Articles - Great Reasons to Visit Tees Barrage International Whitewater Centre

Teesside Barrage International White Water Centre
Teesside Barrage International White Water Centre
Canoe & Kayak UK Editorial - Posted on 01 Oct 2012
The Short Course is a 95m stretch of whitewater that takes a more direct route from the top to the bottom of the main channel, dropping the same gradient as its longer counterpart in less than a third of the distance. It is Tees Barrage International White Water Centre for kayaking & whitewater raftingquite simply awesome.”

Four huge Archimedes Screws, which just to look at are spectacular feats of engineering, but more practically allow water to be pumped up and for the course to run whenever required, whatever time of day.


It was an unseasonably grey day when we arrived at Tees Barrage International White Water Centre with a roof-rack full of boats ready for our first paddle on the whitewater course since its £4.6 million redevelopment. The amazingly welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the centre, though, soon lifted our rain-dampened spirits as we enjoyed a cup of hot java on the balcony outside the centre’s café that overlooks the lake above the course. What followed was an absolutely smashing day of paddling both of the whitewater courses boasted by the centre and chatting to staff and local paddlers. What we found out was that the Tees International Whitewater Centre is so much more than just an artificial whitewater course for paddlers to go when the rivers aren’t up – although it is that too – but it is in fact a water sports hub complete with café, fully-stocked canoeing and kayaking shop that hosts a huge variety of courses, events and activities throughout the year. We found amenities such as a pub and a hotel within a couple of minutes’ walk from the course, which itself is not far at all off the major arterial road that is the A1M. When we got back we felt compelled to list all of the great reasons to take a trip there yourself…

The Two Whitewater Courses of Tees Barrage International White Water Centre
The revamped Tees Barrage Centre boasts not just one but two whitewater courses. The Main Course or, as it’s normally referred to, Long Course drops 3.7m over a total of 300m as it curves away from the lake at the top in a rough horse shoe shape. For anyone who remembers the course before the redevelopment, all of the same features are still there and in roughly the same place except now the channel is deeper aTees Barrage International White Water Centre Short Course whitewater rapidsnd a lot of work has been put into making them even better than they were before.

If you fancy something a little bit different, though, there’s also the Short Course: a 95m stretch of whitewater that takes a more direct route from the top to the bottom of the main channel, dropping the same gradient as its Long counterpart in less than a third of the distance. It is quite simply awesome. A relatively innocuous drop kicks things off, before the entire channel narrows down under a bridge forming a big and bouncy wave train in a wide pool with circulating eddies on either side. The exit from this pool is onto a play wave in a far smaller pool with a sizeable eddy on the right.

At the end of this pool is a sight we have never before encountered on a whitewater course: a full-on horizon line suggesting a serious drop! Once you’ve had your fun playing on the wave (if you dare that is – you’ve got to either be pretty confident you’re not going to capsize, or at least have a penchant for floating over big drops on your head) line yourself up, paddle hard and get ready. The horizon line hides an incredibly steep slide that varies in height depending on the water level in the pool below. The slide finishes in an almighty folding wave that packs a real punch!  Once you’ve recovered yourself at the bottom, all that remains to be done is shoot back up to do it again!

  • Rapid Blocs -  Just as the Lee Valley Olympic slalom venue does, the whitewater course at  Tees Barrage International White Water Centre uses a Rapid Bloc system to alter the drops. These Rapid Blocs can be configured anyway required to optimise a feature for use by one of the many user groups who train and play on the course, from beginners looking for gentle fun to more advanced freestyle kayakers to slalom boaters. Tom Tindale is the resident course tweaker, and we caught up with him while we were there. He told us about what a juggling act it is designing the course to please all of the different types of paddlers who want to use it, but the great news is that thanks to the versatility of the Rapid Blocs, once he knows how he wants it a feature it can be changed completely within an hour flat. The centre runs Rapid Bloc days, where user groups are invited to come along and have input to tweaks to the course. Through these user groups Tom is hoping to establish good links between the centre and the local paddling community, and is determined to change the course as often as possible with the help and input of everybody who uses it to keep things as fresh as possible. So it’s always worth a return visit, you might find you’re paddling an entirely new course!
  • The Muncher - Of all the features on the long course we spent the most time playing on the Cruncher. It’s a tidy little wave that allows you to do anything you like from simple side-surfing, to throwing down ends. It’s still in the process of being tweaked, but it was already good enough to put a smile on our faces!
  • The Happy Eater - The Happy Eater is a nice and grippy feature for you to get your teeth into and practice some moves. And despite the name, don’t worry, it wasn’t gobbling anybody up while we were there. Whitewater kayaking and rafting at the Tees Barrage whitewater Course
  • Variety of features - There are loads of features on the course, too many to mention by name here and they’re all in a constant process of tweaking and improvement. Some are great for just playing around on in a freestyle boat, and when we were there the last couple of drops on the long course were putting our river running skills to the test with snappy break outs and tiny eddies to be made. We really didn’t want to get off!
  • Archimedes Screws - Before its substantial redevelopment the Tees Barrage course relied on the natural flow of the Tees to keep pumping. The one draw back was that as the Tees is tidal here, the times of the day the course could run were somewhat limited by what the tide was doing! This brought about the investment in four huge Archimedes Screws, which just to look at are spectacular feats of engineering, but more practically allow water to be pumped up and for the course to run whenever required, whatever time of day.
And that’s not even the best bit, when the tide allows the course can operate as it used to using good old-fashioned gravity and the Tees’ main flow. When this is happening there is the option for the Archimedes screws to run in reverse, at which time they actually generate electricity that can be sent back to the national grid! The Tees Barrage International White Water Centre is currently the only facility of its type in the world to use this sort of technology.

  • Conveyor Belt - You won’t waste any energy at all shouldering you boat and walking back to the top for another run – just hop on the Lazyboy conveyor belt and be carried back up to the starting point for the Long and Short Courses. With this there’s no excuses for not doubling the fun with an extra run!
  • The Lake It’s not all about the whitewater course at TBIWWC, it hosts and runs a multitude of activities, some of which are held on the flat water lake in front of the centre building. If you have turned up to use the course though, it’s handy having it there to warm up on, perhaps practice your roll on and just generally get in the zone before hitting up the course!
  • The Centre - The building itself is a great place to hang out before and after a paddle on the course. There’s the River View Barrage Café that serves up a full menu of teas, coffees, homemade cake, ice cream and more substantial meals too. You can sit inside, or enjoy the views out over the lake and the River Tees from the sheltered balcony.
  • Onsite Canoe Shop - Opposite the entrance to the café is the excellent Northshore Watersports shop, that stocks a huge array of all types of paddling kit, not just whitewater gear, from all major brands. Do drop in for a look around, and if you decide to buy anything you’ll be served by one of the friendly and knowledgeable staff headed up by Kev, the shop manager. Northshore Watersports also has a full compliment of demo boats that you can hire to try out on the course or the lake.
  • Changing Facilities - Also housed in the centre building are changing room facilities with lockers, so there’s no question of getting changed in a cold car park by the car as there would with a real river, and somewhere safe to not worry about your valuables when you’re off paddling!
  • Courses - The centre isn’t all about the whitewater kayaking. There’s a multitude of activities on offer from rafting to power boating to sailing, bell boating and technical rescue training. You can enrol in flat water canoeing and kayaking courses, not to mention the corporate packages, team building activities on offer and stag and hen packages. There really is a lot to do under just one roof!
  • Great Setting - You couldn’t ask for a better location, really. The centre is easily accessible from major roads, close to plenty of accommodation and other amenities, and as if this wasn’t enough borders a nature reserve where you can go for a stroll, perhaps to clear your head after a frantic paddling session on the course?
  • Go See For Yourself - So there you have it, loads of reasons to visit Tees Barrage International White Water Centre. It's a great whitewater course and well worth a visit if you're in the area. The revamped whitewater centre is certainly up there with all of the international-standard whitewater venues now dotted around the UK, and with so much going on at Tees Barrage International White Water Centre, there’s no reason not to go and check it out, we know we’ll be back!

The Local Perspective…
We caught up with local paddler Jake Brookes and asked him why he was such a regular face at Tees Barrage International White Water Centre

"The course is great, it has some brilliant features and currently my favourite is Muncher which is were I spend most my time. The facilities are good and the staff and friendly and helpful. Well worth a day out."

Opening Times
The centre is open 9-5 Monday-Sunday, except Wednesday when it operates late opening until 8pm. Bear in mind that the Long and Short Courses aren’t always available for paddling at the same time. For a full timetable of the course, check out the Tees Barrage International White Water Centre website www.tbiwwc.com.

Getting There
Situated on the North bank of the Tees, in Stockton-upon-Tees, the centre is within easy striking distance of anywhere in North East England, and is serviced by several major roads from further afield (TS18 2QW).

For more great whitewater guides and riutes head to the Places to Paddle Section now!

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