GUIDE TO THE RIVER TEES
(Barnard Castle to Whorlton Falls)
NAME OF RIVER: Tees.
WATER LEVEL, ACCESS AND HAZARD UPDATES:Here.
WHERE IS IT?: In Teesdale!
PUT-INS/ TAKE-OUTS: You can start in Barnard Castle from a number of places, either at Deepdale Beck (anyone run this?!), parking in the Young Offenders Institute, or on the left bank from the town (NZ052160) or park at the Abbey and put on above the rapids. Now the Lido is closed, the new recommended egress is river LEFT just above Whorlton Falls at Whorlton Beck, before going over the falls, (NZ109146) then walk via the public footpath to the road. Having said this in very high water, dodging the 3-story waves to reach this get-out (which will now be one-boat length in size) cannot be recommended! (Jim - from personal experience!)Andy Waddington (December 2006)...': It's now a couple of years since Whorlton Lido was sold to the owner of a big house nearby who couldn't stand the incessant sound of people being cheerful down by the river. He has torn up any access agreement relating to Whorlton, erected barbed wire everywhere and fierce notices big enough to spoil his own view. However, he appears not to have had the courtesy to have informed the canoeing press, the BCU or anyone who publishes the existing access agreement, nor do BCU or the Local Access Officer appear to have made the slightest effort to publicise the closure of access at this point. You can get off the river downstream of Abbey rapids (river right, after the last playwave, where the public footpath comes down to river level after the high, rocky bank ends), and walk 300m back upstream to a layby (careful to close gates, the farmer here has lost several sheep - probably not due to canoeists, but it is nonetheless a potential flash point). This is not a particularly useful put on, as it marks the start of a flat section most of the way down to Whorlton. Put on above Abbey rapids by the little packhorse bridge below the Abbey.'
APPROX LENGTH: 5 miles.
TIME NEEDED: 2 hours.
ACCESS HASSLES: Apparently out-dated BCU access arrangements.
Jim Pullen (June 09)...'The access agreement here is somewhat redundant now it is not possible to put-on/get-out at the Lido. With regard to dates, paddlers have been using this section year-round when there is enough water without any reports of problems over the last few years.'
WATER LEVEL INDICATORS: It's almost all paddleable in lowish levels, but it can take huge amounts of water and still be paddleable...indeed, there regularly are huge amounts of water in this river! When the fall at Whorlton is a river wide dodgy hole, then the river is really up.
There is now an EA online gauge at Barnard castle. Rough Calibrations:
Very High: 1.8m
If you ring the Environment Agency NE Rivercall service (09066197722) you should be looking at around 0.15m above the gauge at Barnard Castle as an absolute minimum level, unless there's been a ton of rain since they took the reading at 3am!
GRADING: 3 (Abbey Rapids goes to 4 in high water).
MAJOR HAZARDS/ FALLS: None, but part of the trip is in an enclosed gorge.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION: This section of the Tees from Barnard Castle to Whorlton Lido (Falls) has to be one of the most popular paddles in the area. I've yet to run it in big water but at normal levels it offers a cracking grade III run and is a good place to bring peoples' paddling up a notch. Shortly after Barnard Castle is a river wide ledge about 1m high which has a few rocks at the bottom but is fairly safe to run. After a little while Abbey Rapids are reached. A large arched stone bridge crosses the gorge at the bottom of the rapids and is a useful point to inspect the river and check levels. The line down the rapid is fairly obvious but still great fun, with the water features getting bigger and bigger towards the bottom. There is a fantastic surf wave near the end in spate conditions...
Richard Longhurst (Durham Uni) adds...'After Abbey gorge but before the metal bridge at Whorlton there is a river wide ledge. In moderate flows there are some nice small surfwaves, good for beginners. In high water though it forms one of the biggest and best waves you could wish for. If the river is pumping it's well worth a look. Shame it requires such high water. Normally there is a big eddy on river right so recatching is not a problem when you blow off.'
Tom Trent notes...(21/2/00) 'Some metal work (thick wire) in the shallow rapids just after Abbey Rapids...care needed (ie. don't play there...like I did).'
From Abbey Rapids down the river enters a scenic gorge with some nice grade III sections (nothing as hard as Abbey Rapids though) and some fun little tailie spots and surf waves. Look out for the River Greta joining from river right, you can run the last drop on it if there's plenty of water. Towards the bottom of the section the river opens out and a metal bridge spans the river. Just below here is Whorlton Lido - a 1m rock ledge angled down the river. It can be worth getting out river right to have a look at this drop as it can spank you (hint: paddle fast and point forwards - don't drop sideways into the nice U shaped bits whilst paddling a spud! Consider a very short run on a tributary here, Whorlton Beck!
Mark Rainsley. adds - 'I have paddled this in big flows. The ledge upstream of Abbey Rapids washes out, the Abbey Rapids themselves just become a big wave train. The gorge below has nothing much to worry about in it...but a swim on Abbey Rapids will leave you little opportunity to get out until the end of the gorge! Whorlton Falls deserves real respect in high flows, there is usually a straightforward and safe line (inspect!) but holes appear in the centre and river right particularly that you don't want to clock up your rodeo scores in.'
If you have the energy, there is more whitewater interest downstream, especially in high flows.
Mike Millington (28/10/02)...'Myself and a friend ran the Tees yesterday from Middleton Bridge down to Whorlton Lido in 1 hour 30 minutes (which included a 10 minute portage of the Barnard Castle Weir while we tried to find somewhere to get back on!). In the 10 years I've been paddling this river I've never seen it so big! It really was like paddling a big volume Austrian Alps river. The trip was pretty full on and offered hardly any eddies (unless you fancied breaking out amongst the trees and bushes!) and inspection was definitely of the 'make it up as you go along' variety! Wave trains were huge stoppers of the river-wide and best avoided variety. Nothing appeared to be of the too serious and life threatening variety but the weir at Barnard Castle was to be avoided at ALL COSTS! The alleged chicken shoot on the left was non-existent as the river was washing over the bank and under a tree. We did intend to have a look at Abbey Rapids but it came up rather quickly and without the advantage of a convenient eddy! Running straight down through the centre in an Inazone was certainly a very amusing experience. Fortunately the stoppers were washed out and replaced by the biggest wave train I have ever paddled in the UK. All in all an absolutely fantastic paddle at a once in a "blue moon" level.'
CONTRIBUTED BY: Mike Redding, also Tom Trent, Richard Longhurst, Mike Millington, Edd Adie, Andy Gibson, Mark Rainsley and Jim Pullen.