GUIDE TO THE RIVER DERWENT
NAME OF RIVER: Derwent.
WHERE IS IT?: The river runs from the outflow of Derwent reservoir in the North Pennines. Passing from untouched areas of Northumberland through remote County Durham and finally into Tyne and Wear finishing as it runs into the Tyne near the Metrocentre.
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: Derwent bridge (NZ032512) at outflow of Derwent reservoir. Allensford park on A68 north of Castleside (NZ078502), loads of parking. Shotley Bridge (NZ091528) access available above or below road bridge, which is above or below waterfall. Ebchester boat house (NZ101555) put in above or below the weir, adequate parking even for groups. Rowlands Gill (NZ168582) access to the river via the park/campsite which is sign posted, once again lots of parking. Final get-out before the Tyne is Winlaton Mill (NZ187605).
APPROX LENGTH: Almost 40 Km's if paddled from top to bottom.
TIME NEEDED: The fun part from Allensford park to Ebchester boathouse can be done in 2 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: No access agreement as rarely paddled, expect surprise rather than anger on the faces of people you meet along the way.
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: Generally only paddled in spate, it is only in condition for a day or two due to the upstream reservoir controlling the water. At Allensford if the river has a wave under the bridge then you are probably in luck, the next 100 yards after that are the some of the most difficult to get along if the river is low, so once past there you are home and dry.
John Little notes for the lowest section...'We paddled in quite low conditions where the water was hardly flowing over the weir under the left bridge arch at the start of the section. At these levels the section is very scrapy but didn't quite require a portage.'
GRADING: II/III all drops are easily portaged and inspected.
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: Trees can block the river almost anywhere so always proceed with caution. The Gorge, a Rocky drop with a boulder in the middle and the small Water Fall are all within a kilometre or so of each other, all of them just before Shotley Bridge. A near vertical rocky weir at Ebchester boat house. A rocky drop at Lintzford Mill.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Stretch #1 starts at Derwent bridge not long after the reservoir outflow. It is very remote all the way down to Allensford as it passes under the A68 after about 10 Kms, the main danger here being fallen trees, etc. The accent on this stretch being more on the adventure and exploration than the white water that will be encountered.
Stretch #2 starts at Allensford park on the A68 north of Castleside. If a small play wave is available under the bridge then the river is very paddleable. From here there are a number of weirs all easily and safely shot down the middle and some producing nice play waves at the bottom. Next is a really wide weir with a small wheelhouse to the left, once again this produces no danger on its own but is better inspected as a lot of river debris piles up at the bottom changing the line hour by hour. Under a footbridge and the next section is a gorge, this varies from really big with waves and holes, down to a narrow and technical line that is better to inspect if the water level is low. (a boat will not fit sideways if the level is low as my wife found out) Under another footbridge and there is a rocky drop, this drops onto a rock in the centre of the line, even if the water is high enough to hide it, beware it can still get you. You can break out on the right and actually get past the drop to inspect without even getting out of the boat. The next visual is a road bridge this lets you know that there is waterfall/rocky drop, pull out on the right and inspect from the road bridge. There are some rocks at the bottom but the worst befall any of our group has been a back loop at the bottom of the fall. From here the river drops steadily to Ebchester which has a boat house on the right and a 2 metre steep drop which can be ran or portaged. This is a nice place to finish your journey however as you start to enter the urban sprawl shortly afterwards.
Stretch #3 goes from Ebchester boat house to Rowlands Gill. There is a sloping weir at Lintzford Mill which we have always portaged and then under the next railway bridge there is a shallow sloping weir which has a wave at the bottom but presents no apparent danger.
Stretch #4 (John Little 13/08/07) Weir under bridge at get in presented no problems in low water - however, it is impossible to inspect from you boat so you should check before you get on. A second Weir at Grid figure NZ183603 (just before a bridge) appears runable but on very careful inspection reveals spikes every 30cm across its entire width (in addition to some more obvious lumps) - get out early in higher water. lots of trees that would be a hazard in higher flows or with novices. Fairly continuous grade I / easy grade II water. Good wildlife but not well suited to novice trips.
OTHER NOTES: Stretch #4 goes from Rowlands Gill to the confluence with the Tyne but I have yet to paddle this section. This river cannot be planned long term as it has to be caught in condition, we have enjoyed it most by phoning each other on the spur of the moment on a rainy afternoon and going out for a couple of hours play. The river can be done in Kayaks or from Allensford park in canoes (giggle).
Further notes from Redwatch River Runners (November 2005)...'River Derwent, Co. Durham. Start point under the road bridge at Allensford Park (A68 north of Castle side). Get in on the park side of the bridge as the land owner has fixed a chain from one side of the river to the other under the bridge. Portage at Ebchester boat house. Better portage would have been just after the water fall at Shotley Bridge due to low water levels from then on. This section took approx 4 hours due to low water levels. I don't know of any agreement for access to the river, everyone we passed was happy to stop and talk. First time we've paddled this, so unsure on how to judge the best levels, the river was level with the weir under Allensford bridge and there was no way near the amount of water needed. Due to water levels I would give this section a grade 1, with 3 good flowing waterfalls. All the weirs are very dry causing nothing more than a small wave, the largest weir next to the wheel house is like going down a set of steps with only millimeters of water flowing over the top.
The first water fall in the mini gorge is not too bad and provided a little fun (very easy to paddle).
The second waterfall, however, looked a bit nasty with a large rock at the bottom making a difficult exit. Our decision not to run this fall was made due to a large metal spike sticking from between the rocks on the left hand side about half way down (possible old traffic sign).
The last fall is at the bridge at Shotley Bridge this provided the most fun of the day, so much that we walked round and shot it twice (beware very shallow at bottom but do'able with ease). Not the best of paddles due to very low water, most of the day was spent with hands in water pushing along the river bed, some places even had to be walked across. This section of the river had quite a lot of debris from start to finish, mostly natural rubbish like branches and tree stumps, but also came across an old motorbike, a few push bikes and a number of road work signs. I wouldn't advise paddling this until we have a lot more rain (in full flood the overhanging trees could cause a real problem).
For anyone local to Shotley Bridge the small water fall could provide a little play spot.
My advice would be to travel a little further, half hour either side. South Tyne, north of the Derwent provides a good paddle ending at Tyne Green Hexham,or the river Wear to the south of the Derwent providing a good run from Durham city centre to Finchale Abbey.'