Fossil Tree at StanhopeWhat is the largest fossil you have ever seen? The size of your thumb? The palm of your hand? Your head? How about the size of a tree trunk?

In Stanhope, in the upper end of Weardale of County Durham, traffic sweeps along the A689 through the town. Many drivers pass the tourist information centre without even glancing, however just inside the wall of the Dales Centre you will find one of the wonders of nature. You will notice the wall dips at one point. This isn’t the result of vandalism or natural erosion. Look beyond the wall and you will see a tree trunk that has been cut off. You may wonder why anyone would cut a tree like this, but if you look a little closer you will see that this particular tree, is not made of wood.

The plaque on the wall informs us that the tree grew in a forest near Edmundbyers Cross, around 250 million years ago. As the tree decayed, the wood and sap was replaced by ganister, a type of sandstone which is made up of a hard, fine-grained silicon-dioxide. The ganister formed a perfect reproduction of the tree, which had been at 1550 feet above sea level north of Stanhope on the way to Muggleswick.

The fossil tree was transported to Stanhope in 1962 under the supervision of a Mr J Beaston and has remained in the town since.

No visit to the Durham Dales Centre is complete without viewing the tree which can often be seen surrounded by day-trippers during summer months.

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