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Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

Big plans for great experiences

The River Tees


The source of the River Tees lies on the eastern slope of Cross Fell in the North Pennines, it flows eastwards for 85 miles to reach the chilly waters of the North Sea.

The River Tees runs through a diverse landscape of rolling countryside and picturesque villages to industrial towns and large housing estates. It drains an area of 710 square miles and has a number of tributaries including the River Greta, River Lune, River Balder, River Leven and River Skerne

Despite the industrial riverbanks the Tees estuary is surprisingly important for its wildlife and plantlife, with each season bringing different experiences.

Before the heavy industrialisation of the Tees, the flats at Seal Sands were home to the common seal. For around 100 years this species was absent from the estuary but they have now returned and can be seen on the flat sands and surrounding areas once more.



The Borough of Stockton-on-Tees owes much of its development to the River Tees.

In the early 13th century, Yarm was the most prosperous port on the river. Sailing ships brought wine and flax to the town and sheepskins for the tanneries along the river banks. On the return journey, salt, agricultural produce and lead from the mines in Swaledale were transported by sea to London and to the North-East coastal ports.

Captain James Cook born in Marton spent his early years in Great Ayton and Whitby. You can visit a replica of his ship the Endeavour, moored at Castlegate Quay on Stockton's riverside. The Endeavour itself was based upon the design of the coal barques that carried the coal away from the port.

With the expansion of the coal trade in the 17th century, Stockton became the major river port when coal was carried to the docks from the Durham coalfield by horse and cart to be shipped to London and overseas. Originally Stockton-on-Tees was a rural community, but with the Industrial Revolution came huge developments in heavy industry and massive expansion downstream to the estuary.

In the early 19th century the River Tees was altered between Stockton-on-Tees and Middlesbrough. The river previously meandered first south and then north of its current channel, the river was straightened, thus saving money and time in navigation.

In 1995 the exciting Tees Barrage International White Water Centre opened on the north bank of the River Tees. The purpose built, artificial white water course helped regenerate the area and has since been transformed into a world class facility.