Holidays&Travel

Travel: No shortage of helping hands in Lough Erne family adventure

Fergal Hallahan and his family headed out on Lough Erne in a cruiser for the first time as guests of hire company Carrickcraft and found people willing to help, even when help absolutely, definitely wasn't needed

Hiring a cruise boat makes for a fun family holiday

BUDDING boaties might be tempted to place themselves above jet-skiers in the pecking order of water-going types but here's my advice: Don't.

In any case, such a hierarchy may not exist; yes, people with bigger, shinier boats can look down on smaller vessels in a literal sense, but courtesy and helpfulness to newcomers - to all comers, in fact - were universally in evidence when we hired a cabin cruiser for the first time recently.

Despite it being a bank holiday, we had Upper Lough Erne pretty much to ourselves - possibly because more experienced sailors knew it was a tad windy to be totally relaxing...

Anyhoo, along came a lone jet-skier, buzzing about like a demented bee, jumping waves, slicing big, arcing wakes. Och, take a chill pill, I thought, before realising that the distant navigation marker I'd been aiming for wasn't the marker I thought I'd been aiming for, slowing down and circling round a bit, while scanning for the right marker through the binoculars.

Fergal and his family holidayed on one of Carrickcraft's Kilkenny class cruise boats

Funny how small, tree-covered islands in the middle of a lake all look the same and yet, crucially, aren't.

"Have you lost your bearings?" hollered the jet-skier, who had, as if by magic, pulled up alongside.

"Ah no, we're grand thanks," I hollered back.

"Yes," hollered my wife. "We have."

And so, she and the kind stranger wisely ignoring whatever primal nonsense was motivating me to get competitive with him, a new course was set and our destination - Knockninny Country House hotel, near Derrylin, as it happens - duly arrived at.

Refreshments were had, the boat's water tank refilled from a hosepipe at the public marina (if there is a dressy-uppy, Chardonnay-for-the-ladies side to boating, even in rural Fermanagh, it co-exists with the stocking-up, pumping-out-the-sewage-tank necessities of downtime afloat) and a northerly heading followed, without navigational mishap, out of the lake and back down the River Erne.

The round tower and ruined abbey on Devenish Island in Lower Lough Erne

Bellanaleck, a few miles south of Enniskillen, is where boat-hire company Carrickcraft is based. From here you can sail north to Belleek on the Donegal border or south as far as Limerick, should the urge take you, Ulster's mighty Erne being joined to the island's longest river by the Shannon-Erne Waterway canal.

When you think that we had three adventure-filled days on a relatively short stretch to the north and south of Enniskillen, it gives you some idea of the fabulous amenity that this 300-mile-long inland waterway system offers for staycationers and watersports enthusiasts alike.

And nature lovers: cascades of whitethorn blossom and the cacophony of birds going about their early summer business were our constant accompaniments.

Carrickcraft provides an online tuition guide which first-time renters must complete before check-in. On arrival a staff member gives you an onboard talk-through and takes you out for a driving lesson 

For us it all made for a thoroughly enjoyable family break, particularly with our daughter being old enough to muck in with the rope tying and untying when conditions allowed and to take the helm on parts of the river where there wasn't any other traffic.

Ours was a 'Kilkenny' class four-to-six-berth boat, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, living area, roomy galley for cooking and ample storage space for clothes and food.

As well as an easy to follow (when you're paying attention) navigational chart, lifejackets and those essential binoculars, Carrickcraft provides an online tuition guide which first-time renters must complete before check-in. On arrival a staff member gives you an onboard talk-through and takes you out for a driving lesson, as it were.

Holidaymakers cruise past fishermen on the Shannon and Erne waterways

Mooring and pushing off are the most challenging aspects of a newbie boating holiday and unfortunately no amount of theory can take the place of experience; you really have to do it to get a feel for it.

While you do begin to get the hang of it, a three-night cruise does not a competent sailor make, but that's where the helpfulness that seems to be a currency on the water comes in - friendly natives lend a willing hand when they see clearly identifiable hire boats tentatively approaching a jetty.

We got plenty of practice in, mind, overnighting at three different locations and stopping at other moorings while out during the day.

The highlight was Devenish Island, not so much for the monastic settlement itself, which undoubtedly inspires awe, but for the sunset on the water, the natural splendour of its setting, the swans with their air of having swum there since time immemorial, and the fact that, one other boat aside, we had the landing place to ourselves for the night.

Mooring in Enniskillen on a bank holiday weekend was what parking might be like only with lots of little boats bobbing about, no indicators and no white lines in the middle of the road - which is made of water.

Swans, with their air of having swum on Lough Erne since time immemorial

Still, we managed, and paid a visit to the wonderful Enniskillen Castle Museum, which has a gem of an art collection (TP Flanagan features, William Scott was a revelation) and an informative display on the Erne's rich early Christian history.

People have been boating here for well over a thousand years, it made clear, some on their way to make pilgrimage at Lough Derg, eight miles from the northernmost point of Lough Erne.

I imagine they had Fermanagh people, and perhaps wives, to keep them right.

FACT FILE

- Carrickcraft has a range of hire boats that accommodate from two to 10 people. Visit cruise-ireland.com or call 028 3834 4993 for information and booking.

- Eating out options include The Firehouse brasserie in Enniskillen (028 6632 5210) and The Island Restaurant at Lusty Beg Island Resort and Spa, Lower Lough Erne (028 6863 3300).

- For details of Enniskillen Castle tickets and tours visit enniskillencastle.co.uk

- Fermanagh Lakeland Tourism has a wealth of information about the county at fermanaghlakelands.com

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Holidays&Travel