“Here in the heart of Ireland, nature is never very far away”
So writes UK newspaper The Guardian's travel journalist William Cook, whose journey through Ireland’s Lakelands is marked by sightings of wild deer, Georgian mansions, eco lodges and the absolute absence of car engines, alarms or horns.
Summing up Ireland’s spread of lakes, rivers, canals and estuaries isn’t easy, but were the Lakelands to have a capital, Fermanagh would be it.
Comprised of two lakes (Upper and Lower) and 154 islands, Fermanagh's Lough Erne is a game changer when it comes to the Ireland experience. “Upper Lough Erne is a paddler's paradise,” says travel writer Rick Le Vert, “chock-a-block with hidden nooks and crannies, secretive islands and majestic estates.”
And that’s only from the water. A hop onto land opens even more doors: Fermanagh’s Devinish Island is home to one of Northern Ireland’s best preserved monastic sites, while the carved faces of 9th or 10th-century stone figures lend the uninhabited White Island an eerie edge.
Paddle power provides access to the unusual — what better way to access Inishcorkish where Fermanagh’s famous Black Bacon pigs are reared in splendid isolation. A few miles upwater over in Enniskillen, you can even pick up a few slices of the finished article from local butcher Pat O’Doherty.
But Fermanagh isn’t the only watery destination on the island.
Loop along the elbow of the River Shannon and Lough Allen appears, shared by the counties of Roscommon and Leitrim but unified as one vast, mirror-like spread of a lake. Kevin Currid runs Wilderness Therapy courses on Lough Allen’s shores where roughing it is replaced by hearty stew dinners and bottles of organic beer.
“A trip into the great outdoors like this is fundamentally reinvigorating,” says journalist Pól O’ Conghaile, who had a great time on one of Kevin’s courses. “Life is brought back to the basics – shelter, warmth and food. Therapy is the word, all right.”
And it doesn’t stop there; we’re an island, remember. Beyond the inland waterways lies another option – the sea. And a kayak is your ticket there. It’s a pass to small coves and caves of Ireland’s coast that can remain frustratingly inaccessible from the land.
Just ask author Jasper Winn who slid inside his own kayak and skirted the entire island: “The trip also gave me a reminder of just how gorgeous the place (Ireland) is....when you work your way slowly, around a thousand miles of country, you start to see places in a different way. You get to camp in solitude on uninhabited islands. You get to see wild places, such as Inismurray or the Blaskets...”
Canoeing, kayaking, whichever way you like to go, travel by any other name wouldn’t feel as free. And that’s something we’re more than happy to share…