leave these for your personal exploration.

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