Nestled in the heart of the Weardale, The Durham Dales, is the small market town of Stanhope. This is a wonderful spot to discover more about the Durham Dales or to venture from on foot, or as the gateway to more dales adventures. In fact it was from here I did one of my favourite short walks above the town of Stanhope last year with much history and amazing views.
As you enter the town you will see the church not too far from the Durham Dales Centre, but the churchyard is home to more than the usual, it has a magical example of a fossilised tree! A tree from 320 million years ago.
Back, all those hundreds of millions of years ago, in the Carboniferous Period, the area (part of the earths crust) we now know as the Durham Dales was actually at the equator. Yes, with tropical seas and massive rainforests. One of the trees then was a huge 30 metre example that produced the fossil, the nearest thing today though is the tiny, by comparison, is clubmoss. When the tree died it was filled with sandstone as the bark rotted and has given us this great fossil, found by local sandstone miners in 1915, complete with bark impressions.
This is not the only reason to come to Stanhope, there are the walks of course and the discoveries of a mining and quarrying age of not so long ago. But to discover what you may find on your Durham Dales adventures then pay a visit to the Durham Dales Centre, you will see it not far from the church and clearly seen on the A689 in town.
It is a treasure trove and greatly interwoven place of gift shops, tea room, information centre and local businesses. The tea room is popular and I must say there is a rich array of meals of all sizes! Top Tip, the chocolate cake is divine 🙂 Set me up for a days walking for sure.
The craft shop was packed full of produce from a whole variety of local artists and manufacturers. From soaps to paintings and from jewellery to greetings cards. It doesn’t stop there as there are craft shops ranging from gems from fossils and wood crafted to a whole plethora of items. Into the information centre you have a huge wealth of reading materials to help you on your local travels. Books galore, and leaflets packed with info and days out. Want to know about local places to stay, eat or walks, cycles of all kinds, this place will know.
Back outside and you can find a car park surrounded by great little tranquil areas of greenery. A quaint little garden for a mini exploration is nestled behind the car park.
Having spoke about the fossil tree earlier I must also mention the sculpture you can find outside the Dales Centre too… It is worth a closer inspection, as you can see it is covered in lots of fossils. This is known as Frosterley Marble.
The fossils come form again more than 320 million years ago the marble is decorated, yet naturally with fossils of coral, shells, leaves and more. You will find it has been used further afield in architecture if you look. Columns at Durham Cathedral, Beverley Minster Font, and even as steps as Windsor Castle. In fact you can find it in many Cathedrals and buildings like York Minster, Mumbai Cathedral, Peterborough Cathedral, St Albans Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Norwich for example.
I’ve eaten, I’ve shopped, I’ve browsed, I’ve learnt. Now time to get back out into the Durham Dales for some more adventure 🙂