Northern Ireland – County Fermanagh

Friday September 13th, 2013

We decided to splash out, rent a car, and discover all that Northern Ireland had to offer. First up, we headed to County Fermanagh, a place with more than a few things to offer:

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James picked up the rental car on Friday morning and packed our life into the boot of the Micra. Since James opted out of the rental car insurance, there wasn’t a chance he was letting me drive, so instead I played navigator.

Somehow we managed to get to Enniskillen (81 miles from Belfast) within two hours.

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Enniskillen is a small, quiet but cozy town that straddles some nicely picked real estate, sitting smack between the Upper and Lower sections of Lough Erne. Less than 14,000 people call the place home, but plenty of visitors share the same bright idea of exploring this abundant county over a weekend.

We parked the car and walked through town and found the most adorable coffee shop in Northern Ireland, Frou Frou.

Mom, you would’ve absolutely loved the place!

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We enjoyed the best tasting coffees while planning what to do with the afternoon.

We decided Tourist Information would send us in the right direction, and of course we left with bigger plans (and more visitor pamphlets) than our weekend (and Micra) would allow. First we would drop our stuff off at Mahon Hotel in Irvinestown before we left for the afternoon to play at the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark and Florence Court House.

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James just signed himself up to plan the remainder of the trip (I’m talking 2014) because he did an amazing job planning this mini-vacay.

At just €20 per person we were living like royalty. Hello bed with no ladder, mini-toiletries, towels and tele. James regretted suggesting we drop our things off first, and after having to peel me away from the room, we were back in the go-kart headed to explore the suggestions of the doggie-eared pages and pamphlets.

We ended up driving back through Enniskillen and made our way onto the A4 towards the geopark. We slid into the last tour slot of the night, and ended up being the only people on the 4:30 p.m. tour. We spent one and a half hours exploring an underground world that looked like it belonged to these dudes.

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We weaved through the caves, passing stalactites and stalagmites that were thousands of years old (it takes one hundred years for a stalactite to grow a single centimeter). That takes some serious patience.

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It felt like Disneys It’s A Small World ride as we passed waterfalls and swept past the calcite covered floors and walls that looked like Martha Stewart has just gone ‘frosting happy’ on her Easter cupcakes.

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We only explored a fraction of the caves, as they stretched another 7 miles beyond what we witnessed.

Once we started seeing Davy Jones’ beard in all the cave formations, we decided it was time to get out of the underworld.

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We resurfaced around 6 p.m. and quickly made the short drive over towards Florence Court House, an 18th century estate presently owned by the National Trust. We ran around like little kids and played on the grounds of the scenic gardens. 

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The sun was starting to set behind the dramatic clouds that were no longer threatening the sky. Knowing there was likely to be a magnificent sunset, we quickly headed over to the best lookout spot over Lough Erne (thanks to James’ brilliant research, again). Our little black Micra scooted along the winding roads that weaved between dense forests before rolling over the final hill that gave way to the most stunning views on Lough Navar View Point.

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Despite that it was one of the most breathtaking sunsets I’ve ever seen, there was nobody else to join us for the show. We walked along the wooden paths and watched the sunset cast a rainbow of colors over the hills and Lower Lough Erne.

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Incredible doesn’t exactly explain the view.

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Just before dark we headed back and karted down the hills back into Irvinestown.

The rest of the night was spent in the hotel restaurant and lounge enjoying living large.

Saturday September 14th, 2013

We were out of the hotel and on the road headed back to Enniskillen to take part in the weekend festivities. European Heritage Open Days conveniently was happening this weekend (couple of points for James, again).

We headed to Lower Lough Erne to see if we could get a ferry to Devenish Island.

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After a leisurely wait we hopped onboard for a five minute ride to the island.

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Our bubble was burst when we were told we couldn’t go treasure hunting, which is exactly what we had planned for the afternoon.

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We spent over an hour exploring the 6th century tiny island, climbing up five vertical ladders in the 12th Century Round Tower (getting stuck at the top thanks to the tourist ship that came in after us), and playing on the ruins of St Molaise’s House and Augustinian Abbey.

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It was the perfect early autumn day.

We headed back to Enniskillen and grabbed a coffee before setting out to see some impressive castles.

We stopped first at Enniskillen Castle & Museums.

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The castle, which was built over 600 hundred years ago, is situated besides the River Erne. This castle once guarded one of the few passes into Ulster, and later became an English fort and served also as part of military barracks. The two museums were free, thanks to European Heritage Open Days.

After checking out the museum we decided we should head north towards our next stop, but would step to see the many castle ruins along the drive.

I first navigated us to Monea Castle. We both liked this Scottish inspired castle with it’s impressive round towers and many stories. It was built in 1618 and abandoned after a fire around the 18th century.

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Next we stopped at Tully Castle. This 1641 century castle had an impressive 17th century garden that had been recreated for visitors (James and I were the only ones there) to enjoy. And yes, we definitely did enjoy them.

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It was getting late in the afternoon so we popped back in the car and made our way around the west side of the lake and our route paralleled the border for a few hours drive to Giant’s Causeway, where we would spend the next two nights!

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Obviously along the way we had to stop at some random house to take pictures of the sheep because we would never see sheep again…

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Thanks to James and his impressive google/planning skills, this trip is back on track! 

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