Day 8. The Fermanagh Lakelands, Northern Ireland

Staying overnight at the Yeats Country Hotel had been a good option for exploring the Sligo section of the Wild Atlantic Way.  Breakfast was served in the restaurant and seated at a window table we were able to take in the sea views whilst setting ourselves up for the day.

Breakfast at Yeats Country Hotel, Rosses Point, Sligo
Breakfast in the hotel’s attractive restaurant

After bidding our farewell to the friendly staff we were on our way once again, this time heading back across the border into Northern Ireland on our way to the Fermanagh Lakelands. Our journey took us along the banks of Glencar Lough with the backdrop of Benbulben mountain in the distance.  The lough has some dramatic steep sided cliffs with numerous waterfalls cascading down the rocky cliff face.

Glencar Lough, Sligo
Glencar Lough

Unfortunately there wasn’t time for us to take the 1 km trail to the Glencar Waterfall viewpoint on this trip, which is said to be particularly spectacular following periods of wet weather, as we were heading for an underground adventure.

Marble Arch Caves, County Fermanagh, NI
The entrance to Marble Arch Caves

Enniskillen was to be our ultimate destination of the day but beforehand we wanted to take the opportunity of visiting Marble Arch Caves set in the foothills of the Cuilcagh Mountains, 12 miles away.  Located in a UNESCO GeoPark (a region with geological heritage of international significance) the landscape surrounding the caves was formed 330 million years ago.

Entrance Steps, Marble Arch Caves, Northern Ireland
Steps down to the cave

We had pre-arranged tickets for a 60 minute guided tour and instructions stated that visitors should arrive 30 minutes prior to this.  Unfortunately we got held up on a narrow road behind a farm vehicle which delayed us slightly but we were still there before the tour started.

Marble Arch Caves, Northern Ireland
Following our guide through the Marble Arch Caves

Tours usually start with a subterranean boat tour but due to COVID restrictions this wasn’t running and instead begun by following a path from the rear of the visitor centre and then descending 150 steps to enter the cave.  An informative guide then took us on a 1.5 km walk lasting one hour through a labyrinth of caves and narrow winding passageways illuminated with subtle lighting.  We experienced a stunningly beautiful world of underground rivers, waterfalls and soaring chambers.  The magnificent cave formations, stalactites and stalagmites glistened and we gazed in wonderment as our guide pointed out features giving an interesting commentary as we wandered around.

Marble Arch Caves, County Fermanagh
Marble Arch Caves

There were only a few flights of steps to climb up and down in the cave system itself and it was just necessary to dip our heads occasionally so it would be unlikely for anyone to feel claustrophobic.  The hour long tour was fascinating and the time seemed to fly by.  I would suggest wearing sturdy shoes and warm clothing whatever the time of year as the temperature of the caves is a constant and chilly 10 degrees.

Rock Formations in Marble Arch Caves, Northern Ireland
Spectacular rock formations in Marble Arch Caves 

Afterwards we looked around the large gift shop in the visitor centre before returning to the car.  A short distance along the road within the geo-park is the parking area leading to the Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail also known as the Stairway to Heaven.  The route meanders over tracks, across boardwalks and up steep staircases taking between 3-5 hours for the round trip covering 7.5 miles.   It’s an immensely popular activity but not one we had time to take up the challenge of that day but spurred on by my ability to conquer Binevenagh Mountain earlier in the holiday, I’d happily give it a go on a future visit.

Enniskillen, County Fermanagh
Enniskillen Castle County Fermanagh

Rather than a strenuous hike, we took the scenic drive into Enniskillen town centre finding free parking by the riverside.  It’s the county town of Fermanagh and Northern Ireland’s only island town, as Enniskillen is located on a natural island separating the upper and lower segments of Lough Erne.

Enniskillen Town Hall, Fermanagh
Enniskillen Town Hall

We explored the town by wandering along its lengthy Main Street which runs through the centre, confusingly changing its name six times along its length.  A small market was taking place in the Buttermarket (town square) which is surrounded by arts and crafts shops.

The Jolly Sandwich, Enniskillen
The Jolly Sandwich, cafe in Enniskillen

Ready for a bite to eat, we spotted the Jolly Sandwich which looked inviting.  Being a Saturday lunchtime there was quite a queue snaking its way along the pavement but the wait was worth it as our coffee and homemade cakes were divine.

Enniskillen Castle, County Fermanagh
Enniskillen Castle

Refuelled, we were raring to go so we set off to explore Enniskillen Castle and its Museums (standard admission £5).  The 600 year old castle overlooks the River Erne and is one of the best preserved castles in Northern Ireland.  The castle is modelled on Scottish fortresses with a curtain wall reinforced by turrets encircling a tower keep.  It was built by the Gaelic Lord of Fermanagh Hugh Maguire to defend passages into Ulster.

Enniskillen Castle and Coach House Barracks
Enniskillen Castle and Coach House Barracks

In the late 18th century the castle developed as a military barracks and is now the home of Enniskillen visitor centre and two museums, The Inniskillings Museums and the Fermanagh County Museum.

The Fermanagh Hearth, Enniskillen Castle Museum
Fireside exhibit in the Enniskillen Museum

The galleries in the restored barrack coach house cover Fermanagh’s Lakeland history from pre-historic times to the present day.  We also explored the ground floor of the Castle Keep, the Heritage Centre and castle grounds.

Beeleck Pottery display, Enniskillen Museum
Beeleck Pottery display, Enniskillen Museum

The galleries cover natural history, rural traditions and local crafts.  I was particularly interested in the section on Belleek Pottery which was established in 1857 and holds a special place in Northern Ireland’s cultural and commercial heritage.  The factory is still in operation today using handcrafted techniques passed down through generations.  Factory tours are available and this is somewhere else I would like to visit on a return trip to these parts.

Street Signs at Enniskillen Museum
Exhibits at Enniskillen Museum

The Inniskillings Museum located on the upper floor of the Castle Keep was closed at the time of our visit so we were unable to view its display of weapons, badges, medals and engravings.

Re-created grocers shop in the Enniskillen Museum
Re-created grocers shop in the Enniskillen Museum

On leaving the museum we made our way back to the lakeside so that we could go hydrobiking on Lough Erne with Erne Adventures (£20).  This was something new for me to try, cycling on water instead of dry land!

Hydrobikes at Erne Adventures, Enniskillen
Hydrobikes at Erne Adventures

We were met by one of the team who kitted us out with lifejackets, adjusted the height of the bike seats and helped us on board.  I was somewhat apprehensive about the windy weather conditions and worried that I might topple off into the lake but after being re-assured that the bikes were very stable, we were on our way.

Hydrobiking on Lough Erne, Enniskillen
Hydrobiking on Lough Erne, Enniskillen

After my first few tentative turns of the pedals I found the hydrobike very easy to ride and virtually impossible to tip over.  Pedalling on, we enjoyed the beautiful views around the town and castle from the perspective of the water.

Hydro-biking with Erne Adventures, Enniskillen
Looking windswept but having fun on the hydro-bike

Safety boats are always on hand and although we didn’t need their assistance it was reassuring to know they were there.  We cycled all the way around the island going beneath bridges, passing the castle and Broadmeadow shopping centre.  It was a good work out for my leg and thigh muscles and even the rain and wind didn’t mar our enjoyment, I’m so glad I gave it a go!

Hydro-biking around Enniskillen with Erne Adventures
Confidently making my way beneath the bridge

Back in the car it was just a short drive to the Belmore Court and Motel on the edge of town.  The accommodation comprises a 30 room hotel with adjoining motel style units.  We must have looked a bedraggled pair as we were being swiftly checked in at reception but were soon relaxing in our comfortable room.

Belmore Court & Motel, Enniskillen
Belmore Court & Motel in Enniskillen

As well as being a great place to stay, a real bonus of Belmore Court is that it is within easy walking distance to the centre of Enniskillen 10 minutes away.  We had booked a table for dinner at The Firehouse in the heart of the town on Townhall Street.

Our superior room at Belmore Court & Model, Enniskillen
Our superior room at Belmore Court & Motel

Here we were greeted by exceptionally friendly staff and seated in a booth overlooking the open kitchen, perfectly positioned so that we could watch meals being prepared as we were enjoying a drink.

The Firehouse, Enniskillen
The Firehouse in the centre of Enniskillen

The Firehouse had a great atmosphere and the food was up there with the best.  Our starters of garlic and chilli prawn and chicken wings were really yummy followed by mouthwatering, tender steaks.  Service was attentive without being intrusive and Ill definitely be heading back to The Firehouse when I’m back in town.

The stylish interior of The Firehouse Enniskillen
The stylish interior of The Firehouse in Enniskillen

It was raining again as we ventured outside to return to our hotel but soon we were tucked up in our comfortable bed just as my leg muscles were beginning to ache following my earlier exertions.

 

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Enniskillen & Marble Arch Caves, Northern Ireland

 

50 thoughts on “Day 8. The Fermanagh Lakelands, Northern Ireland

  1. Looks like a brilliant trip. Love the underground adventure. Have seen many stunning photos of kayaking through caves but think it best to wait for warmer season. My son returned yesterday to Trinity Dublin. I hope to visit him this year and take a jaunt to Donegal which I have heard is spectacular. Perhaps for my 60th birthday in May. I have written two stories about Ireland on my blog which you might enjoy expressing my love for the country. https://nynkblog.wordpress.com/2021/07/03/the-days-of-wine-and-rosies/
    https://nynkblog.wordpress.com/2021/03/17/love-letter-to-ireland-the-gift-of-my-mother/

    Like

    1. Thank you Kathy for taking an interest in this series of posts on our Irish Road trip. The caves were splendid to explore and the hydrobiking great fun. Trinity College is a wonderful institution and visiting your son will be something really special to look forward to.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Now, there’s something I have not heard of before … paddling on the water! Those hydrobikes looks like so much fun 😄. And I love visiting caves (I might be afraid of heights, but at least I’m not claustrophobic)!
    You were quite the adventurers in this post – was great to read, thanks Marion!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hydrobiking looks amazing to do! Although I think if I were to do it I’d wait for warmer weather! Knowing myself as well as I do I would still end up in the lake soaking wet! Living vicariously through you! Looking forward to reading the next one. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Again you are very adventurous with this hydro-bike, it didn’t exist when I went to Enniskillen. I noticed that you stay in hotels, one of the great pleasures I had when travelling around Ireland was finding the right B&B, there is always an interesting bit of conversation with the owners.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The hydro bike was fun and easy to ride as it was very stable. On our third night away on this trip we stayed in a delightful B & B in Limavady in the the Roe Valley and there we enjoyed chatting with Annie and stroking her lovely Yorkshire Terrier Mabel. Thanks for taking an interest and commenting, it’s much appreciated.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. What an adventure in the Fermanagh Lakelands! Exploring caves is a fun and unique experience, with the darkness offering a sort of mysterious charm to them…the hydro-bikes sound very daring, and you’re courageous for trying it out; I would’ve hesitated!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Some real adventures in Enniskillen Marion. The cave experience would be nice. We kept missing either open times or opportunities to see caves on our last trip. The Hydro-bike looks quite the rig and certainly should keep you drier than a kayak experience. The hotel and restaurant look first rate. Thanks for sharing. Have a great weekend. Allan

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Sounds like a fun day full of adventure that includes activities below and above ground and on the water! I love all the various cave formations. I couldn’t help but laugh at the hydrobike. That’s amazing! Good for you for always trying something new!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Touring the caves was fascinating and hydrobiking was new to me as I’d never seen one before. It did look a strange sight having a bike on the water but once I got used to it I enjoyed pedalling round. I know my limitations but am always up for trying most new activities!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. How intrepid Marion that you went hyrdrobiking, and in less than perfect weather conditions. There is a lot of variety here, from the castle and museum to the Town Hall, lough, caves and dining establishments. We’ve been eating mostly traditional Serbian food for weeks now, so those Firehouse dishes sound amazing.

    Liked by 3 people

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