River Tees

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River Tees
High force.jpg
High Force on the River Tees
Tees (riviere).png
Path of the Tees
Country England
Region Durham, Yorkshire
Physical characteristics
  location Cross Fell
  coordinates 54°42′02″N2°28′02″W / 54.7006°N 2.4673°W / 54.7006; -2.4673
  elevation754 m (2,474 ft)
Mouth North Sea
between Hartlepool and Redcar
54°38′54″N1°08′51″W / 54.6483°N 1.1474°W / 54.6483; -1.1474 Coordinates: 54°38′54″N1°08′51″W / 54.6483°N 1.1474°W / 54.6483; -1.1474
0 m (0 ft)
Length85 mi (137 km)
Basin size1,834 km2 (708 sq mi)
Basin features
  leftHarwood Beck, Hudeshope Beck,
Eggleston Burn, Skerne, Billingham Beck
  rightMaize Beck, Lune, Balder, Greta, Leven

The River Tees ( /tz/ ), in Northern England, rises on the eastern slope of Cross Fell in the North Pennines and flows eastwards for 85 miles (137 km) to reach the North Sea between Hartlepool and Redcar near Middlesbrough. [1] The modern day history of the river has been tied with the industries on Teesside in its lower reaches, where it has provided the means of import and export of goods to and from the North East England. The need for water further downstream also meant that reservoirs were built in the extreme upper reaches, such as Cow Green. [2]



The name Tees is possibly of Brittonic origin. [3] The element *tēs, meaning "warmth" with connotations of "boiling, excitement" (Welsh tes), may underlie the name. [3] *Teihx-s, a root possibly derived from Brittonic *ti (Welsh tail, "dung, manure"), [3] has also been used to explain the name Tees (compare River Tyne). [3]


The river drains 710 square miles (1,800 km2) and has a number of tributaries including the River Greta, River Lune, River Balder, River Leven and River Skerne. [4] Before the reorganisation of the historic English counties, the river formed the boundary between County Durham and Yorkshire. In its lower reaches it now forms the boundary between the ceremonial counties of County Durham and North Yorkshire, while in the highest part of its course it forms the boundary between the historic counties of Westmorland and Durham. The head of the Teesdale (the name of valley especially at this end), has a desolate grandeur, surrounded by moorland and hills, some exceeding 2,500 feet (760 m). [5] This area is part of the North Pennine Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. [6]

The source of the river at Teeshead just below Cross Fell lies at an elevation of approximately 2,401 feet (732 m). It flows east-north-east through an area of shake holes through Carboniferous Limestone. Below Viewing Hill, it turns south to the Cow Green Reservoir constructed to store water to be released in dry conditions to satisfy the industrial need for water on Teesside. [6] [7]

Emerging from the reservoir at Cauldron Snout the river traverses a series of hard black basalt and dolerite rocks that intrude through the softer limestone, [8] in a succession of falls or rapids. From this point downstream the Tees forms the boundary between the traditional counties of Durham and Yorkshire almost without a break, [5] although since 1974 much of it lies wholly in Durham. The dale widens below Cauldron Snout, and trees appear, contrasting with the broken rocks where the water descends over High Force. [5] After a short turn northwards, the river continues to meander south-easterly. Close to where the B6277 road begins to run parallel to the river is the 69-foot (21 m) [9] High Force waterfall. About 1+12 miles (2.4 km) downstream is the smaller Low Force waterfall. [6]

The confluence of the River Greta and the River Tees "The Meeting of the Waters" - geograph.org.uk - 1413888.jpg
The confluence of the River Greta and the River Tees

The scenery becomes gentler and more picturesque as the river descends past Middleton-in-Teesdale (Durham). This locality has lead and ironstone resources. Just to the east of Middleton-in-Teesdale, the River Lune joins the Tees. After passing the village of Romaldkirk to the west, the river is joined by the River Balder at Cotherstone. The ancient town of Barnard Castle, Egglestone Abbey, and Rokeby Park, known through Sir Walter Scott's poem Rokeby, are all passed. [5] At Rokeby the Tees is joined by the River Greta. From the area near Eggleston, the river is crossing over millstone grit. [10] From here the valley begins to open out, and traverses the rich plain east and south of Darlington in large meandering curves. [6]

The course of the valley down to here has been generally east-south-east, but it now turns north-east near the village of Whorlton. Passing Ovington and Winston it runs parallel to the A67 south-east past Gainford and Piercebridge to Darlington, passing under the A1 and A66. The section from Piercebridge to Hurworth flows over magnesian limestone. [10] It is at Croft-on-Tees that the River Skerne joins the Tees. The river now flows south past Croft-on-Tees before swinging northwards past Hurworth-on-Tees. A series of large meanders takes the course past Neasham, Low Dinsdale and Sockburn to Middleton St George. [6] In the lower reaches of the river valley the water flows over bunter sandstone and pebble beds. [10]

Just past Yarm, the River Leven joins the Tees, before passing the settlements of Eaglescliffe, Ingleby Barwick and Thornaby-on-Tees. Now nearing the sea, the Tees becomes an important commercial waterway, with the ports of Stockton-on-Tees and Middlesbrough on its banks. [5] It passes through the Tees Barrage between these ports, turning tidal downstream from the barrage. [6]

Teesport is built on reclaimed land on the south side of the Tees estuary below Middlesbrough. [11]

Water levels

Monitoring station [12] Station elevationLow water levelHigh water levelRecord high level
Middleton-on-Tees216 m (709 ft)0.37 m (1.2 ft)1.5 m (4.9 ft)3.19 m (10.5 ft)
Barnard Castle (Startforth)141 m (463 ft)0.46 m (1.5 ft)1.4 m (4.6 ft)2.68 m (8.8 ft)
Broken Scar (Darlington)41 m (135 ft)0.54 m (1.8 ft)1.7 m (5.6 ft)3.28 m (10.8 ft)
Low Moor (Low Dinsdale)18 m (59 ft)0.31 m (1.0 ft)4 m (13 ft)6.32 m (20.7 ft)
Yarm7 m (23 ft)0.45 m (1.5 ft)2.05 m (6.7 ft)4.08 m (13.4 ft)

Seal Sands

Before the heavy industrialisation of the Tees, the flats at Seal Sands in the estuary were home to common seals. For around 100 years this species was absent from the estuary but have now returned and can be seen on the flats at Seal Sands. [13] The Seal Sands area is now designated as the Teesmouth National Nature Reserve. [14]


The River Tees (Portrack Cut) passing through the Green-Blue Heart of the Tees Corridor between Middlesbrough and Stockton District. A19 Tees Viaduct rom Maze Park viewing hill-2-1088.jpg
The River Tees (Portrack Cut) passing through the Green-Blue Heart of the Tees Corridor between Middlesbrough and Stockton District.

A proposal was made in 1769 to make cuts in the river which would straighten the course and enable ships to save time and money in navigation. Between Stockton-on-Tees and Middlesbrough, the river previously meandered first south and then north of its current channel. [15] Two "cuts", known as the Mandale Cut and the Portrack Cut, were made to straighten its course in 1810 and 1831 respectively. [16] Before these cuts were made, the journey by sailing barge from Thornaby to the mouth of the Tees, allowing for tides and other factors, could take as long as seven days. [17] The Mandale Cut was the shorter of the two, at about 220 yards (200 m), with the Portrack Cut being considerably longer (1,100 yards (1,000 m)), although the northern meander it removed was smaller than the southern meander. [18] Neither meander is visible today, except for the flow of Stainsby Beck into a waterway which is marked on maps first as "The Fleet" and then "Old River Tees". The current Tees Barrage is close to the site of the Mandale Cut. [19]

Since the cuts were made, the river has continued to undergo alterations to its bed and banks to make it deeper and more navigable. The channel has been made considerably narrower by dumping ship's ballast and ironworks slag along the former banks, increasing the scouring due to its natural flow. Maps made prior to 1900 [20] show that between Stockton and Middlesbrough the river flowed in a channel up to 330 yards (300 m) wide in places, with many shoals and sandbars. The modern channel varies between about 110 yards (100 m) and 220 yards (200 m).


The River Tees has been used for transporting industrial goods since the Industrial Revolution, particularly for the shipment of coal from the Durham Coalfields and also for the steel industries that later developed around Middlesbrough. [21] In the early years merchant ships left the River Tees after loading in Yarm and Stockton on Tees; but as merchant ships became bigger, these smaller docks were superseded by bigger and deeper docks in Middlesbrough, and later even further downstream at Teesport close to the mouth of the River Tees. The emergence of the Steel industry in the late 19th century earned it the nickname "The Steel River" owing to the many steelworks that operated along the banks of the Tees. In the 20th century the river also became important to the developing chemical industry, contributing particularly to the development of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) who used reclaimed land on the north bank for import/export facilities. [22]

The move to loading coal on bigger ships in Middlesbrough was the economic driver for the development not only of the town of Middlesbrough itself but also of the railway between Stockton and Darlington. This is where George Stephenson developed his railway engine "Locomotion" and this railway was the first steam railway to carry passengers, as well as industrial materials. The Stockton and Darlington Railway was founded after an initial shareholders' meeting in a room in a public house in Yarm.

Today Teesport is owned by PD Ports; it is located close to the North Sea and 3 miles (5 km) east of Middlesbrough. [23] [24] Teesport is currently the third largest port in the United Kingdom, and among the ten biggest in Western Europe, handling over 56 million tonnes of domestic and international cargo per year. The vast majority of these products are still related to the steel and chemical industries made by companies that are members of the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC). The areas where large scale commodity chemical industry continues to be based are Billingham and Seal Sands, both on the north bank of the River Tees, and Wilton on the south bank. The Teesside Steelworks at Redcar operated until closure in 2015. [25]

Other industrial companies that use the River Tees are manufacturing and servicing the North Sea oil and gas industry as well as the renewable energy industry sector, including offshore wind turbines. The south bank of the mouth of the River Tees has the 62-megawatt Teesside Offshore Wind Farm, built 2011–13. [26]

Near the mouth of the River Tees is the large dry dock facility of ABLE UK, named TERRC (Teesside Environmental Reclamation and Recycling Centre), used to dismantle or oil rigs and other large vessels. [27] Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station is adjacent to the east. [28]

Legends and folklore

Peg Powler is a hag in English folklore who is said to inhabit the River Tees. [29] [30] [31]

The River Tees was featured in the television series Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of the North, and in the post-apocalyptic drama The Last Train having blown its banks.

Notable bridges

See also

Related Research Articles

North East England Region of England

North East England is one of nine official regions of England at the first level of ITL for statistical purposes. The region covers an area of 8,592 km2 and in 2019 had a recorded population of nearly 2.7 million. There are four counties in the region: County Durham; Tyne and Wear; Northumberland and part of North Yorkshire. The largest settlements are Newcastle upon Tyne, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Gateshead and Darlington. There are three conurbations in the region: Tyneside ; Wearside ; and Teesside. Only three settlements in the region have city status: Newcastle upon Tyne, Sunderland and Durham.

Yarm Town and civil parish in North Yorkshire, England

Yarm, also referred to as Yarm-on-Tees, is a market town and civil parish in the Borough of Stockton-on-Tees, North Yorkshire, England. It was previously a port town before the industry moved down the River Tees to more accessible settlements nearer to the sea.

Stockton-on-Tees Town in County Durham, England

Stockton-on-Tees, simply Stockton, is a large market town in the Borough of Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, England. It is between the towns of Darlington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough; to the west, north-east and east respectively.

Teesside Conurbation in northern England

Teesside is a built-up area around the River Tees in the north of England, split between County Durham and North Yorkshire. The name was initially used as a county borough in the North Riding of Yorkshire.

Thornaby-on-Tees Town and civil parish in North Yorkshire, England

Thornaby-on-Tees, commonly referred to as Thornaby, is a town and civil parish on the River Tees's southern bank. It is in the Borough of Stockton-on-Tees, North Yorkshire, England. The parish had a population of 24,741 at the 2011 census, in the Teesside built-up area.

Borough of Stockton-on-Tees Unitary authority borough in England

The Borough of Stockton-on-Tees, commonly called Stockton Borough, is a local authority and borough in County Durham and North Yorkshire. It is part of the Tees Valley mayoralty in Northern England. The main town is Stockton, which lies on the north bank of the River Tees. In the 2011 census, the town and borough had a population of 82,880 and 191,600 respectively. The majority of the borough's population is in the Teesside built-up area.

Eaglescliffe Village in England

Eaglescliffe is a village in the Borough of Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, England. It is in the civil parish of Egglescliffe.

Tees Valley Mayorality for areas near the River Tees in Northern England

Tees Valley is a combined authority area in the north of England around the River Tees. The combined authority was established in 2016, after public consultation in 2015. The area is not a geographical valley.


Teesdale is a dale, or valley, in Northern England. The dale is in the River Tees’s drainage basin, most water flows stem from or converge into said river, including the Skerne and Leven.

Aislaby, County Durham Human settlement in England

Aislaby ) is a small village and civil parish on the north bank of the River Tees within the borough of Stockton-on-Tees and the ceremonial county of County Durham, England. It is located to the west of Eaglescliffe and Yarm. The name, first attested as Asulue(s)bi in 1086, is of Viking origin and means "Aslak's farm." Aislaby was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086.

A67 road

The A67 is a road in England that links Bowes in County Durham with Crathorne in North Yorkshire. The road from Middlesbrough to Darlington was previously the A66 road.

Cow Green Reservoir Reservoir in County Durham, England

Cow Green Reservoir is a 2-mile (3 km) long water reservoir forming part of the border between the historic counties of Westmorland and County Durham in northern England, built between 1967 and 1971 to supply the industries of Teesside.

Teesdale Way

The Teesdale Way is a long-distance walk between the Cumbrian Pennines and the North Sea coast of North Yorkshire in England. The walk is 100 miles (160 km) in length; it links in with other long-distance walks such as the Pennine Way and the E2 European Walk between Harwich and Stranraer.

Northallerton–Eaglescliffe line Railway line in England

The Northallerton–Eaglescliffe line runs between the towns of Northallerton and Eaglescliffe. It connects the East Coast Main Line to the Tees Valley Line. It was built by the Leeds Northern Railway as part of their main line from Leeds to Stockton which opened on 2 June 1852, although the connection to the ECML at the Northallerton end was not opened for a further four years.

The Tees Navigation Company was a British Company chartered by an Act of Parliament in 1808, for the purpose of improving navigation of the River Tees between the towns of Stockton-on-Tees and Middlesbrough.

Maze Park Nature Reserve

Maze Park is a 42-acre (17 ha) urban nature reserve in Middlesbrough, England on the south bank of the Tees on part of the former Tees Marshalling Yard. It was created by the Teesside Development Corporation and is owned and run by the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust. The reserve is a narrow triangle of land bounded by the River Tees, the old River Tees, and the Thornaby rail marshalling yards.

Tees Valley Regeneration was an urban regeneration company covering the Tees Valley area of North East England and at one time was the largest urban development agency in England. The headquarters were at Cavendish House, Teesdale Business Park in Thornaby-on-Tees.

Tees Marshalling Yard Railway marshalling yard in Middlesbrough, England

Tees Marshalling Yard is a railway marshalling yard, used to separate railway wagons, located near Middlesbrough in North Yorkshire, Northern England.

Stockton Racecourse Former horse racing site in North Yorkshire, England

Stockton Racecourse, also known as Teesside Park, was a British horse racing venue near Stockton-on-Tees in the north east of England, once considered "the finest in the north". Although named "Stockton Racecourse" there has never been a racecourse within Stockton-on-Tees, these courses were actually located across the River Tees in the North Riding of Yorkshire". Pre 1830s an alteration called the Mandale Cut of the river Tees was made. This caused the land of the racecourse north of the Tees to therefore became North Yorkshire. Due to the memory of the land being north of the Tees the when the course was named it became Stockton Racecourse.

Ben Houchen British politician

Ben Houchen is an English politician serving as the Tees Valley Mayor since May 2017.


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