TRAVEL GUIDE: Fermanagh
This was the road trip I’d always dreamed of. Me, my brother Mark and ‘me da’ Alec, heading off for the weekend fishing and shooting in Fermanagh to treat the aul fella.
And what a treat it was for us all. Our trip was superbly planned by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, who are the oracle on all things local to help you plan your own perfect ‘staycation’.
We set off to our destination, the picturesque Crom Holiday Cottages in the majestic Crom Estate at Newtownbutler on the banks of Upper Lough Erne.
The castle is privately owned by the Earl of Erne, one of Ulster’s richest men, but he gifted the surrounding estate to the National Trust who manage everything, including the cottages.
Our home for the weekend was the three-bedroom Orchard View cottage, which had a bathroom with shower, separate toilets upstairs and downstairs, a living room and well-equipped kitchen.
We had fishing lined up for the Friday and while my dad is an experienced fisherman complete with all the equipment, we were not.
So en route to Crom we went via Enniskillen to the Home Field and Stream store, this place is a real Aladdin’s Cave with everything you could ever need inside.
And so to the lake, for what would turn out to be a fun-filled fishing adventure — without any fish.
Mark was tasked to be skipper of our little boat, by virtue of the fact that me and my dad shirked all responsibility.
Things started well as we sat chatting away on the serene and peaceful lake, fuelled with a mountain of egg and onion sandwiches and three flasks of tea.
But did we catch anything? Er, no. Well, unless you count both Mark and my dad hooking some weeds.
But no matter, the craic was mighty and the weather was fine... until the heavens opened with heavy rain that would leave us drenched, the boat full of water and that was the queue to get back to base.
Mark did brilliantly to get the boat back to the jetty through the rough turn in the weather, but our attempts to land our little craft was like a scene from Some Mothers Do
Have ‘Em, only with three Frank Spencers on board.
The skipper jumped out but we drifted away, causing me to yell “even the captain of the Titanic stayed with his boat” as the blood drained from my face.
But after a struggle we finally got the boat in, with dad gasping “I’m knackered” as Mark and I split our sides laughing. It was quite a jape.
We decided the time was right to dry out and make some dinner in the cottage before heading out for drinks.
We got a taxi to Lisnaskea, around 15 minutes away and a £7-£10 fare, as we had been tipped off about Frank’s Bar as the place to go — and our tipster proved to be bang on the money.
It used to be owned by the late MP Frank Maguire, but the proprietor these days is Ollie and he gave us a welcome that we will never forget.
And that was the case with all the regulars in the pub, who made us feel like one of their own.
A cracking little place, it was so good we never left that night and went back again the next night.
Ollie laid on complementary grub (sausage sandwiches and chips) for the punters and he was kind enough to give us a round of drinks on the house each night. Now that’s a real Fermanagh welcome!
On the Saturday morning we shook off our hangovers with a fry and headed for Colebrooke Park for clay pigeon shooting.
We were unexpectedly met by the charming owner, Lord Brookeborough, who would later pop down to say a proper hello and join us for a while. But more of that later.
The marvellous estate is owned by his Lordship, but the shooting was run by Thirst For Ltd, the brainchild of three top blokes — Harry, Peter and Trevor.
The trio turned out to be really great guys who, while of course kept things safe and responsible, also provided non-stop banter to make our exploits a laugh a minute.
We eventually even managed to hit a few clays — Harry’s automatic shotgun helped on that score.
You can tell the lads are great pals and they bust a gut to make sure you have a good time, I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Lord Brookeborough joined us midway and added to the experience. A crack shot, he didn’t miss a single clay and showed us how it was done.
And he revealed his secret. “Heat-seeking cartridges,” he said with a grin and a wink, one of many entertaining quips he made.
Complete with trophy bruises on all our right arms from the shotguns, we headed to Ollie’s again for more craic with the locals to round off a brilliant weekend.
It resolved my desire to make sure we capture those magic moments as a family.
It’s Father’s Day today, my advice is to treat your aul fella to a weekend he’ll never forget, leaving you all with special memories to cherish forever as well.