Helen McGurk and her young family enjoy a short break in this magical county
Kingfishers may boast colourful, showy plumage, but they are notoriously shy birds.
I had never seen one until recently when I was in Fermanagh cruising along Lower Lough Erne towards Devenish Island.
My family and I had caught the MV Kestrel water bus in Enniskillen and were making our way past the historic landmarks of Enniskillen Castle and Portora Royal School (famous old boys include Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett), when, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a flash of blue and orange as a diminutive kingfisher flew fast and low to the water. I felt a jolt of joy. It was the briefest of sightings, but one which will linger long in my memory.
Fermanagh is famed for its wildlife, and, during our trip, we were also lucky enough to spot a red squirrel, not to mention a frog and a kaleidoscope of peacock butterflies.
The county is also celebrated for its distinctive landscape, all drumlins, boglands and moorland. Local folk like to say that for six months of the year the lakes are in Fermanagh and for the other six, Fermanagh is in the lakes. Of course, having lots of water, means it’s a haven for boating, watersports, fishing. It is also a wonderful spot for families as we were to discover.
We moored at Devenish Island and disembarked to explore this evocative place. The monastic ruins date back to the 6th century, including the best preserved Round Tower in Ireland, Augustinian Abbey, church ruins and ancient graveyards; you can almost imagine the monks that lived on the island and the hardships they endured.
Fermanagh boasts a wealth of tremendous accommodation, but our base for a couple of days (I only wish it could have been longer) was the Manor House Country Hotel.
Located on the shores of Lough Erne at Killadeas, it is the perfect country retreat combining old world charm with modern hotel luxury.
Despite its splendour, the Manor House is a what all good country hotels should be, grand, but unstuffy with a warm welcome.
There were ‘wows’ all round as we opened the door to our contemporary, light-filled room and the floor-to-ceiling windows, which framed the magnetic view outside.
Just as I was drinking in the scene, my 10-year-old daughter bombed up to me shouting ‘‘there’s a TV in the bathroom.’’ And there was. Just above the bath. And I’ll admit I did watch Flog It! whilst having a soak. Pure decadence.
We had dinner in the AA Rosette Belleek Restaurant, which is housed in the hotel’s grand conservatory, and, again, boasts captivating views of the lough and the immaculate grounds, including a nine-hole golf course which looked so pristine and perfect I’m sure someone must trim the grass with scissors.
Our dinner was nothing short of exquisite. The chef has created a delicious menu, demonstrating his skill and commitment to using the freshest local produce. The flavours were superlative; I had a light and airy Fivemiletown Goat’s Cheese Mousse, followed by a stunning mushroom tortelleni with crispy cabbage, pickles and Parmesan cheese and for dessert a rum and coconut confection, which I can almost still taste.
A post-dinner drink can be enjoyed in the chic surroundings of the Watergate Bar, which brings a modern twist to the 19th century allure of the hotel, with a sleek marble bar, sedate lighting, sophisticated cocktail list and lounge seating.
I slept the sleep of kings in a vast, voluptuous bed; and there wasn’t a peep from the children all night as they also had a great night’s sleep.
Should you wish to work off the calories from the previous night’s meal, there’s an onsite gym and tennis court. But it was straight to the pool for my water babies, whilst I slipped into the outdoor hot tub - another decadent touch.
After a wonderful breakfast (the menu features a vegetarian fry, which is always a bonus in my non-meat-eating book), we walked down to the marina to see the boats bobbing in the water and feed the already well-upholstered ducks.
There’s so much to do in Fermangh it’s hard to choose, but we decided to visit the beautiful Georgian mansion, Florence Court.
Our knowledgeable guide led us on an upstairs/downstairs tour of this magnificent National Trust property recounting stories of the Cole family and their staff who lived here for over 250 years. We saw the library, the drawing room, a bedroom, and the servants’ quarters.
I loved the beautiful Walled Garden, which is tended by a group of dedicated volunteers, whilst the children had a ball in the playpark (the rope swing was a particular hit).
Although we have been to Fermanagh a good view times we had never been to the county’s geological wonder - the famous Marble Arch Caves. Our attempts were always thwarted by the weather; and, again, this time heavy downpours meant we weren’t able to do the full tour as the water inside was too high, but we were able to do a shortened version and see the calcite walls and dripping stalactites. It really is quite magical.
Fermanagh is a great spot for families, and after two days of luxury at the Manor House, we swapped the sumptuous surrounds for more humble accommodation - camping at Castle Archdale.
Situated right beside the water’s edge, it’s a fantastic campsite with beautiful forest walks, a playpark, shop, cafe, launderette and even a bar. My kids had hours of fun on the jumping pillow. Instead of cooking on our rickety camping stove, we went for a lovely evening meal in the Enniskiillen Hotel, which serves a good choice of tasty dishes. I can highly recommend the fish and chips; they were scrumptious!
If you are in this part of the world it would be a shame not to visit Lusty Beg island. My children loved taking the five minute ferry ride to reach it - and when we did, there was a fun fairy trail to explore, could things get any better? Yes, they could! Dinner in the resort was out of this world - I had the fish of the day, hake, which was truly sublime, but best of all was the service from our waitress Flossie, who, like everyone we met in Fermanagh, charmed us with her warm welcome.
*Visit www.fermanaghlakelands.com for accommodation, special offers, events and what to see & do in the area.