The weekend started by being dropped off up at Cow Green reservoir by some very understanding friends (at 11 o’clock on Friday night), we then dragged our boats part way to the dam to find somewhere to bivvy sheltered from the wind. It was an amazingly clear night, I tried my Hunka bivvy bag for the first time so laid staring at the stars for hours and slowly realised that maybe our sheltered spot wasn’t really that sheltered.
At 6 o’clock the next morning after a breakfast of Pitta breads (which became my staple diet for the trip) we set off in the direction of the dam. We set off walking but soon realised that it was slow going so paddled along the lake instead. Once at the dam we were pleased to see that there was one pipe releasing so at least we would have some water. Couldron Snout looked as nice a prospect as always so we portaged that and got on below and we were off (I don’t think at this point either of us realised what we had let ourselves in for so were still pretty jolly). It was plain sailing down to High Force, a bit scrappy but ok. After portaging High Force on river right (as there was a path) we headed back down to the river as soon as we could and it took us about 15 mins to make it down to Low Force. From here on down we carried on for a few hours passing Middleton, Cotherstone and the race course section and finally making it to Barnard castle about 5pm. I hadn’t done all of these sections before and hadn’t realised how long they were. We finally passed under the bridge at Winston at about 8 o’clock and started to look for somewhere to bed down for the night. We finally found a lovely spot in a little gorge which smelt of wild garlic all night.
It rained most of the night so I was hopeful that the river might come up a bit over night, however we soon realised it hadn’t and set off for a day of flat water paddling at about 7am with very achy bodies from the day before. We made good progress and came to the only challenge of the day, the weir at Darlington which after a quick check was simply enough to run due to it being low. What followed was hours and hours of flat water, very sore arms, blistered hands and dead legs, however we were determined by this point. I was distracted by the amazing wildlife we found on the lower sections, it was like an oasis of life living of the river banks and should be paddled if only to fully appreciate this. Interestingly the majority of rubbish on this section appeared to be inflatable dingys, various whales, crocodiles and frogs. We also met lots of fishermen and quite surprisingly they were all friendly and pleasant, some even given us useful information. We made it to Yarm at about 8pm and thinking we were nearly there we relaxed a little, however it took another 2 hours to get to the Tees Barrage where we were getting picked up. It was a huge sense of relieve seeing the barrage, and I finally got out of boat and I realised the last time I did this was over 8 hours ago!
This was an excellent trip and I would recommended it to everyone, its amazing how the river changes on the course to the sea, however unless you want to turn it into a endurance event, 3 days would be much better than 2 unless the river is much higher.