Legendary castles;Places to go;Discover Myths;Discovery series

20th August 1999 at 01:00
Tintagel Castle, a 12-century ruin popularly known as King Arthur's castle, is not the only site to relive the romance of the once and future king. Also in Tintagel are King Arthur's Great Halls, where the wise voice of Merlin (actor Robert Powell) recounts such episodes as Lancelot's rescue of Queen Guinevere.

Visitors then pass into the grand Hall of Chivalry, with its enormous granite throne, Round Tables and magnificent stained glass windows, created by Veronica Whall. Admission: pound;8 family, pound;2.75 adult, pound;2 concessions, reduced rates for groups. Tel: 01840 770526.

Celtic culture and superstitions are reflected in the ancient Mabinogion tales from Wales. School groups visiting Castell Henllys Iron Age Fort in Meline, Crymych, Swansea, follow the Trail of the Twrch 2,000 years into the past and survive many adventures including an ambush perpetrated by the chieftain Culhwch. Along the way they are told about the "impossible" tasks Culhwch was set by Ysbaddaden the giant, in order to win the hand of the giant's daughter, the beautiful Olwen and visit the Sacred Spring, the doorway through which the gods visit our world. Tel: 01239 891319. A pack "Pathways to the Past: the Celts at Castell Henllys" costs about pound;25.

Immerse yourself in Norse legends at Vikingar! in Largs, Ayrshire. A Viking brandishing an axe starts off this multimedia exhibition, which transports visitors back to the first Viking raids in Scotland. One section, adorned by wooden carvings of Freya, Thor and other Viking gods and Valkyries is devoted to Valhalla, the Hall of the Gods, where a hologram of the one-eyed Odin gives a commentary on the afterlives of Vikings who died in battle. Children can dress up in Viking fighting kit. Family ticket: pound;9.50 (two adults, two children); pound;3.50 adults, pound;2.50 children. Tel: 01475 689777.

Alternatively, go to Norway where Norse sagas originated. The four-night steamer cruise from Bergen to Lofoten passes the kind of rugged mountain vistas you half expect trolls to be lurking in. Odd-shaped lumps on Hestmannoy are said to be trolls, frozen into stone after a spat when one troll shot an arrow through another's hat. A huge Viking hall recently discovered by archaeologists at Vestvagoy has been rebuilt as a museum. In summer you can see the midnight sun, in winter, the Northern Lights. Tel: Norwegian Tourist Board, 0171 839 6255 or Norwegian Cruise Line, 0990 906060 or Bergen Tourist Office, 1 Vaaagschmanningen, N-5014, Bergen, tel: 00 47 5532 1480; website: www.bergen-guide.com Greek mythology is well represented in the British Museum, London WC1. The Elgin Marbles, for example, part of the 524-foot frieze that once adorned the Parthenon in Athens, is thought to depict a fifth-century BC procession in honour of Athene. Free admission. Tel: 0171 636 1555; website: www.british.museum.ac.uk No visit to Nottingham would be complete without looking in on The Tales of Robin Hood, a cable-car ride which takes you on a journey with Robin through medieval Nottingham. Tel: 0115 948 3284. Admission (parties of 20 or more), pound;3.75 adults, pound;2.75 children. If on a Robin odyssey, go to the 450-acre Sherwood Forest Country Park, near Edwinstowe, and see the mighty "Major Oak", where Robin supposedly hid from the Sheriff.

In the enchanting Javanese city of Yogyakarta, there are opportunities to see the epic Hindu dance dramas, Ramayana and Mahabharata, as they have been performed for centuries. You can see simple shadow plays enacted by puppets, the wayang kulit (flat puppets carved from embossed buffalo hide, whose images are projected on to a screen by torch or lamplight) or you can watch elaborate performances by the Ramayana Ballet. Less than an hour away is the world's largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur. Tel: Indonesian Tourist Promotion Office, 0171 493 0030.


The British Library's exhibition, "The Mythical Quest: in search of adventure, romance and enlightenment", ended over a year ago. But it is still possible to buy the book, "The Mythical Quest" by Rosalind Kerven and BL curators, from the BL bookshop, pound;12.95. Tel: 0171 412 7735; 0171 412 7595 (education). A taste of the exhibition can be gained from website www.portico.bl.ukexhibitionsmythicaljourney.html.


Type the word "myth" into any Internet search engine, and it will spew out a brain-numbing profusion of websites. Most, you soon discover, have more to do with dungeons and dragons fantasy than with myth in the sense of a story explaining the creative and destructive forces of nature.

Dig deeper, however, to discover a rich seam of sites covering the art, literature and science of mythology.

A justly-praised starting point is Encyclopedia Mythica (www.pantheon.orgmythicaareas), a well-organised resource covering the mythology and folklore of dozens of different cultures. The articles - about 5,000 of them - are consistently literate, properly cross-referenced and often well-illustrated. There are maps, genealogical tables, and crib-sheets covering the meaning and pronunciation of the names of deities.

Electronic versions of venerable reference works are not always successful, but the online Bulfinch's Mythology at www.webcom.comshownetmedeabulfinchwelcome.html - delivers the goods. A search here for the story of Daphne and Apollo led to a multi-lingual (English and two types of Latin) version of Ovid's "Metamorphoses" at The Perseus Project (www.perseus.tufts.edu). This site offers a database of primary source text.

Others might prefer Myth of the Month (www.thanasis.commpast01.htm) - an attempt to make Greek, Roman and Egyptian myths accessible to the South Park generation. As good for pure enjoyment as for research is the Mythmedia site (www-lib.haifa.ac.ilwwwartmythology_westart.html)covering artists' interpretations of Greek and Roman mythology. There are hundreds of images here, from vivid Pompeiian frescoes to the exquisite decadence of Caravaggio's sleeping Eros. Equally seductive is Mythical Plants of the Middle Ages (www.labs.netdmccormickmythicalmythic04.htm) - a site which examines medieval representations of (mainly) Old Testament mythology (The Garden of Eden, Tree of Life). Mythical Creatures (members.dencity.comMythicalCreaturesframesindex.html) has a wider scope, its 880 entries derived from the mythologies of five continents. This is the place to find out how far a cockatrice resembles a basilisk, and what happens when you meet either of them.

Norse deities loom large in cyberspace, partly because their names are so popular with gamers. A no-nonsense introduction can be found at Norse Mythology (www.ugcs.caltech.educherryneworlds.html) - a site which will also help Wagner fans, and surprise those who thought Tolkien dreamt up Middle Earth and its inhabitants by himself.

Of course myth does not have to be thousands, or even tens of years old.

Attempts on the Internet to build myths around popular contemporary figures - preferrably dead - abound. For a taste of just how weird such enterprises can be, try the Diana Memorial Fiction Library (www.mmjp.or.jpamlang.atcfictionindex.htm). Here, in sub-Mills amp; Boon style, are tales of what Diana might have done, had she lived. If you can stomach more, plenty of sites do a roaring trade in so-called urban myth or legend. All those stories about gas station attendants, builders entombed in liquid concrete and dead grannies on roof racks are still being cranked around. Try Urban Legends Reference Pages at www.snopes.com to see what I mean.

"Beowulf", the Old English poem, survives in the British Library in a composite codex known as Cotton Vitellius AXV. British Library Publications and the University of Michigan Press are publishing a set of two CD-Roms entitled Electronic Beowulf. An online guide to these can be found on website: www.uky.edu%7EkiernaneBeowulfcontent.htm Further information from Dr Andrew Prescott, Department of Manuscripts, British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DV tel: 0171 412 7000.

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