Dalehouse Erratic

Driving through Dalehouse today I spotted this lovely Shap Granite erratic. I got talking to the man whose land it is on and he told me that he had brought it up from the valley bottom. He also told me of a neighbour who had dragged an even larger boulder of the same rock type into his garden and was using it as a healing stone, apparently he sits on it for a period of time and it eases his aches and pains. I asked the man whether he had any similar experiences with his stone, he said that he hadn’t, the only thing he had noticed was that passing dogs enjoyed cocking their legs against it.

Shap Granite

Redcar Fossils

There are a number of plaques built into the path of the promenade along Redcar seafront. Each plaque is comprised of smaller plaques, which presumably represent different aspects of the town and coast.

This lovely plaque shows Ammonites, a fairly common fossil which occurs in the Jurassic rocks of the coast and are often found on the beaches from Staithes to Robin Hood’s Bay.

If I were to chose a fossil to represent Redcar, it would be Gryphea, known locally as Devil’s Toenails. Gryphea are the fossil remains of a member of the oyster family and are commonly found on the beaches from Redcar to Marske. Large fossil oyster beds can be easily seen at low tide on the mudstone scars that run from Redcar beach into the sea.

There are also ammonites to be found at Redcar, they are nowhere near as common as the Devil’s Toenails and they don’t frequently weather-out of the rocks as they do further down the coast. The specimens that I have seen in the oyster beds at Redcar are generally quite large, typically between 20-50 cm across.

Fossilised fragments of large Ammonites do occasionally wash up onto the Beach. I found the one below on Marske beach.

Redcar Rocks have official protection, the scars have been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Please do not try and cut any fossils out of the rocks, it’s possible to walk along the beach from Redcar to Marske and collect a pocketful of fossils, especially Devil’s Toenails, from the foreshore.

Durham Dales – Stanhope

Stanhope DU [Stanhopa 1183 BoB, -hop 1228 Ep]. ‘Stony HOH or ridge and HOP or valley.’

Graham and I drove up into the Wear Valley to Stanhope to have a look at the wonderful fossilised tree in the churchyard of St. Thomas’s church.


The 320 million year old fossil was found by quarrymen at a sandstone quarry at Edmundbyers Cross in 1915. It was originally taken to Newcastle and was brought to Stanhope in the 1960s and placed in the churchyard.


This is a superb relic of one of the trees that grew in the Carboniferous forest. It is a species known as Sigillaria, an early ancestor of modern club mosses. Today clubmosses are small mountain plants, only a few centimetres high, but in the tropical swamps of the Carboniferous Period they grew into 30-metre high giants!


Another fossil tree recovered from the sandstone quarry can be seen in the Hancock Great Northern Museum in Newcastle.

While here we thought we’d take a look inside the church. This was a very different building to the previous church we had visited at Escomb. St. Thomas’s is a very well endowed church and reflects the fortunes that have been made from farming and mineral extraction in the district.


The first thing you notice when you enter the church is the Victorian baptismal font. Beautifully carved in Frosterley marble with an extremely ornate cover complete with an over-engineered lifting mechanism.


Frosterley Marble has been used on the chancel floor.


Frosterley marble isn’t a true marble. Marble is a metamorphic rock, i.e. a rock that has been altered from its original state by temperature and pressure. Frosterley marble is merely a highly fossiliferous limestone, that when cut and polished forms a highly decorative stone.


frosterley Laing i

Fossil – Laing Art Gallery Newcastle

This sculpture is a carved block of Frosterley Limestone inset with cast bronze interpretations of the fossils found within it. The fossil installation is displayed on an oak plinth among the Frosterley floor tiles and oak doors and display cabinets in the Marble Hall of the Laing Art Gallery. The sculpture is finished on one side to reflect the smoothness of the floor tiles and the central section shows and explains the unusual shapes seen in the tiles with carved and truncated fossils. The third section is a representation of a carboniferous sea floor with ‘living’ dibunophyllum bipartitum cast in bronze. The Department of Coelenterates at the Natural History Museum in London offered invaluable advice in establishing the most accurate representation of ‘dibunophyllum’. 


This ancient stone coffin in the grounds of the church was carved from a single block of Frosterley marble.

The only true marble in the district is to be found in Upper Teesdale. A limestone which was subjected to heat and pressure from contact with the igneous rock that forms the Whin Sill. The resultant rock is known as Sugar Limestone. It is quite crumbly in nature and therefore pretty much useless as a decorative stone.


It was nice to see this Roman altar displayed inside the church. A translation of the inscription is provided, it reads..

To Silvanus, the invincible, sacred

Caius Tetius Venturius Mecia

Prefect of the Sebosian Cavalry

On account of a boar of enormous

size taken which

many of his predecessors

were not able to destroy, erected (this

altar) willigly in discharge of a vow

The town of Stanhope is surrounded by quarries and the valley has a long history of  lead mining and smelting. Spoil heaps from the quarries encroach onto the margins of the town but I can find very little evidence in the church of the people who worked in the quarries and mines of Weardale. We left Stanhope and drove up the dale to visit the Rookhope Arch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The arch is all that remains of a two mile long horizontal chimney or flue. The flue carried the toxic gases and fumes from the lead smelt mill to the moortop. Mill workers were periodically sent into the flue to dig out the deposits. The average life span of a lead miner in 1860 was 45 years. Perhaps this ruin is a more fitting memorial to their lives than some mossy obelisk in a churchyard


The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. 4th Edition. Eilert Ekwall. 1974

North Pennines AONB Geoparks Leaflet

Laing Art Gallery – Topografik


Clock Tower 1

The Redcar Memorial Clock tower was designed by John Dobson and erected in 1913 in memory of King Edward VII. It is built of red engineering brick and concrete. The plinth is made of Whinstone, making it one of the few buildings in the area that utilises this local stone.

Clock Tower

Grey Towers in Nunthorpe, built for William Hopkins, and the former home of Arthur Dorman, is also faced with Whinstone.


I passed through this village a few weeks ago, I had never visited it before and had no knowledge of the place but it had an air of oddness about it so I made a note to return and have a poke about. A good place to start with any village is the church, god’s house often comes with parking.


The church is called St. Cuthbert and St. Mary, there were once two churches in the village, St. Cuthbert’s and St. Mary’s, the story goes that there were two sisters who refused to worship under the same roof. St. Mary’s was demolished in the nineteenth century and the names combined.  In common with most local churches dedicated to  Cuthbert it is said that the monks who carried his body rested here.

The exterior of the church is pretty but unremarkable. The church was closed, outside, beside the nave door is a section of broken stone with an indented diaper motif and a saltire cross, this has been interpreted as a possible 11th century cross shaft, I’m not sure I agree with that. Resting on the stone is another inscribed WE May 1678, this stone came from the demolished church of St. Mary’s.

The graveyard has two terraces. On the lower terrace are a group of striking rude stone memorials clustered around a large figure of christ. The stones mark the graves of the Vaux family.


The Vaux family were brewers, engineers and military men. Ernest Vaux met Robert Baden-Powell  during the South African War and the two became close friends. In 1908 Baden Powell visited Vaux in Sunderland and the pair formed the first official scout group in the world.


My grandparents were pub managers for Vaux Breweries, my first home was the Palmerston Hotel on Newport Road in Middlesbrough, a Vaux house that has long since been demolished.

History aside, what drew me to these graves was the beautiful stone that the grave markers were made from. The stone is an early carboniferous crinoidal limestone and comes from a quarry about a mile south of the village.


The Barton crinoidal limestone is a buff coloured highly fossiliferous limestone, in it’s raw state it is a beautifully tactile stone, when cut and polished the dense, visible fossil content makes it highly decorative.



There is also a link between St. Cuthbert and crinoidal limestone. There is a coastal outcrop in Northumberland and the fossilised, hollow, segments of the Crinoid stems can be found on the beaches. These bead-like fossils were collected and used to make necklaces and rosaries, the individual fossils became known as St. Cuthbert’s or Cuddy’s beads.

But fain St Hilda’s nuns would learn
If on a rock by Lindisfarne
St Cuthbert sits and toils to frame
The sea borne beads that bear his name.
Such tales had Whitby’s fishers told,
And said they might his shape behold,
And here his anvil sound:
A deadened clang – a huge dim form
Seen but and heart when gathering storm
And night were closing round.
But this, a tale of idle fame,
The nuns of Lindisfarne disclaim.

From Marmion by Sir Walter Scott

Ernst Haeckel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I got talking to a nice bloke who was repairing the church pathway. He pointed out a couple of archways that were built into the wall across the road from the church and told me that the area is called Piper Hill and that there used to be a row of cottages and a large house all of which were demolished many years ago. He said that behind the arches there was once a fish and chip shop.


I followed the wall back to the main road to have a look at a tall sandstone structure. Apparently this was once the porch to one of the houses and also contained a dovecote. When the houses were demolished the porch was left standing and is now the smallest free-standing dovecote in England.