Articles - Canoe & Kayak Guide to the River Tees

Low Force on the River Tees in high water
Low Force on the River Tees in high water
Canoe & Kayak UK Editorial - Posted on 24 Oct 2011
We’re fortunate in the UK to have a breadth of fantastic whitewater rivers, and all with their own unique characteristics, character and flavour. On any given weekend you could be off paddling to Wales, Scotland, the South West or north of England, When the rains come we really are spoilt for choice for quality whitewater runs. Most weekends the question we ask as river runners is not, ‘what should we do?’ But more commonly, ‘where should we go?’ This month we look at one of the UK’s classic runs with a wealth of great whitewater, from waterfalls to fun wave trains that will provide great sport for all levels and abilities; the River Tees.

The Tees rises on the eastern slope of Cross Fell in the Pennines, and then flows eastwards for about 85 miles before finally emptying out in to the North Sea. The Teesdale Valley, through which it flows, is a wealth of picturesque views and quaint Whitwater kayaker in High Force to Low Force section of River Teestea-shops, and a popular destination for lots of varied outdoor enthusiasts including paddlers, mountain-bikers and walkers. In it’s very upper reaches the Tees leaks out of the Cow Green Reservoir and then cascades down the rocky, and much revered, Cauldron Snout Rapid. Although it has been run a handful of times the steep, rocky waterfall usually only attracts walkers looking for a good spot to sit with their thermos flasks, and the over ambitious university groups, who like to go up and add their thoughts on possible lines to the stirring pot.

The river passes through the Yorkshire Dales and then cascades over the spectacular High Force; from here onwards the Tees offers a great playground for challenging experts, introducing paddlers to whitewater and everything in between.

High Force to Low Force

2.5 km
Grade: 3/4 (5 high water)
Map: OS 92

This popular section has one of the most spectacular put ins in the UK. You can park at the High Force Hotel, on the B6277 road from Middleton on Tees. Here you may have to buy a river permit for £5. This covers your parking and access to the land leading to and from the river, (note - it’s not uncommon for estate Ghillies to check that you have a permit as you cross the land). It is possible to park in a lay-by further down, but you do miss a bit of the run. For the get out you can leave a car parked a lay-by, marked by a red telephone box. Cross the road and you will see the footpath, please park considerately.

This section is short, but there are plenty of surf waves and eddies to play on and a few bigger rapids of note. It can take 30-minutes on a high water blast, or Whitewater kayaker running Dog Leg on the River Teesall-day, depending on experience, skill level and the type of group you are paddling with! With the impressive High Force roaring in the background the river warms you up with some good, fun grade two rapids, which soon picks up to grade three. There are plenty of rocks to dodge and a few fun surf waves to play on. If the river is low then it could be a bit of a scrap here, and in high water the Tees fills up with big waves and stoppers along this section. In those kinds of water levels though it’s certainly not for the inexperienced or the feint hearted, as a swim could go on for miles.

By the time you’ve got a feel for the river, and used to paddling on water the colour of Yorkshire tea, you’ll arrive at the first rapid of note, the Dog Leg. A grade three plus in most water levels, a grade four at higher levels. At normal flows the river is condensed down a right-angled rapid (hence the name) on river left*. In really high flows though water flows round the island in the middle creating very, very big whitewater, for experts only!

Generally though the Dog Leg can be inspected and portaged on river right. For the more advanced paddler you can eddy hop down and boat scout. This rapid is great to hone your river running skills and is well worth running several times, as it’s easy to carry your boat back to the top.

Below here the river widens out, but the rapids don’t stop with more rocks and a few narrow rocky-slots to negotiate. Here the river runs parallel to the main footpath, which is part of the famous Pennine Way, on river right. From here the horizon line begins to drop away and this marks the approach of the highlight and crux of the trip Low Force, an impressive looking, two-tiered, waterfall. It’s easily inspected and portaged on river right, and it’s possible to get a great vantage point to watch your fellow paddlers test their mettle. This is a great finale to the trip, and you’ll definitely want top break out the cameras!

The first drop is a rocky slide drop, which often has a deceptively sticky hole awaiting the unwary. Keeping your bow up and some forward momentum is certainly a good idea. If you’re not sure then this drop can be easily be portaged or protected and you have 20-meters before the main drop. The main fall is a clean four-foot drop into a deep pool. It’s a great fall for parking and playing, and is a reasonably safe learning environment for practicing your fall running skills too! You caWhitewater kayaker running Low Force on the river Teesn run the drops as one or separately. If the sun is shining you will most definitely get an audience, so make it look good!

Low Force falls into a big pool and you can pick up the pieces at the bottom, if necessary, easily enough. Just downstream from Low Force is a good grade three rapid, which can catch paddlers who have relaxed too early out. It’s generally run down the left hand-side, but in higher flows there are also lines down river right too. You can get out river left under the blue footbridge, and then follow the footpath through the woodland and into the fields next to the road, where your vehicle awaits.

Barnard Castle to Winston
Grade: 3/4
Map: OS 92

This section begins in the scenic town of Barnard Castle. The put on is visible at the road bridge, where there is ample parking. The get out is again easy at Winston Bridge. If the water levels are low then this section could be a bit rocky, and you might want to consider other options. If the High Force – Low Force section is a bit high for you then this is a good option.

This section of the Tees is carved through the limestone valley and creates some really fun whitewater. Just below Barnard Castle you’ll pass a mill, which marks a river-wide reef. Further down you will arrive at Abbey Rapids, a good grade three rapid, ideal to run and to play on multiple times.
Whitewater canoeist un the middle Tees
The whitewater continues through the limestone gorge with some ‘on-the-fly’ waves and stoppers to keep you entertained. Once out of the gorge you’ll come to Whorlton Falls, proceed with caution here, as there is a river wide reef that is undercut. From here onwards you’ll come across some good playspots, so take your time. Egress is at Winston Bridge.

Other Rivers in the Area

A narrow fast damn fed river near Blubberhouses. That provides fast grade three whitewater. It only releases on certain dates. To find out when it’s releasing 

The River Wharfe
Situated a bit further south the Wharfe is another great grade three run with a good grade four to finish at Conistone Falls.

The River Kent
Heading towards Kendal, a popular run when there’s little whitewater a great blast in high water and very scenic.  Online Paddling Guide HERE

The River Mint
Whitewater sport just north of Kendal - Online Paddling Guide HERE

The River Swale

Another classic of the region with many different sections, to choose from including the classic Keld Gorge section.

The River Ribble
A relaxed run near Clithroe. - Online Paddling Guide HERE

Useful Info:
High Force Hotel –

Online Paddling Guides Barnard Castle to Wilton Bridge Here and High Force to Low Force Here

Team Canoe & Kayak Having fun on the Tees

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