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Monday, July 27, 1998 Published at 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK

World: Europe

Hunting for Thelma

Correspondent Tony Samstag reports from Norway:

Scotland's Loch Ness, home of the most famous sea serpent in the world, faces a rival in deep in rural Norway.

Next month, a scientific expedition is to search for a local monster called Thelma.

Seljord is probably best known for its annual farming and folk festival which attracts about 50,000 people - more than 16 times the local population.

The village, not quite 200km south west of Oslo, is also known for its pretty medieval church and its mysterious pre-Christian fertility symbol in stone.

Wicked trolls

The locals are fond of acting out highlights from a venerable body of folk legends in which heroic women and wicked trolls, often indistinguishable to the untrained observer, smite each other hip and thigh.

But best of all is the huge eponymous lake, Seljordvatn (Seljord Water), 14km long and 2km wide, in which Thelma the monster is purported to lurk.

[ image: Thelma has become Seljord's emblem]
Thelma has become Seljord's emblem
Sightings have been reported regularly since the 17th Century.

Thelma's image has even been adopted as the official municipal logo, ratified by the Norwegian king and cabinet, no less.

Descriptions of Thelma vary wildly, but many agree that she is at least 10 metres long, with a head that resembles a horse or elk at the end of a long thick neck.

Some insist the creature has one big eye with a nictating membrane like a fishy lid, but most of the ancient drawings seem to show her with two eyes and no eyelids to speak of.

Ironically, Norwegian sonar technology has been prominent in recent explorations of Loch Ness.

The fact that it is now to be deployed in a well-publicised expedition at Seljord, right in the middle of a cold, wet summer in one of the worst tourist seasons in living memory, is surely coincidental.

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