MARK RAINEY spent a relaxing, yet invigorating, weekend at the National Trust’s lakeside holiday cottages on the Crom Estate near Newtownbutler.
Tucked away in a south west corner of Northern Ireland lies an area of majestic and vibrant beauty like no other this side of the Swiss Alps.
For mile after mile around Lough Erne’s southern tip, ancient and untouched forests, nature reserves and pristine, flower-filled meadows sweep down to the water’s edge of the glistening lakes.
Teeming with wildlife and rare fauna, the centuries of relative isolation have created a stunningly beautiful landscape that can be explored by boat, bicycle and on foot – or simply admired from the many vantage points and picnic areas dotted around the region.
As Upper Lough Erne is dotted with uninhabited islands, my travelling companion and I took to the water in a canoe and were amazed at the uniqueness of each location. Many are being used for cattle and sheep grazing, despite the logistical difficulties of transporting livestock, and some are suitable for rough camping.
Canoes can be hired from several locations around both the upper and lower lough, as can small, engine-powered craft, fishing boats and even luxury cabin cruisers.
The more compact upper lough (on the southern side of Enniskillen) is generally calmer than the lower lough and less daunting for the novice canoeist or kayaker.
Land is always close by and the area around the National Trust’s Crom Estate, at the southern tip of the lough close to Newtownbutler, has much less motor boat traffic than the waterways further north.
Gently paddling along the shoreline of Innishfendra island, around half a mile for the jetty at Crom, we were able to track a small herd of wild deer as they monitored our progress from the sanctuary of the darkness in the thick forest.
Other highlights of an all-day canoe trip included the successful search for a lakeside picnic spot and the overall sense of carefree, well-being while out on the water under clear blue skies.
To venture even further from our base at the Crom Estate holiday cottages, on the second day we availed of the half-day motor boat hire at Crom and set off on a 15-mile round trip, taking in the area of the lough on the northern side of Derrylin. The 15 horse power boat – with a small cabin area - can accommodate up to five people and comes with ample fuel and buoyancy aids. Hire costs are £50 for the half day and £75 for six hours. Fishing permits are also available and the lough is well stocked with pike, perch, rudd, bream, roach and brown trout.
The picturesque Crom cottages are contained in a quadrant around an old courtyard that was once part of a working farm. The nearby ruins of Crom Castle was the site of fierce 17th century battles between the Williamite defenders and the besieging armies of King James.
There are seven cottages – each a different size and layout – but all equally cosy with fresh flowers to welcome new guests and an open log fire to relax by after a day in the great outdoors.
The well-appointed and immaculately clean accommodation has everything you need, enjoying pride of place next to the lake, jetties and coffee shop. Two small campsites also available on the estate and two ‘glamping pods,’ utilising the former boathouses, are a new addition for those who like a little more comfort than seasoned campers and dogs are permissible in one of the pods.
The friendly and knowledgeable staff are also worth a special mention, and the warm welcome at the site is typical of the general friendliness evident around the Fermanagh area.
You can certainly feel at one with nature in Crom and the surrounding area. No fertilisers are used during any farming activity around the demesne, to enable wildlife to flourish, and even the cleaning products in each cottage are the eco friendly variety. The end result is a totally unspoilt environment which is a haven for all manner of wildlife and fauna. As far as the eye can see you are surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of nature at its breathtaking best.
Miles of mostly flat walking and cycle trails, suitable for all ages and abilities, crisscross the sprawling estate taking in a variety of gentle terrain around the water’s edge, through forest glades and across open grasslands.
Whether you’re in search of a family break or a romantic getaway, Crom Estate offers an idyllic and easy-paced location a world away from the daily grind.
Enquiries and bookings for the holiday cottages can be made through the website: www.nationaltrustholidays.org.uk and further information on Crom can be found at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/crom
• With its mainly flat landscape and stunning views over Lough Erne, the Crom Estate in Fermanagh is a superb cycling venue for families – or those who prefer world class scenery to hurtling along muddy tracks at breakneck speeds.
The 2,000-acre demesne has miles of lakeside gravel paths, quiet tarmac lanes, grassy tracks and forest trails suitable for all abilities, and bikes can be hired from various venues around the lough. With no room on the car roof due to a large canoe, our high-spec mountain bikes were hired from Lakeland Bikes in Enniskillen who delivered and collected them again from Crom holiday cottages.
Cycling is very much in keeping with easy pace around Crom and I found the small number of car drivers we encountered were patient and courteous.
The sprawling demesne contains countless old oaks dating back hundreds of years but one of its most striking features is a pair of magnificent, mystical yew trees - at least 800 years old - in the shadow of the castle ruins and believed to be the oldest on the island of Ireland.
Those cyclists not fortunate enough to spot any of the naturally shy red deer can take the path past the deer enclosure close to the Crom Castle stately home.
If you haven’t been on a bike in a long time, you will soon rediscover its charms after a few hours peddling around the jewel of Fermanagh...and be sure to pack a picnic.