Category Archives: Travel

10 Tips for a Great Cruising Holiday

A cruise holiday is a great way to see the world from a different perspective, offering convenience, value for money and as much or as little luxury as you prefer. Whether it’s your first cruise or you consider the ocean your second home, your personal travel manager (PTM) can help you choose the best option to suit, and give you some insider tips on making the most of your time aboard.

Here’s a sample of some of our favourites, so you can make the most of your cruise holiday.

  1. It pays to do your homework.

Find out which cruise lines offer sailings at your preferred destination and time of year. Talk to your PTM about which option best suits your needs. You should also consider factors such as cruise duration, ship size and ports of call when making your decision.

  1. Book smart.

Many cruise lines offer great early bird deals, fly-free bonuses and other great incentives. Your PTM can advise you on the best time to book. Alternatively, if you’re free to depart on a whim, ask about last minute specials.

  1. Pack smart.

In most cases, the onboard dress code is fairly relaxed, so there’s no need to pack a tuxedo or ball gown… unless you want to indulge in some “Love Boat” nostalgia. These days, even the more formal evenings usually only require “smart attire”. What’s more, whilst staterooms are usually well laid-out in order to maximise space, unless you’re booking a suite you’re going to have less room than your average hotel room, so you probably don’t want to be tripping over bulky suitcases when moving around your cabin.

  1. Pre-book your shore excursions.

There’s often high demand for the more popular options so it pays to either book them before you depart, or be ready to make your bookings early on in the cruise, before they sell out.

  1. Be adventurous.

Don’t be afraid to sometimes give the organised shore excursions a miss, and instead venture out on your own. Spend some time before arrival in port talking to the shore excursions desk and ask for advice on local attractions and ground transport.

  1. Get acquainted with your ship early.

Generally speaking, cruise ships are BIG, and if you want to make the most of your time aboard, you need to know what’s on offer. It’s a good idea to join one of the orientation tours that take place after embarkation – you’ll get the inside scoop from people who really know what they’re talking about: which restaurants need to be pre-booked, what the most popular spa treatments are, even their favourite dish at the lunch buffet.

  1. Eat, drink and be merry.

Speaking of food, you’ll be spoilt for choice, with most cruise ships offering a range of restaurant options from casual café to fine dining, and of course, the buffet. Be warned though, it often pays to book in advance if you want to try one of the alternative dining options.

All that eating and sightseeing and walking laps of the deck at dusk is bound to work up a thirst. While most food is included in the price of your cruise, in many cases the beverages are charged to your cabin, with the account settled prior to final disembarkation (that’s cruise speak for “the end of the line”). Find out whether your cruise offers the option of purchasing a beverage package so that you have a firm idea of what you’re spending and don’t blow the budget on those appealing poolside cocktails.

  1. Book the balcony.

If your budget can stretch a little further, it’s well worth upgrading to a balcony stateroom. Picture yourself sitting on the balcony sipping a morning cup of coffee as your ship sails into port, or enjoying a glass of wine in the evening as the ship heads into the setting sun… trust us: you won’t regret that extra indulgence.

  1. Pace yourself.

With so much to do both on board and ashore, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that you’re on holiday as you race from salsa lessons to cabaret show to poker night. Many cruise ships offer excellent spa facilities where you can enjoy a relaxing massage to iron out the kinks from all your sightseeing.

  1. Do it all over again.

Did you know it’s been estimated that as many as 85% of travellers who have been on a cruise once will go on another cruise? Many cruise lines offer further discounts to past passengers.

How to Choose the Best Travel Camera

How to Choose the Best Camera for Travel

Over the past ten years, I’ve scoured the internet and tested camera gear in order to find the perfect travel photography kit. When readers and members of our Instagram community ask us what camera we use, I always tell them that what works best for us won’t necessarily be the best fit for them. Choosing the best travel camera is more about finding one that allows you to shoot the photographs you want.

Choosing the best camera for travel photography is different from choosing a professional camera for things like wedding photography and portrait photography, or even just everyday use at home. With so many camera options on the market, it can be a little intimidating when you start your new camera search.

Consider the Best Type of Travel Camera for Your Needs

There are several types of travel cameras on the market (Point and Shoot, Advanced Compact Cameras, DSLR, Mirrorless) and each one has its own list of benefits. First, and most importantly, you should consider what is most important to you – size, weight, price, ease of use, etc. Below, I’ve listed the benefits and limitations of each type of camera as well as the top cameras in each of those categories.

Compact Digital Cameras (Point & Shoot)

If your main concern is price, weight, and purchasing a travel camera that is easy to use, then you will want to look at purchasing a Compact Digital Camera. This type of camera won’t weigh down your luggage and it will easily fit in a small backpack or purse.

Compact Digital Cameras are perfect if you don’t want to be hassled with too many controls and you want the least expensive option. Nowadays, you can still find a Point and Shoot camera that takes great photos. That’s not to say you should pick just any Point and Shoot because they are not all created equal. Here are the best travel cameras under $300.

Advanced Compact Digital Cameras (High-End Compact)

Advanced Compact Digital Cameras are similar to Point and Shoot cameras, but they come with a few more bells and whistles. They are the high end of compact cameras with built-in lenses.

Advanced Compact Cameras are similar in size to the above mentioned ones and they offer full manual mode in addition to auto mode. (Note: Both of the cameras listed in the above section offer manual mode as well.) They also usually have the ability to capture photos in RAW format — which is important if you plan to make any edits to your photos once you upload them to your computer.

These cameras tend to be slightly more expensive than the regular compacts, but less expensive than DSLR or mirrorless cameras.

Mirrorless Cameras

If image quality, size, and weight is the most important factor, you will want to look at purchasing a mirrorless camera. What is a mirrorless camera, you ask? Unlike a Digital SLR, this type of camera does not have a mirror reflex optical viewfinder — hence, the name mirrorless.  This type of camera is perfect for people who still want an interchangeable lens without the weight of a DSLR.

Another plus for mirrorless is the electronic viewfinders because you can view the realtime effect of aperture and ISO adjustments, unlike a DSLR. If you want to take some of the guesswork out of your photography, then mirrorless is the way to go.

6 Places You Can’t Miss in Hawaii

Black Rock on Ka’anapali Beach (Maui)

If you’re a fan of anything fun, you need to go to Black Rock. Cliff diving, scuba, and snorkeling with tropical fish are just the beginning – sea turtles are usually spotted here and the stunning scenery is a photographers paradise. Every night the Sheraton Hotel has a symbolic torch lighting/diving ceremony that symbolizes the site’s ancient legend that spirits jump off these rocks as a final passing. The torches at sunset are gorgeous, so make this a full day excursion.

Shipwreck Beach (Kauai)

Although the real shipwreck for which it’s named for has long disappeared, Shipwreck Beach has awesome views and is a favorite for local surfers.  Swimming is only recommended for strong swimmers due to rough waters, but experienced surfers and boogie boarders may be up for the challenge! Hiking the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is well worth it, and the golden sand beaches are perfect for sunbathing.

Road to Hana (Maui)

Time to rent a Jeep, pack a bag, and hit the road! The drive to Hana takes about 2 to 3 hours (depending on where you’re departing from), but that’s with no stops – and trust us, you will want to stop. Plan for a few days to really take in all of the sights of Hana has to offer and book a hotel reservation in Hana Town! Dining, waterfalls, beaches, and trails are scattered along Hana Highway, so take your time and pick some places that seem to interest you most. This interactive map may help you plan your trip.

Papohaku Beach (Molokai)

One of the largest white sand beaches in Hawaii is also one of the quietest, so if you’re looking to get away from the crowds for a while this is the place to go. You can soak in views of Oahu from the shore but getting in the waters is fairly dangerous and highly discouraged.

Manele Bay (Lana’i)

Another quiet getaway! Swim at Hulopoe Beach, golf at the gorgeous Four Seasons Resort, or explore marine life at the tide pools. This family-friendly spot has picnic areas and gentle waters perfect for swimming; hula lessons and lei-making classes are offered by the Four Seasons for those looking for an authentic Hawaiian cultural experience.

Kalaupapa (Molokai)

Although the famous Molokai mule rides are currently unavailable, this sacred Molokai village has a distinctly unique settlement history that will likely be fascinating to curious visitors. The beautiful St. Philomena Church founded by a beloved Father Damien can be visited by booking a Damien tour, which also visit the final resting place of Father Damien himself. Research Kalaupapa’s history beforehand and prepare yourself for a spiritual, breathtaking journey.

Pololu Valley (Hawaii, The Big Island)

The black sand beaches and black lava rock make for a gorgeous landscape, and the short (but steep) hike is very rewarding – bring lots of water and shoes with good traction, as the trail can be slippery. Stop by the small town of Hawi on your way for lunch and homemade fudge!

8 Safe Destinations for Solo Female Travelers

Wales

This country in the west of the United Kingdom has an amazing landscape and an even more amazing cultural history. If you’re interested in the King Arthur mythology, you’ll find a number of important sites from those texts. If you’re into outdoor sports, try a solo hike on the Pembrokeshire coast. Cardiff, the capitol, also offers a number of theaters (including the famous Millennium Center), museums, sports arenas, and shopping centers.

Costa Rica

This country is excellent for ecotourists and those looking to learn more about sustainability — also, those looking to enjoy some aquatic fun! Watch and help sea turtles at their nesting grounds in Tortugero National Park or surf amazing waves at Playa Bonita. Costa Rica is also quickly becoming known for its large number of thermal spas, hot springs, and yoga retreats. What’s better than a solo yoga retreat?

Bali

Though some of the other Indonesian islands can be more conservative, intercultural Bali is a great and accepting place to travel on one’s own. With amazing beaches and underwater exploration sites like the USS Liberty shipwreck, it makes a perfect place for snorkel and scuba adventures. There are many carved temple sites to explore, including the famous Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary.

Nepal

For the intrepid female explorer, Nepal’s wide range of adventure tourism opportunities are perfect. Since adventure and ecotourism make up a large portion of Nepal’s economy, there are lots of opportunities to meet with an adventure tourism agency or hire a local Sherpa to bring you hiking up the Himalayans or exploring the wilderness.

Australia

The large backpacking culture here means hostels, bars, and restaurants are familiar with solo travelers — but if you’re looking for the opportunity to make other traveling friends, this is one of the best places to do so! Surfers will love the continent, but foodies too, especially on the wine trails. There are already several popular backpacking and campervan routes established, so go where the wind takes you!

Bonaire

Fresh fruit, bright sun, soft sand, and 60 to 100 foot underwater visibility: Bonaire is an amazing Caribbean destination. Along with its incredible beaches and dive sites, Bonaire is also known for its Karnival in February, a colorful, island-wide party that lasts almost two weeks!

Scandinavia

Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden have some of the most progressive gender-equality policies in the world, but they also happen to have incredibly low crime rates. Visit the Fjords in Norway, hike and camp without reproach thanks to Sweden’s Right to Public Access, and make sure to book a hotel with skylights while in Lapland so you can enjoy the Northern Lights and glowing midnight sun.

Scotland

I explored the Inner and Outer Hebrides on a solo trip just a couple of years ago and loved every second of it. The locals are friendly and always up for a good time. I met so many people on this trip that I rarely ever felt alone.

Edinburg has a reputation for being a perfect place for sailing, surfing, and sea kayaking beginners to get their first taste of the water, thanks to its long-time history as a seaside destination in Great Britain. As Scotland’s capitol, it also hosts a number of cultural festivals like the Edinburgh International Performing Arts Festival.

The Most Beautiful Places in Alberta, Canada

1. Lake Louise

Lake Louise is one of the most photographed lakes in Canada, and for good reason! About an hour east of the town of Banff you’ll find yourself at this vibrant blue water lake, which comes about as close to a postcard picture as you can get.

Rent a canoe at the Lake Louise Boathouse, or hit the trails and take in the views from above. One of the most popular (and rewarding) hikes is the moderate “tea house hike” from the lake’s shores to Lake Agnes Tea House hidden in the mountains over the smaller – yet still beautiful – Lake Agnes.

2. Town of Banff

Banff has the historical charm of a small mountain town, with all the amenities you need to have a fun, lively stay. Authentic saloons with mechanical bull riding are a plus for visitors looking for a taste of the local culture, as are the many farm-fresh restaurants and cool shops downtown.

3. Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake has the best of everything: crystal clear water, towering glaciers, and picturesque Spirit Island. While you can always splurge a little on a cruise around the lake and to the island, we recommend renting a kayak and seeing the sights on your own. Visit early to avoid the crowds and for a better chance of catching a glimpse of wildlife!

4. Moraine Lake/Larch Valley

Moraine Lake is a surreal-blue lake backed by the Valley of the Ten Peaks. You can easily spend a day here, hiking around the lake or Canoeing through the glassy water — if visiting in warmer months. I also highly recommend a hike through Larch Valley. Fall is the best time to hike; the wildflowers and golden fall foliage amidst the evergreens is an exceptional view!

5. Athabasca Falls

Voted 2nd best waterfall in Canada by Reader’s Digest, Athabasca Falls might just be the crown jewel of Jasper National Park. The falls and limestone gorge it’s created are even more stunning before the Mount Kerkeslin backdrop!

There are many platforms to view the falls, but be sure to stay on the trails and never venture off to get a better look; the surrounds are slippery and often icy, making anything off the paved trails very dangerous.

6. Lake Minnewanka

This scenic glacial lake stretched beneath the Canadian Rockies is ideal for outdoor activities at any time of year — hiking and canoeing in summer, and snowshoeing in the winter. In warmer months you can even go scuba diving!

Try to plan your trip for winter months when the aurora borealis is at its peak; Lake Minnewanka is known to have the Northern Lights make an appearance in late winter through spring.

7. Johnston Canyon

Winter offers the most breathtaking views, as the catwalks through the canyon give you an up-close-and-personal look at the ice formations among the limestone cliffs. Book an ice walk if visiting during the winter — the frozen falls make for a spectacular experience!

Tips to Take Great Photos on Your Smartphone

Those of us old enough to have experienced the highs and lows of taking photos with actual film may recall, with much wistful nostalgia, what it was like in the “old days”.

You never really knew what you’d managed to capture and often it was weeks or even months until a) the film was completed and ready to develop, and b) you reached a place where it was possible, practical and economical to develop it. Then there was the period of sharpened anticipation, when you collected the envelope of processed photos, which you opened at the first possible moment.

These days, the ubiquity of high quality camera phones means that much of that drama and pathos have been removed. And while you naturally lose some of the quality a genuine camera affords, with a little practice and a few helpful tips, you can wow your friends, family, and even yourself with your spontaneous shots.

1.  The classic rule of thirds still apply to composition. When lining up your shot, the points of interest should be placed on the gridlines and their intersections. Adjust your settings to show gridlines on your screen.

2.  Let negative space enhance your shot. All that open sky/water/field can be used to form a striking backdrop for your subject. Getting up high or down low can change the entire feel of your shot. Consider a different vantage point, use reflections and leading lines such as train tracks or staircases to draw the eye, but don’t do anything silly or put yourself (or others) in danger just for the sake of capturing an image.

3.  Light is still a major consideration in the capture of a great shot. Some smartphone cameras allow you to mess around with shutter speeds, but sometimes just turning your flash on or off will make all the difference. Smart use of natural light or from other light sources such as illuminated signs can bring interesting results. Don’t use your flash excessively, as often it just makes your subject appear strangely lit and/or hued, plus there’s a high potential for “red eyes”.

4.  Save your editing for later. Instagram is a fun tool, but for truly great photos, forget the fancy filters and instead download your images to a photo editing app. You’ll achieve much clearer, sharper results by simply taking the shot and cropping to your desired composition later.

5.  Try changing the focal point of your image. Many smartphones allow you to refocus simply by touching an object in the foreground or background.

6.  Keep the lens clean! Chances are you don’t treat your phone with quite the same TCL as an actual camera.

7.  And finally, print your photos. Social media is great for letting others know what you’re up to, but your photos will be liked, shared and then, forgotten, even by you. Put them in an album or create a photobook to be re-enjoyed again and again.

Best Airplane Cabins in the Skies

There are eight main categories for the Crystal Cabin Awards: cabin concepts; cabin systems; electronic systems; visionary concepts; passenger comfort hardware; greener cabin, health safety and environment; material and components; and university innovations, which encourages young engineers and designers to dream up the future of flight.

This year’s shortlist includes products flying today, and some we hope will fly soon.

Delta and United are both up for a Crystal Cabin Awards for their new business class products. Delta’s new Delta One Suite, which will be introduced on the airline’s A350 aircraft, is the first fully private suite introduced in this class category.

Delta One Suite

United’s Polaris Business class seat is a newly patented design, exclusive to the airline, which considers the comfort of passengers at all phases of flight, from dining to sleeping, working and entertainment.

Canada’s aircraft maker Bombardier has been shortlisted for the cabins on its new short and medium haul C-Series planes. These feature roomy architecture, large windows, and improved environmental controls, and offer passengers dramatic improvements in cabin comfort. C-Series variants already launched into service during 2016 with Swiss Air Lines first to fly the CS-100 and Air Baltic first to fly the CS-300.

Airbus was shortlisted for a new “Smart Cabin Reconfiguration” option which would allow cabin and maintenance crew to easily change the pitch of seats based on the number of reservations on a flight. On less crowded flights, the last row could be folded away and the other rows spread out giving everyone onboard more legroom.

“Smart Cabin”

B/E Aerospace is short-listed for a family-friendly cabin concept, and In-2-Tech has proposed an In-2-Sense digital tray table which could do double duty as a keyboard for your tablet.

Digital Tray Table

F.LIST GmbH is being short-listed for its decorative heated-stone flooring, the first of its kind for commercial aircraft applications.

Mercedes-Benz has a nod from the judges for its private jet cabin developed with Lufthansa Technik.

US-based firm Kestrel is also being recognized for a VIP cabin developed for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, designed to serve as a private jet.

Getting a nod from the judges for sustainability are Zodiac Aerospace for an environmentally friendly aircraft lavatory; the Re-Trolley by Airbus, which allows crew to sort and compress garbage as they collect in the cabin; a robot-trolley by engineering firm Altran which pushes itself down the aisle; and a new self-reporting seat by Diehl Aerospace which will let cabin crew know if you haven’t fastened your seat belt.

Alternative Guide to Newcastle

Newcastle is famously a party town, a destination for stags and hens keen to hit the Bigg Market or the bling bars of Collingwood Street’s so-called Diamond Strip. But, as in any great northern city, there is another side to Newcastle. Look in the right places (Pilgrim Street’s Creative Quarter, orOuseburn Valley, a stroll or short bus ride away), and there’s a tight-knit Geordie underground of agitators who, in their own punky, persistent way maintain a vibrant arts ecology – with a distinctive political edge.

They might be glibly dismissed as hipsters, but Newcastle’s creatives (many of them natives) are generally unpretentious doers working on shoestring budgets. They are quietly but unapologetically determined to carve out their own space in this frequently misunderstood city. That stubborn desire to make things happen in Newcastle dates back decades.

In the 1960s, a famous reading room, Morden Tower, brought icons such as Allen Ginsberg to town. The photographic Side Gallery has been documenting working-class Newcastle since 1977. In a city where making a living from art can seem fanciful, projects are often happily uncommercial. Newcastle breeds relative musical oddballs such as Beth Jeans Houghton, Maxïmo Park, Richard Dawson orEat Fast, as well as tiny, boutique record labels (Cel36, 104, alt.vinyl). There is nonetheless real camaraderie among its creative tribes and with other marginalised groups. Next year, techno night Backdrop will host Sound Of Solidarity, an event exploring the creation of safe, racially and sexually diverse club spaces. Such radical ideas are never far from the surface in Newcastle.

How much Newcastle city council values this can vary. At times, it has been instrumental in practically assisting grassroots creativity. For instance, it rehoused the DIY cinema Star and Shadow and helped turn several abandoned, city centre office blocks into temporary spaces for arts organisations. However, the Creative Quarter is in a precarious position. One block will soon go in the name of regeneration, and the council’s decision to allow the demolition of community and arts centre Uptin House has appalled campaigners such as artist and bar-owner Kathryn Hodgkinson:

“We’re at the mercy of aggressive development that is annihilating a lot of these projects. A lot of what [the council] needs to do to protect this sector has nothing to do with money. It’s about having strong policies in place. We’ve got a spineless planning department. I think it needs to say no to more.”

Kommunity

Originally a spin-off from annual Latin American festival ¡VAMOS!, Kommunity is a bar/participatory social space that hosts dance and wellbeing classes, art house film and DJ nights and the occasional daytime family rave. Drinks range from loose-leaf teas to rum punch cocktails.

Pink Lane Coffee

On a narrow cut-through opposite Newcastle Central station, Pink Lane is a boon for travellers keen to swerve the chains and drink serious coffee. Using its own PLC Roastery beans, Pink Lane covers all the single-origin pour-over and espresso bases, and it knocks out a superlative flat white.

Ernest

This late-night cafe-bar sustains Ouseburn’s artists with good food, homemade sodas, infused spirits (try the horseradish vodka Bloody Mary) and local ales from the likes of Anarchy. A back room hosts lively, free DJ parties that run the gamut from Chicago house (Community) to scuzzy garage rock (No Wow).

Guide for Santiago City

Santiago has always stood in the shadows of its South American neighbours. It doesn’t have the beaches of Rio or the faded opulence of Buenos Aires, but this modern city of seven million people on the edge of the Andes is beginning to win over global travellers. Airlines are jumping onboard, too: British Airways started the first non-stop flights from the UK last week, with the 14-hour-40-minute journey making it BA’s longest route.

Now, you may never have been to a Chilean restaurant, or even know what Chilean cuisine is, but the food scene is exploding in Santiago. The influential US magazine Saveur has named it the world’s Next Great Food City, and chefs have been toying with indigenous cooking methods and produce found between Patagonia, the Atacama desert and the sea to redefine the nation’s cuisine.

Meanwhile, there are now several wine bars in the Chilean capital – five years ago there were none – giving an important industry here a platform to shine. As the capital of one of South America’s most prosperous and stable nations, Santiago is in the midst of major changes, welcoming immigrants from across the Americas and erecting skyscrapers that have reshaped its skyline. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you’ll find neighbourhoods such as Barrio Yungay and Barrio Italia where historic quarters have been reinvigorated.

WHAT TO SEE

Ride the funicular

On a smog-free day, the city’s dramatic setting between the rolling coastal range and the Andes is astounding. To best appreciate it, go to the funicular station at the end of Pio Nono street, in the bohemian Bellavista neighbourhood, ride the rickety railway to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal, sit in the shadow of the Virgin Mary statue and look across the metropolis. Sold from carts throughout the hilltop park is refreshing mote con huesillo, a drink of husked wheat and peach juice.
Adult ride £2, funicularsantiago.cl

Stroll through Barrio Lastarria

José Victorino Lastarria street (named after a 19th-century writer, diplomat and politician) is just four blocks long, but this trendy and densely packed corridor is overflowing with shops, restaurants, museums and cultural centres. Start at theGabriela Mistral Centre, and check out the free-admission art galleries on the basement level. Then stroll past the restaurant-filled Paseo Barrio Lastarria and historic Parroquia de la Vera Cruz church towards the street-side craft vendors near the intersection with Merced. Catch an indie film at Cine Arte El Biógrafo or see the latest exhibitions at the Museum of Visual Arts (£1.20).

Explore Chilean history

In the heart of historic Santiago, at the edge of Plaza de Armas, is the newly restored Museum of Pre-Columbian Art (£5). It is filled with indigenous artefacts and, unlike most places here, has English-language displays. The basement of this 200-year-old building is dedicated to Chile and includes Mapuche totems, Inca pottery and the Chinchorro mummies, which are 2,000 years older than the mummies of Egypt. Race forward a few millennia at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights (free). This striking, copper-covered building at the edge of Quinta Normal park houses a sobering exhibit that grapples with the human rights violations and “disappearances” that occurred under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990.

a legendary tour of Pembrokeshire

On a lonely road near the village of Eglwyswrw in Pembrokeshire, I pull over as instructed and check my position. I can see the crags up on the ridge to my left, and I can see the boggy ground between. This must be the spot. I set off on foot up the squelchy, tussocky slope, picking a circuitous path towards the ridge and those distinctive crags, part of the Preseli hills.

The Welsh tourist board has dubbed 2017 a Year of Legends to celebrate the land’s epic past, with events and new routes encouraging visitors to explore. Pembrokeshire is particularly rich in history and I’m trying out part of the recently unveiled 118-mile Legends Cycle Route, as well as the pick-and-mix Legends Tombstone Trail, which covers all of south-west Wales (both can be done by either bike or car).

Pembrokeshire map

The place is thick with antiquity: forts, settlements, burial chambers and cairns, plus innumerable references to King Arthur. Little wonder JRR Tolkein loved the area. Every hollow and hillock seems imbued with deep significance and dark secrets. The Legends route starts in Neath, the other side of Swansea, but I’m covering the last 25 miles of it before picking up the Pembrokeshire section of the Tombstone Trail, finishing almost as far west as you can go, in St Davids.

The Preseli hills are not high – just 536 metres at their highest point – but they make up for lack of stature in austere drama. I get my first taste of this from the top, looking west across a landscape of bogs, crags and treeless slopes. This ridge line is reputedly the ancient Golden Road along which gold mined in Ireland’s Wicklow hills was transported to southern England. I climb to the highest set of boulders, marvelling at their boxy geometry. Am I imagining that slight bluish tint to their smooth flat surfaces? Is there something unusual in this rock formation? Like it was manmade long ago? A tremor of excitement hits me.

My journey into the myths and legends of north Pembrokeshire started just the day before, and with a spot of good luck. A glamping site on a farm called Ffynnon Samson, just south of the Preseli hills, proves to be a charming place with a campfire and great views of the Milky Way, and its welcoming owners, Emily and Matt Marl, turn out to be inspirational travel gurus for the region.

Taking me on a tour of the farm, Emily has a flood of useful tips – places to walk, swim, eat and drink – and some unexpected gems: “There’s a ring of standing stones at Gors Fawr [a few miles to the north-east]. If you jump up and down three times in the exact centre, you’ll drop through a portal into another world.” And more practically: “The pub in Rosebush is excellent, and Welsh-speaking. When Matt was learning, he tried to order in Welsh and got “ice” mixed up with “sex” – rhew and rhyw. It does make a difference.”

While I’m trying to imagine Matt demanding, “a Coke with plenty of sex”, Emily is on to the next thing: “Don’t miss Pentre Ifan burial chamber – wonderful at sunset.”

My notebook is brimming with ideas for side trips off my main route when Emily delivers her killer line: “You know they mined the Stonehenge bluestones just up the road?”

That was the one that got me. That would be my starting point. That was how I ended up climbing Three Cairns hill to Foel Drygarn fort and taking the Golden Road, wondering how on earth those massive stones could have been transported 150 miles to Wiltshire. It is still a total mystery. For me the other big mystery is why this lonely Welsh mountain has more soul than Stonehenge. One reason may be that much of Wales has maintained a deep connection of language and landscape, an unbroken centuries-old relationship. And with that connection, the legends linger.