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HIT & myths; Travel.

Byline: Rachael Bletchly

WHEN we parked the car and set off through the field, the sun was shining over Pembrokeshire's Preseli Hills.

But with each step we took the clouds rolled in and the wind picked up, until it whistled through the hedgerows like an ancient lament.

By the time we reached the neolithic burial chamber Pentre Ifan the mystical atmosphere had given me goosebumps.

So if the Welsh fairy folk had been waiting to lead me through a portal to the underworld, I wouldn't have been surprised. Or King Arthur could have rocked up to show how he'd lifted the 17-ton capstone on to the uprights of Arthur's Quoit.

But as they didn't, my partner and I were left to marvel at the structure, built around 3,500 BC.

On a magical short break we discovered there are at least three legends linked to this one site and dozens more Pembrokeshire myths to uncover. Druids and dragons, angels and saints, pirates and pixies - the county is filled with folklore.

And, as Welsh tourist chiefs have dubbed 2017 the Year of Legends, it's the perfect spot for culture vultures, history buffs or Game of Thrones fans.

We were based in St David's, the UK's smallest city on the western peninsula, edged by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park with some of Europe's finest beaches.

We split our stay between the county's top hotel of 2016, Twr y Felin, and two sister properties.

The former 19th-century windmill, home to refugees and Wrens in the war, was bought by world-renowned local architect Keith Griffiths and turned into a luxury art hotel.

It opened in 2015 and is a design dream, with a dreamy fine-dining Blas Restaurant to match.

We took a short stroll to stunning Caerfai Bay before tucking in to guinea fowl confit and pigeon breast and salted cod and crab tortellini.

Our second night was spent at the Penrhiw Hotel, a former priory now also a temple to design.

Guests stay on a B&B basis but TIPS complimentary transfers are available to and from the Twr y Felin restaurant. Then we moved to magnificent Roch Castle - a Norman stronghold built on a rocky outcrop with breathtaking views, now a sixbedroom, five-star hotel.

Pitchfork

Restoring Roch was clearly a labour of love. Home to conquerers and courtesans - a mistress of Charles II was born here - and a Royalist stronghold in the Civil War, it's one of 51 forts and castles in Pembrokeshire.

Legend has it that in the 1300s a witch warned nobleman Adam de Rupe that he'd die from a poison bite within a year. So he built Roch Castle and vowed to stay on the top floor for 12 months. As the final day approached, he ordered a servant to fetch logs for a fire. As he stoked the flames, a snake slithered out and delivered the prophesied fatal bite.

In St David's Cathedral, our guide Francis Northall told us legends linked to Wales's patron saint. How his mother Non, King Arthur's niece, was raped by his father, a prince called Sant and gave birth by the sea in such agony her finger marks are still visible in the rocks.

When David was born a sacred spring began to flow - and we visited Non's Well and chapel outside the city. Later we took a stroll along Whitesand Bay and visited Coetan Arthur, another burial chamber.

There is so much to see and do in Pembrokeshire. Head further afield to the seaside resort of Tenby, or Little Newcastle, birthplace of legendary pirate Bartholomew Roberts. Stop in Fishguard, where Liz Taylor and Richard Burton filmed Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood.

It's also the scene of the last foreign invasion of mainland Britain, by 1,500 Frenchmen, in 1797. There, in St Mary's churchyard, lies the grave of cobbler Jemima Nicholas.

She captured 12 soldiers - armed only with her pitchfork.

Or so legend has it.

FACTFILE: Rooms from PS154 , twryfelin.com, from PS150 at Penrhiw Hotel, penrhiwhotel.com and from PS150 at Roch Castle, rochcastle.com. For more information see visitpembrokeshire.com.

TRAVEL TIPS

EAT seafood and the best fish and chips ever at The Shed in Porthgain, with amazing views over the harbour.

COUNT the steps to St Govan's, a 6th-century hermit's chapel at the foot of cliffs near Pembroke, as legend says you never get the same number twice.

STEP back in time at "Bessie's pub", the Dyffryn in Pontfaen, where the landlady still serves beer from a jug in what looks like her front room.

CAPTION(S):

CHASING STORIES: Rachael

ROCK STAR: Pentre Ifan

FISH N TRIPS: Tenby
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:May 7, 2017
Words:769
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