Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Go wild in the ancient woods of Crom Castle

By Linda Stewart

Set in stunning scenery on the shores of Upper Lough Erne, Crom Estate is one of Ireland’s most important nature conservation areas.

The estate is home to a host of rare species, including all eight species of native bat found in Ireland, rare butterflies, lichens and the elusive pine marten, which is a member of the weasel family.

The 2,000-acre demesne contains ancient woodland, tranquil islands, estate cottages and Old Crom Castle, all linked by the breathtakingly beautiful landscape designed by WS Gilpin in the 19th century.

This cycle passes by Upper Lough Erne, travelling through an ancient oak wood, and makes for a superb family cycling trail.

Directions

This 3.5-mile waymarked route starts from the Visitor Centre on a mixture of track and off-road. If you're cycling the Kingfisher Trail, the route uses the Crom ferry to cross to the Visitor Centre. The ferry must be booked at least 24 hours in advance (tel: 028 6773 8118).

You can reach the estate on the Ulsterbus 95 Enniskillen to Clones route with connections from Belfast, alighting at Newtownbutler.

Saddle up and turn left as you leave the yard, cycling along the old carriageway towards Crom Castle. Left again takes you through the gate into beautiful flat parkland. Follow the path to the Old Castle where one of Ireland's oldest yew trees grows, reputed to be over 800 years old.

Pedal along the loughside past the impressive boathouse before crossing the White Bridge and onto the lush Inisherk Island. Travel to the quay before retracing your route back to the bridge.

Make your way to the Summer House, taking the path through ancient oak wood with Upper Lough Erne on your left and the imposing Crom Castle rising to your right. Beyond the stable yard you reach the Castle’s main drive. Continue cycling as far as the crossroads, where the path breaks off right around the Green Lough. Pass the lough and coast back down to the Visitor Centre.

The Backdrop

Crom houses the largest surviving area of oak woodland in Ireland. The wealth of wildlife in the estate is exemplified by the presence of two rare butterflies — the purple hair streak and wood white — as well as the elusive pine marten and the largest heronry in Ireland.

Look out too for flocks of wild geese and the parkland deer. Crom's 24-acre Deer Park has a small herd of fallow deer that were reintroduced by the present Earl of Erne in the 1970s after they had disappeared during the Second World War.

The original Crom Castle was built in 1611, surviving two Jacobite sieges before being destroyed in 1764 by a domestic fire. Almost 100 years passed before a new castle was built for the Third Earl of Erne in 1840 — it is now a private home and thus closed to the public.

The castle was designed by the English architect Edward Blore, who was responsible for sections of Buckingham Palace. With its turrets and crenellated towers, this neo-Tudor mansion is both magnificent and enigmatic.

The outward strength of Crom Castle is softened by the beauty of its surroundings — an idyllic setting most definitely influenced by the watercolourist and garden designer William Sawrey Gilpin, who worked closely with Blore on the project.

Crom is also home to some of the oldest yew trees in Ireland and possibly Europe at the entrance to the Old Castle Garden. The trees are reputed to be more than 800 years old and were nominated as some of the 50 Greatest British Trees for the Queen's Jubilee in 2002.

The two entwined old yews with their twisted branches are male and female — the male is characterised by its small, yellow flowers while the female has green flowers that turn to bright red berries.

Responsible Cycling

Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) endorses the principles of Leave No Trace, encouraging cyclists to minimise their impact on the countryside while still enjoying Northern Ireland’s routes and trails with freedom. For more information, visit leavenotraceireland.org

Further information

For further information on cycling or any other outdoor activity, please contact CAAN at 028 9030 3930 or cycleni.com.

CAAN in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.

Cycle Name: Crom Estate Cycle Route.

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: Fermanagh.

Nearest big town to start point: Newtownbutler, Lisnaskea.

Distance: 3.5 miles circular.

Terrain: This cycle is off road on mixed surfaces.

Refreshments: Available from visitor centre tearoom and shop. There is also a picnic area, car park, toilets and campsite.

Publications: This route can be accessed on the Kingfisher Trail — the guide can be purchased from sustranshop.co.uk. Contact the Access and Recreation Officer 028 9751 0721 for more information.

Cycle Developed By: The National Trust and Fermanagh District Council.

Map: Sheet 27 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).

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