Bats, bluebells and sailing at Crom

Tara Craig and family discover an abundance of sights and activities to enjoy at Crom.

Sitting at the edge of Upper Lough Erne, Crom is a very special place. It’s beautiful, tranquil and remote without feeling isolated.  We were visiting for the weekend and as I drove along the tree-lined road leading to our accommodation I could feel my emotional baggage and stress drop away.   Even the squabbling children in the back seat couldn’t break me; I was far too distracted by the stunning scenery.

Right on the waterfront, our home for the next two nights was Erne View, one of seven cottages located in the quaint restored Old Farmyard Courtyard surrounded by woodland walks and lakeside paths.  Parking up, my two youngest spotted the children’s playground and were off, allowing my mum and me the opportunity to unpack and put the kettle on. (I should explain my husband couldn’t make the trip so I invited my mum along so I would have someone to share a bottle of wine with in the evening).

Home from home accommodation

Sleeping six, our four-bedroom cottage is the largest available at Crom. Officially rated three-star, it didn’t benefit from any fancy furnishings or frills but it was warm and clean and we all agreed that the beds were exceptionally comfortable.  

Every room offers pretty vistas of either the Lough or the woodlands and we discovered on our first night that the front living room window was the perfect lookout for bat spotting.  Who needs TV when you can watch nature’s own aerobatics show?

Aside from the cottages, Crom also offers camping accommodation and two fantastic Glamping Pods that have been shortlisted in the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards 2016 for ‘Unique Tourist Accommodation’. Located just beside the Visitors Centre, the quirky pods sleep up to five and open out onto a courtyard with picnic benches, easy access to the toilet amenities and of course, the Lough.

Crom Visitor Centre

Whether you’re staying for the night, or just visiting for the day be sure to drop into the Visitor Centre which is fantastic, As well as housing a small shop, it has a brilliant exhibition area that reveals the history of Crom Castle and the estate and provides a wonderful insight into its biodiversity.  It’s also where you’ll find the Little Orchard Tea Room and its delicious selection of home baked treats.

Boat hire at Crom

The setting, springtime bluebell walks and Visitor Centre at Crom are all first class, but it was our boat trip on Upper Lough Erne that we will be talking about for years to come. Not because we got lost (which we did) or because I crash landed the boat (which I sort of did) but because it was simply thrilling to be out on that huge expanse of water, free to explore the waterways and island hop as we pleased.

Boat hire can be arranged through the National Trust Visitor Centre and there is a choice of vessels to suit your ability. Rowing boats cost £7.50 an hour and are great if you’re built like boxer Carl Frampton with plenty of stamina.

I preferred the more leisurely option of an outboard engine boat where the engine does the work for you (£30 for half a day or £45 a day) or for the more experienced sailor there’s the slightly more expensive Lady Erne, a boat with covered cab.

Sailing on Upper Lough Erne

After filling in the necessary forms we were taken down to the water’s edge and fitted with life jackets before being led to our boat. A lovely National Trust staff member called Sharon then provided a short but informative instruction on how to manage the motor and steer the vessel before handing over the map and wishing us well.

I stressed that I had never sailed a boat before and clearly I looked terrified because she pointed out the emergency contact numbers written on the map and then assured me that I’d be fine.

And do you know what? I was fine, in fact by the end of the afternoon I had the kids calling me captain!  Without venturing too far we got to see castle ruins, a pretty boat house and the impressive Gad Tower which acts as a useful marker should you get disorientated in the water and lose your way, which we did. Twice.  

Enjoying the adventure the kids used their nets to fish and their binoculars to spot local landmarks (both of which were borrowed from the visitor centre). Most of all they loved it when another a boat passed by, causing waves in the water that had the effect of turning our leisurely sail into something more akin to a rapids ride in a theme park.

Returning to the jetty at Crom my only worry was parking the boat. I usually need a space the size of a bus to park my car, so a boat was going to be a challenge. Or so I thought.

Actually it was fine. By this stage I had mastered the forward and reverse gear change and keeping at a tortoise pace I chugged the boat into position. Okay, so I bumped it into the side of the jetty and it kind of bounced off into place, but no damage was done and I was happy to take the credit. After all it’s a rare thing to hear my kid say ‘ you did a brilliant job mum’. 

Sad goodbyes

We left Crom feeling invigorated but a little sad that we had to go before finding the ancient Yew Tree, exploring the castle ruins or going on a moth hunt. There’s just one thing for it, we’ll have to go back, and this time I’ll think we’ll try Glamping!