Cycling Northern Ireland's Kingfisher Trail
Grab your panniers. This section of the 480km-long Kingfisher Trail brings you on quiet, fully signposted public roads, framed by lush landscapes, lakes and an eclectic mix of don't-miss sights
The trail naturally falls into two main loops, so it can be cycled as two separate routes or as one continuous figure of eight. The scenery is always beautiful and often spectacular, with wonderful panoramas over Upper and Lower Lough Erne, Lough MacNean and Lough Allen, opening out from many vantage points along the way. While these two days are filled with highlights, you can stay for longer to explore everything the trail has to offer. Enjoy.
Start on the Northern Loop and take the slow road through the tranquil lakelands of County Fermanagh with grand country houses, incredible caves and great places to eat and drink along the way.Explore Day 1
Craft, castles and calm waters in Enniskillen
Soft shades of green and navy-coloured waters meet chunky grey granite in the town of Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, where a 16th century castle overlooks the rippling River Erne, which is popular with boating enthusiasts. The castle is also home to the Fermanagh County Museum. Afterwards, wander around the Buttermarket Courtyard, with its craft shops and galleries; or visit the quirky Headhunters Barber Shop and Railway Museum.
Enniskillen might seem like an unlikely place to find great Greek food, but Dollakis Restaurant has gained a sturdy reputation for the quality of its cooking, so check it out if you have the time.
18th century beauty at Florence Court
In the green heartlands of County Fermanagh lies Florence Court. Once the home of the Earls of Enniskillen, this elegant house embodies the style and charm of another era. And if it’s romance you’re after, you’ll certainly find it here.
Swathed in history, surrounded by exquisite grounds and filled with meticulous plasterwork, the house was named after the wife of Sir John Cole, who first built a property here in the 18th century. Judging by what stands in her name, she must have been quite a lady. At the edge of the estate is the beautifully located Tully Mill Restaurant, a great stop for lunch.
Embark on an underground adventure
Man-made beauty gives way to the forces of nature next at the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, one of the finest show caves in Europe. Enter this subterranean limestone wonderworld and you'll be blown away by the rivers, waterfalls, rock formations and winding passages.
In the past, the caves were treated with superstition by the local population until a young French explorer ventured inside in 1895. Ninety years later, the caves opened to the public, and have been a top attraction ever since.
If you have more time, book a table at the award-winning MacNean House – a destination-restaurant in County Cavan.
Crafting a piece of history at Belleek
The Kingfisher Trail continues through the glorious lakelands to Belleek Pottery on the banks of the River Erne. One of the world's oldest operating potters, Belleek was defined by the perfectionism of its founder, John Caldwell Bloomfield, who declared that any piece with even the tiniest flaw should be destroyed. This principle has been strictly adhered to since 1857, and has resulted in Belleek becoming famous all over the world.
Don't miss the tour here, which will bring you through the history, as well as the process of crafting a piece of Belleek Fine Parian china using traditional methods passed down through the generations.
If you have time, make sure to check out Finn Lough in Fermanagh – their Bubble Domes are much more than a run-of-the-mill bed for the night. With transparent walls between you, the forest and the star-filled sky, you can tuck yourself into a four-poster bed and simply doze away.
Be wowed by an ancient monastic site
It's not hard to see why St Molaise chose Devenish Island. Back in the 6th century, this place must have been the epitome of tranquillity, and it still is today. Boasting a church and round tower, the island overlooks the quiet waters of Lough Erne and is surrounded by shades of an almost impossible green. Even though it was raided by the Vikings in the 9th century and burned in the 12th, it remains one of the finest monastic sites in Ireland.
If you’re heading back to Enniskillen, chill out with a craft beer at the Tap House, a fabulous gastropub in the town.
With traditional music and dance, the source of the majestic Shannon River, and nature trails around one of Fermanagh's most beautiful estates, it's definitely worth your while to keep cycling around the Southern Loop...Explore Day 2
Nature takes centre stage at Crom
If there's one place guaranteed to make you stop in your tracks, it's Crom Castle. Set on the shores of Lough Erne, this incredible 19th century pile enjoys an almost ridiculously romantic location surrounded by woodland, tranquil islands and castle ruins. Follow the path to the Old Castle where one of Ireland's oldest yew trees sits – it's reputed to be more than 1,000 years old. Then enjoy afternoon tea at the visitor centre.
Lavish beauty surrounded by nature
Just outside Enniskillen, set within beautiful parkland and overlooking the glassy waters of Lough Coole is the magnificent 18th century mansion of Castle Coole. An architectural masterpiece decorated in French Empire style, the house was designed to impress both inside and out.
On the grounds, nature blazes with exceptional colours throughout the year, from bluebells in spring to a riot of burnished golds in autumn. Brunch is a particular treat at the estate's Tallow Tea Room, which is also a source of some excellent cakes.
Make sure to tour Lough Erne on the Lady of the Lake, where you can enjoy the views over a three-course dinner. Take a private cruise to celebrate a special occasion, or try their Murder Mystery Dinner Cruise to put your sleuthing skills to the test!
From ancient mountains to mysterious waters
Formed over 300 million years ago, the Cuilcagh Mountain is a dominant presence as you head north. Walk along the Legnabrocky Trail from the limestone base of the mountain and climb the stepped wooden boardwalk to 700 metres above sea level. You'll pass through a geological timeframe that spans eight million years. Trust us: the stunning views from the top are a just reward.
The Shannon Pot is nearby, too. Thought to be the very source of the mighty River Shannon – a pool of water meandering to the Atlantic, it ripples with legend and an importance that extends back to Celtic times.
If you have more time, try your hand at canoeing, archery, caving or diving at the Corralea Activity Centre!
Traditions hold strong in a pretty village
When it comes to scenic locations, it doesn't get much better than Drumshanbo. Perched at the tip of Lough Allen, this charming little village is overlooked by Sliabh an Iarainn – "the Iron Mountain". Famed for its beautifully preserved traditional buildings, several scenic trails radiate out into the surrounding countryside and lough if you fancy downing your bike for a while. And if you pass through here in the third week of July, you'll find the Joe Mooney Summer School for Irish Music in full swing.
Water, water everywhere for everyone to enjoy
A county town with a strong connection to the water, Carrick-on-Shannon stands prettily at a fording point on the River Shannon. The scenic marina and pretty boardwalk are a hive of activity, with local boaters stopping in for lunch in some of the town's colourful pubs, restaurants and cafés. It's also a hub of the Kingfisher Trail.
Make sure to visit the Costello Memorial Chapel – reputed to be the second smallest church in the world. It was built in 1877 as a mark of devotion to the wife of Edward Costello and stands at just under 5 metres long.
If you have more time, drop into The Market Yard, a lovely old courtyard space with a choice of cafés and restaurants.