Northern Ireland’s lake country is a haven for watersports. But you’ll find Palladian mansions, pagan idols and Bill Clinton’s ancestors here, too
“As the locals will tell you, the lakes are in Fermanagh for six months of the year,” chirps the Lonely Planet guidebook. “For the other six, Fermanagh is in the lakes.”
So you see, Fermanagh may not have a coastline, but it certainly has plenty of water.
Whether it's boat tours of the Marble Arch Caves, or cruisers exploring the 500-mile network of rivers, canals and lakes in the Shannon-Erne navigation – the county boasts pretty much every class of inland water feature you can imagine.
If you’re a fisherman, boat person or watersports enthusiast, the Fermanagh Lakelands are your Utopia. Think of canoeing or waterskiing on far-flung pleasure lakes. Think of pike or coarse angling on the Upper and Lower Lough Erne. Think of ditching the car and taking a waterbus from island to island on the Erne. Thoughts of the nine-to-five quickly become a distant memory.
A trip to the underworld
Fermanagh has its underbelly, too. A descent into the Marble Arch Caves Geopark begins with a subterranean boat ride and ends 650 million years back in time. The netherworld of chambers and passageways traverses Fermanagh and Cavan, and a visit sees one weird and wonderful calcite formation after another, including The Porridge Pot, Martel's Stalactite and the Crystal Palace.
What’s a Geopark? An area recognised by Unesco to have exceptional geological heritage, in a nutshell. But of course, you don’t have to journey below ground to encounter exceptional geological heritage in Fermanagh. Climb to the top of the Magho Cliffs, the six-mile limestone escarpment overlooking Lough Erne, and you’ll see what we mean.
Round, round, get around
Gifted with natural assets, Fermanagh gives bikers and hikers an abundance of choice. If you’re on two feet, consider exploring the trails at Crom Estate, where you’ll find wild deer and eight species of native bats in one of Ireland’s most important nature conservations. If you’re on two wheels, try a section of the 230-mile cross-border Kingfisher Trail.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget your history. As former US President Bill Clinton might tell you (he has roots in Roslea), there’s lots to fascinate in Fermanagh’s back-story. Check out the mysterious pagan idols at Lough Erne’s Boa Island, the Round Tower on Devenish Island, or the Palladian mansions of Castle Coole and Florence Court.
Afterwards, you can zip back to the 21st century in the bustling county town of Enniskillen (incidentally, where Irish writers Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett went to school), or pick up some souvenir China at Belleek, Fermanagh’s world-famous pottery centre.