Stanhope stands on the banks of the River Wear nestled between the protective ridges of the Dales.
Stanhope’s development was based on its role as a market town for upper Weardale with the mining of lead, iron and stone from the surrounding fells coming together with the spread of Methodism into the dale. The Stone cross situated in the Market Place in front of St Thomas’ Church is the only reminder of the weekly market, which was held here by a charter of 1421 until the 19th century.
Outside the church, the Fossil Tree - discovered in a nearby quarry - was part of a tropical forest swamp, which covered this area about 300 million years ago. It is a natural cast of the extinct ‘Sigillaria’, a very primitive tree whose present day relatives are the small club mosses found on some high British mountains. When the tree died it was rapidly buried by sand. As the wood decayed this space was filled with more sand, which as it hardened formed the cast that can be seen today.
The Norman castle that was originally built here was soon abandoned and the present-day castle was built in 1798 as a house by Cuthbert Rippon - a London solicitor - and his son. Extended in 1875 the parkland of the castle was laid out at the same time on the land that now lies beneath the Durham Dales Centre.
Built in 1991, the Durham Dales Centre comprises of a Tourist Information Centre, Country Tea Room, Craft units and the Dales Garden and is a lovely little stop for something to eat and allows you to pick up information on local activities such as the popular Stanhope Show and the Stanhope Farmers Market.
weardale and beyond
Spreading out in all directions, the stunning surroundings are reason enough to spend time in Weardale, from the gentle lowland slopes around Stanhope to the higher heather covered moor land areas above. Travelling up the dale through delightful villages such as Eastgate, Westgate, St John’s Chapel and Cowshill, you will encounter friendly locals, fine pubs and eating establishments and great scenery.
If you enjoy walking and cycling, there are many great paths and cycle ways to explore.
As you drive, cycle or walk around Weardale, you will come across much evidence of past industries. Farming is of course still a major business, but in past centuries, lead mining and lime quarrying were major industries too. You will see many remains, such as the entrances to disused mines, kilns and chimneys and disused railways.
With plenty of things to see and do throughout the year, Stanhope and the wider Weardale are also ideally placed as a base from which to explore the whole of the North of England.