Hard to resist;Places to go;Discovery series;Stone

30th July 1999 at 01:00
Everyone knows about Wiltshire's awesome Stonehenge and Avebury stone circles, but there are many other impressive sites scattered throughout the British Isles. At Stanton Drew in Avon, for example, lie the remains of a great ritual complex, probably dating from 3000BC. The Castlerigg stone circle near Penrith, Cumbria, is possibly one of the earliest Neolithic stone circles in Britain, as is Arbor Low stone circle, Derbyshire. Another three Bronze Age stone circles can be found at The Hurlers, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. All these sites are managed by English Heritage and can be visited free by education groups. Details and ideas and activities for national curriculum study are in the free booklet "Visiting Historic Sites" available from: English Heritage education service, Portland House, Stag Place, London SW1E 5EE. Tel: 0171 973 3442.

The national collection of classical, ancient Egyptian and ethnic sculpture is housed in the British Museum, London WC1. Arguably the most famous of all its Egyptian antiquities is the Rosetta Stone, to which a new exhibition is devoted. Running until January 2000, it is entitled "Cracking Codes: the Rosetta Stone and decipherment". Two new galleries are dedicated to displaying and explaining the controversial Parthenon sculptures ("Elgin Marbles"). Special features include a scale model of the Acropolis as it looked in the 4th century BC, and the Tiresias Project, with tactile displays that aim to increase accessibility for visually impaired visitors. Free admission. Tel: 0171 636 1555; website: www.british-museum.ac.uk The Stone of Destiny (aka the Stone of Scone) is on display in Edinburgh Castle. Entry is free to school groups (except in July and August). Apply in advance. Tel: 0131 225 1012.

The Blarney Stone in Blarney Castle, Cork, Ireland, can be viewed between 9am and 6.30pm daily. Admission is free to children under eight, pound;1 for children under 14. Tel: 0035321 385252.

The Victoria and Albert Museum houses the national collection of post-classical European sculpture from the early Christian period to the First World War. Of particular interest are the examples of Italian Renaissance sculpture and British sculpture of the 18th and 19th centuries. Far-Eastern and Indian sculpture is also on display. Details from the Vamp;A, London SW7. Tel: 0171 938 8500; website: www.vam.ac.uk "The Kiss", the Tate Gallery's famous Rodin statue has come home to Lewes, Sussex, for a Rodin exhibition at the town hall until October 30. The Vamp;A and the Musee Rodin in Paris have also lent pieces including a plaster group, "The Metamorphoses of Ovid", and a marble group of "Cupid and Psyche". Tel: 01273 471600.

Flesh and Stone: building a Scottish identity, an Architecture on the Fringe exhibition of contemporary Scottish civic, educational, cultural and leisure buildings against an historical background, is running at the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland, 146 Canongate, Edinburgh, August 2-29. Free admission. Tel: 0131 556 6699.

York Minster's West Front restoration has added work from our own century to the medieval building. New carvings include scenes from Genesis. School visits, which can include talks and demonstrations about how the minster was built and the materials used, can be arranged through: the education centre, St William's College, 6 College Street, York YO1 7JF. Tel: 01904 557224.

The Portland Sculpture Trust is running workshops of one, two or four weeks' duration until October 10 for all levels of experience. Sculpture, stone restoration and carving techniques are taught in the Tout Quarry. A range of new courses will be offered from September in a large indoor studio and exhibition space next to a working quarry. Prices are pound;190 (pound;135 concessions) for one week, pound;150 (pound;100) second week, pound;600 (pound;400) four weeks. Cheap accomodation is plentiful locally. Portland Sculpture Trust, 31 Easton Square, Portland, Dorset. Tel: 01303 826736; website: www.learningstone.net Jean Parker runs workshops in her studio or will visit schools and other locations to give workshops, talks and slide shows. A-level art students often come to her individually or as a group. Her next workshop is on August 25-26, fee pound;50 (pound;10 deposit). Stone, tools and expertise all provided. She also runs workshops entitled "Transformation: sculpture and spirituality", demonstrating how she expresses her spirituality through her work. Fee: pound;70 half-day or evening; pound;120 full day. Address: New Cottage, 25 Broad Street, Brinklow, Warwickshire CV23 OLS. Tel: 01788 833120.

WEBSITES Stone - megaliths, menhirs, dolmens, and henges - looms large on the Internet. Stone Pages (www.stonepages.comdmeozzi HomEng.html) is one of the best of dozens of websites. The site is the work of an Italian couple who have documented and photographed 288 megalithic sites in Britain, Ireland, France and Italy. The quality of text (in good English, as well as Italian) and images is well above average. Their coverage of Stonehenge, for example, is evocative and informative. But if you need to know when the gift shop is open, go to English Heritage at www.english-heritage. org.uk If you can get past the rather whimsical introduction, Megalithia (www.anima.demon.co.ukstones) is a useful site for closer study of stone circles in the British Isles, with its directory of hundreds of little-known sites.

The Great Pyramid at Khufu remains the biggest man-made pile of stones on the planet. Get some sense of its grandeur, and lots of statisitcs, at www.pbs.orgwgbhnovapyramid.

Few lumps of stone have generated as much heat as the Elgin Marbles, 56 sculpted frieze panels stripped from the Acropolis in Athens by the Earl of Elgin in 1801. The case for the restitution of these treasures - still in the British Museum (www.british-museum.ac.uk) - is expressed with fierce elegance at the website of the Melina Mercouri Foundation (www.mercouri.org).

Sculptors, architects and engineers have long battled against the nature of the material to create things which earn the cliche, a 'miracle in stone'. Look at the contenders: Chartres Cathedral (superbly illustrated at www1.pitt. edumedart menufrancechartrescharmain. html); the Taj Mahal (www.savory.orgphil Agra.html0; Christopher Wren's version at St Paul's (stpauls.london.anglican.org ); Michelangelo's David (see it at the Galleria dell'Accademia site, www. sbas.firenze.itmuseiacca01.htm); But what is stone, anyway? Dozens of university geology department websites can give you the answers. For a really close-up look, try the University of North Carolina's Atlas of Igneous and Metamorphic Rocks, Minerals and Textures (www.geolab.unc.eduPetuniaIgMetAtlasmainmenu.html). This large collection of photo-micrographs reveals the dazzling crystalline structures of what, to the untutored eye, would seem very ordinary lumps of rock.

The same could be said for some of the stones prized by the exponents of Suiseki - the mineral world's answer to bonsai. Try the Suiseki site at www.felixrivera-suiseki.com to see how popular the Japanese art of finding stones which remind you of something - anything - has become in California and elsewhere.

Most of the 382 kilos of moon-rock grabbed by the Apollo missions still resides in the vaults of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. You can get a fair idea of what there is to see - and as much information as you are ever likely to need about the rocks themselves - at the Center's Astromaterials Curation site (www-curator.jsc.nasa.gov).

Some will argue that the only way to appreciate stone is to work on it with hammer and chisel. Anyone so moved will find inspiration and hard practical advice at Learning Stone (www.learningstone.net), the website of the Portland Sculpture Trust.

Here, you can learn about the geology, natural and social history of Portland and its stone - the stuff used by Wren, Nash, Hawksmoor and others in the re-building of London. And then book yourself onto a stone-carving course in a Portland quarry (see above for details).

Valerie Hall and Bill Hicks

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