The Tees Greta forms on the moors west of Bowes, the Greta itself up near Stainmore, and it is joined by a major tributary, Sleightholme Beck, which rises near Tan Hill. The combined waters flow under Gilmonby Bridge, which is the highest put-in normally used (although club members have paddled from much higher up in big floods, and one trip has also tackled Sleightholme Beck). It's not a river we are likely to put on the programme as it comes up and drops off very quickly - it is difficult to catch at a good level. But it is a good trip to fall back to when something like the Upper Tees has too much water, and it is something we love to paddle at short notice when there isn't a programmed trip. There are three sections: Gilmonby Bridge to Rutherford Bridge (fairly easy grade 2-3, needs quite a bit of water), Rutherford to Greta Bridge (the classic section, pretty continuous grade 3, often towards the top end, and isolated from roads or escape routes). The third section from Greta Bridge into the Tees (and usually down to Whorlton to get out) has one significantly harder section at the Dairy Bridge, and is often missed out if we've paddled from Gilmonby, as it's already quite a long way (four hours is about normal). You can see the route Rutherford to Whorlton on this OS Openspace map and there is a river guide on UKRGB.
Gauge: A lot of the river is far from a road, so you can't get an easy look at any of the interesting bits. A look upstream from Greta Bridge (often the best meeting place) usually gives an idea - this is one of the shallower sections, so if the rocks here are well covered, it should go. There's a little natural weir below Gilmonby Bridge at the upper put-in, which should offer a route at more than just a single spot if the river has enough water. The Environment Agency run a gauge at Rutherford Weir which, when the system is working, reports the level for the last 5 days (in 15 minute steps) online. Typically you will see a report for 05:45 (GMT), but if levels are high there may be updates during the day before the usual early evening one. There is a visual gauge on the concrete wall (one of the pair in the centre) facing the gauging hut which does seem to read the same values. From photographs of trips we can deduce that below 0.5m will be a real bump and scrape, with 0.6m being an ideal level for your first experience of the river. We've paddled it at up to 0.9m in the last couple of years - above 0.8 it is significantly faster with long sections towards the top end of grade 3 and lots of confused water with boulders appearing very suddenly. The first 2011 trip started at a bit over 1m, and was at 1.25m by the time we reached the Tees - whilst some of the more technical boulder gardens wash out at this level, the river is fast, continuous, and potentially unforgiving, although still not really more than grade 3 down to the Greta Bridge takeout. However, there are no breakouts after Greta Bridge at this level, so the final grade 4 section is committing, with no option to inspect or portage. The photo of the weir, below, was taken at 0.53m at which level there were a few scrapey bits further down the river, but it did go without undue trouble, all the way from Gilmonby to Gretabridge.
Gilmonby bridge (NY99561321) is best reached on foot from the Bowes Village Hall carpark (NY99591346) . It's an easy downhill walk and avoids taking vehicles down the narrow lane where there is limited turning space and nowhere to park at the put-in. The easiest get-in is river left just upstream of the bridge and there are usually a few small waves to warm up on before heading down to a first small drop just downstream. This will be a bump at low levels, and has a bit of a stopper as the river comes up. Soon after, the river is enclosed by trees - keep a good look out for low or fallen branches particularly in this first section.
The river widens and continues at grade 2-3 with quite a few rapids and boulders, but not many landmarks. An hour or so will see you at a flat stretch with a horizon line ahead, and concrete walls enclosing Rutherford gauging weir. This is always worth inspecting, as it is a favourite place for dead trees and branches to get caught. Assuming no obstructions, the safest route is usually left of centre into a pool. In low water one must then paddle right to join the main flow, whilst in higher water one can paddle over the small retaining wall (just left of centre bottom in the photo below) and continue down a natural ledge drop. The right hand side is also possible, though it looks harder in moderate water, and overhanging branches can be a bit close for comfort. The left forms a really big stopper at high levels, whilst the right does seem to wash through, but the whole thing is probably best portaged when the river is well up.
At lower water, or for those wanting a shorter trip (or intending to carry on down the Tees afterwards) one can put in at Rutherford bridge. Access here seems to have got a bit sensitive, with allegations that the wall has been damaged by paddlers, so the recommendation is to use the public footpath from the bend south of the bridge and drop down river right. Alternatively, it may be possible to go upstream river left and put on just above the weir, but this too, may prove to be sensitive.
Below the weir, the river steps up the pace considerably with a rapid leading under the right bridge arch, and continuing over rocks to river left. From here on, the rapids are fairly continuous, though there is no shortage of breakouts at moderate levels, which is useful, as round every bend may be a new tree in the river ...
Soon, the valley deepens and a sort of mini-gorge is entered. Deep in here is a slot drop that can be quite narrow at low water, and has a tendency to push boats to the bottom and stand them on end as it gets higher, but does wash out a little at the highest level we've run it. We've encountered branches caught in this, too, so a cautious approach is recommended - the last breakouts are some way above, though there are eddies both sides below the drop. The valley continues wooded as it opens out, and fallen trees can be a problem particularly where the river sweeps round below steep wooded banks.
A footbridge is a useful landmark at Brignall (it's possible to fetch a car to quite close here, if an escape is needed). The river continues with many rapids and rather fewer landmarks in the deeply shaded valley. An open section has the ruins of Brignall's old church on the left bank before a big right bend marks an area with wooded islands. Big fallen trees blocking entire channels have been a problem here, and as the river splits, some shallow bouldery routes may be needed. If doing the river in summer with wet leaves on the trees, the branches hang low over the water making visibility a problem.
A newly downed tree on the Greta, only just room to get past. It had not been there four days earlier.
It all comes together with rocky cliffs on the left and a sharp left turn leads into a drop with a very large boulder. The route is left of the boulder at normal levels, not too far left, as the current sweeps into cliffs, but too close to the boulder hits a very sharp eddy line which has been known to require a roll. At high levels, the boulder can be covered or only just showing - we tried to go left, but the current dictates otherwise ! There's now a short flat before a narrow entry to a line of steep chutes and big waves. This is less difficult than it looks (even at high water) and flushes one out into a broadening valley leading quickly to Greta Bridge.
At high water, Hell Cauldron is a series of huge curling and crashing waves.
The easiest exit is on river right downstream of the bridge and this has usually been SOC's stopping point if we started at Gilmonby, as it is typically four hours to this point. It's a good stopping point in high water, too, unless you are quite confident about doing the final section without inspection - the Tees will inevitably be massive, and swimmers or boats can very quickly arrive at Whorlton Falls...
The river continues quite easily down shingle and under the A66. Apart from the occasional overhanging branch there is little of note until the final rapid down to Dairy Bridge. Epics have been had on this rapid, however, which offers no easy line and is definitely grade 4 at most levels. Inspection and/or portage is possible river left if there are still breakouts (not the case at high levels!), but be discreet and don't climb too high up the bank as there is no public path here.
At high water, Rokeby Falls offers no alternative but to aim the boat at something resembling a line and run in hope....
A big, deep and slow-flowing pool follows to pick up any swimmers and boats, although this too washes through to the Tees at high levels. Don't relax - there is a bouldery rapid holding this pool back which is difficult to scout from the water and typically ends in a drop run blind, dropping into the Tees, which is likely to be tanking along if levels are high enough for the Greta to run. In yet bigger levels, the way forward is easier to see, but pausing to choose a line is no longer an option:
Meeting of the Waters, 1.25m (Greta) hits 1.95m (Tees) - perhaps bigger than you'd want to paddle it
You can get out river left (only at moderate levels) without dropping into the Tees, and hack up to the private road, which leads to the Rokeby to Barnard Castle road in a few hundred metres where a shuttle car can usually be squeezed in. Once on the Tees, its easy enough to continue to a take-out at Whorlton, either through the gate to the old Lido by arrangement with the keeper, or by keeping tight river left through a number of big waves and under overhanging branches (fairly epic at high levels) above the drop to a take-out where the side stream comes in. The public footpath is right by the river here and leads back to the road. At very high levels anything below the bridge is scary - taking out river right above the bridge makes it possible (with a bit of fence wrestling) to escape to the public footpath opposite the old Lido entrance. Best parking is usually in the layby on the south side of the Whorlton suspension bridge.
If you still have arms left, it's possible to carry on to Winston, but this can be quite scary if the Tees is big, and there are some nasty drops near the end to be tackling in high water after several hours paddling...