TRAVEL GUIDE: Tyrone
Luxurious accommodation? Check. Excitement? Definitely. Relaxation? A must. Proximity? Yes, that too. For us, a 48-hour break away from the rigours of city life must tick all those boxes.
Although the sprawling Ballygawley Roundabout in Co Tyrone may not seem the most obvious starting point...go through it and head towards Enniskillen, then take the first exit on your left. Within a minute or so, you’ll arrive at Tullyvar Cottage. This new-build, set on a hill just off the soon-to-be-upgraded road to Aughnacloy, is billed as five-star accommodation and after spending a couple of days in it, I couldn’t challenge that label. It’s a beautiful, spacious five-bedroom dwelling with terrific views of the rolling hills of Tyrone, and it has that ‘far away yet near everything’ feel about it. The landlord has clearly spent a long time planning this place, right down to the spacious shower/steam room in the main bathroom upstairs. I loved the covered barbecue hut behind the main dwelling — yes, this is Tyrone, not Spain — and family pets are more than welcome, as the facilities are there for them too. One minor gripe though: although the place is bursting with modern technology, right down to the remote control fire, there’s no radio in the huge kitchen/dining room, one of Tullyvar Cottage’s most inviting areas. But what a great place to come back to, especially after an evening of dodging death at the nearby Todd’s Leap outdoor activity centre. This is one serious Mecca for white-knuckled adrenaline junkies and those of us who merely enjoy being scared out of our wits — in complete safety mind.
Most thrilling for me was the mud-spattered, 100 per cent natural rollercoaster you ride while strapped firmly into a Land Rover that appears to defy gravity most of the time. Rule number 1: don’t touch the brakes. Rule number 2: don’t touch the brakes. After you’ve mastered that, you might just survive. I’d certainly recommend it for stag parties and corporate team-bonding outings — and you simply must let the professional driver take you through the forest at crazy speeds in the big V8; that’s a bowel-tester if there ever was one. Apart from the off-road racing, you can go paintballing, quad biking, clay pigeon shooting or pretend you’re Robin Hood with the archery option. There’s a cafe too — but it’s best to eat after this experience, rather than before.
Back to Tullyvar Cottage, and where do we go from here? Well, you’re only three miles from the border with Monaghan so south is one option, but why bother when attractions such as the Ulster American Folk Park, President Grant Homestead, Fermanagh Lakes, Sperrin Mountains, Armagh Cathedral and the Planetarium are all within a leisurely driving distance? Relaxation also comes via a trip to the recently-opened Lavender Health Spa - 10 minutes’ drive from the cottage. I loved the heated pool with its hydro-massage jets. During the half-hour pre-treatment period in the swim room, there was fresh fruit and plenty of ice-cold water to keep us ‘hydrated’ while we read magazines on our extended sun-loungers. The treatments we experienced were thoroughly enjoyable. From an extensive selection, we opted for the so-called ‘Lavender Experience’ which lasts three hours, including a one-hour intensive pampering session. My girlfriend was treated to a ‘prescriptive facial’, while I sampled the ‘deep cleansing back experience’. Neither of us could find anything to complain about as we compared notes over tea and scones in the relaxation zone afterwards. Lavender isn’t just for couples wishing to shake off the smog from the city: it’s also an idyllic location for an indulgent stop-off on a hen weekend. The staff were friendly and utterly professional: you got the impression they would have spent all day with you, and they couldn’t have been more welcoming. There are several reputable restaurants in the vicinity, many of which belong to the Flavour of Tyrone Good Food Circle, which advocates the use of local produce. We sampled Salley’s in Aughnacloy and Cano’s Pizzeria in Dungannon, both of which will feature in Sunday Life food reviews. All in all, I would recommend a short sojourn in Tyrone for anyone wishing to blow away the cobwebs. But one last piece of advice — bring plenty of money. It’s cheerful but it’s not exactly cheap. The good thing is, it’s worth it.