Paddling tips, tricks, news and gear reviews from an Unsponsored point of view

Northern Territory Series – River Tees

In April 2009 Nathan Butler and Martyn Sollars embarked on journey across the United Stated of America. Nathan invested in the ‘Whitewater Classics: Fifty North American Rivers’. This book became the bible, a tick list by default – It featured handpicked paddlers sharing their experiences of each river and stating why it is a classic.

Northern Territory Series - River Tees

The book was by no means a guidebook, but suggestions made by accomplished and proven pioneers of the sport. Contributors to the Northern Territory project haven’t got the reputation or world titles as featured in ‘Whitewater Classics: Fifty North American Rivers’, but do share the same desire and passion for the sport.

Over the next few weeks Unsponsored will be sharing Nathan’s thoughts and comments on some of the many whitewater classics in Northern Britain.

From Nathan:

Although this UK Northern Territory series doesn’t cover the vast range of rivers the ‘Whitewater Classics: Fifty North American Rivers’ edition does I hope it details those that are worthy of exposure, a mixture of known classics and lesser known sections of whitewater that are carefully selected as not to dilute an abundance of excellent whitewater found in Northern Britain. We hope this works best and gives you the same excitement and is as helpful and as fun to experience as it was for us to produce.

Enjoy and Happy Hucking!

Our first entry is The Classic run on the river Tees, High Force to Low Force, known locally as Hi-Low. This little grade 3/4 gem lies close to picturesque Middleton-in-Teesdale and is responsible for the progression of many paddlers based in the North East. A large catchment area enables it to hold water well and is runnable pretty much all year round.

Northern Territory Series - River Tees

This is a fantastic section of whitewater and a great one on which to hone skills in a relatively benign environment; however, at high levels it can provide a challenge for even experienced boaters. You can put in, advisable for 1st – timers and for when the levels are a healthy medium at the base of High Force – arguably England’s most impressive waterfall. This is a great place to start, and a rare opportunity to get this close to such an enormously powerful out-flow. The section in question is a relatively short run which can be easily, and regularly, lapped.

Northern Territory Series - River Tees

There is a path running alongside the right-hand bank which makes it ideal for scouting, walking – or running back up for another go.

Parking at the get-in is at the High Force Hotel. Alternatively there are many lay-bys along the nearby road – you just may have to hike a little. At the take out there is a lay-by beside the path from Low Force; this part of the area is magnificent and you will be sharing the riverbanks with many tourists and walkers – throughout all seasons. They all enjoy watching us paddle this section – especially at Low Force – so don’t be afraid to show off!

There are three sections of interest. The first one you reach is Salmon Leap/Dog Leg/S Bends, all in a continuous sequence.

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This technical rapid, going hard right off the entry ramp, into a straight, then hard left at the bottom of the stretch. There are six eddies for the paddler to catch on this short rapid.

Northern Territory Series - River Tees


Northern Territory Series - River Tees

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After a short rapid section you come to the next notable feature, Horse Shoe/Middle Force. This is to be approached with caution. Several very skilled paddlers have come unstuck here by this drop.


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The next drop is Low force: great fun for experienced and novice kayakers alike.

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Northern Territory Series - River Tees

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Groups from local universities often use this spot to ‘blood’ recent converts and many non-boaters may often be spotted jumping into the base of this fall. This is a great practice spot for building confidence in preparation for the bigger drops.

The far left-hand (river left) side of Low Force, known as the Jacuzzi Chute and is probably the most intimidating drop on the river (to look at) but is surprisingly straight forward and great fun to run! This drop, despite its appearance is only advised in medium- to high-levels.

Northern Territory Series - River Tees

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We know of three paddlers that have ‘petoned’ halfway down this drop: two of them finished with broken boats, another broken bones. At medium to high flows, you spiral round from left to right at high speed and punch the hole at the bottom!

The only feature between you and the get-out is a small double drop rapid. It signals the end of the run, but don’t let your guard down, this rapid can provide a little kick in the tail for the unaware!

To fully complete this absolute classic, the tradition is to jump off the swing bridge at the get-out. You can, if levels are good, carry on to as much grade 2-3 you could wish for. There are plenty of sections to enjoy on this varied and outstandingly beautiful river.

Words by: Nathan Butler
Images by: Unsponsored

1 Comment

  1. Unsponsored

    Please note that the river left line on the main drop of Low Force has changed. A rock has been dislodged or moved near the base of the fall. We know of at least a couple of paddlers who have injured themselves running this line.

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