Staycations in Ireland: Stairway to Heaven and Co. Fermanagh

Stunning Views. Delicious Food. Bucket List Ticked!

Ticking adventures and places off my Bucket List has been rather progressive in the past few years, and last week I managed to tick off another thing: walking the Stairway to Heaven! Cuilcagh Mountain, which is derived from Binn Chuilceach, meaning “chalky peak” as Gaeilge, is the highest mountain in Co. Cavan and Co. Fermanagh, whilst also being the only cross-border county mountain peak on the island of Ireland. The Cuilcagh Boardwalk Trail (also known as the Stairway to Heaven or Cuilcagh Legnabrocky Trail) was only opened five years ago in 2015, and is one of Ireland’s top natural attractions.

For those not familiar with Ireland’s geography and borders, Co. Cavan is in the Republic of Ireland and Co. Fermanagh is in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom.

The views along the hike are just beautiful, with purple heather, a few dozen sheep, as well as a little lake. The Cuilcagh Mountain Park has a huge blanket bog that’s bounded by limestone grassland to the north and montane habitats to the south.

So how long did it take us? Well from the carpark to the top of the stairway and back, it was a total of 11km and only took us 3 hours with a few small breaks. You may have read elsewhere of people claiming it takes four or five hours, but don’t believe that! If like me, you’re relatively fit and keep a steady pace, you’ll manage it in three hours or less (and I have bandy knees!). The full hike will include three different terrain: a dusty stone path over the hills, the wooden boardwalk and then the steps. Take your time, take in the views and enjoy it all!

What should you wear? I do recommend you wear good footwear with cushioned socks, runners or hiking shoes are best, and workout gear/loungwear – leggings and a top will do the trick. Definitely bring water and some energy-boosting snacks, and even a sambo if you take a well-deserved break by the big rocks. And please take home your litter! Be aware there are no spots for bathroom breaks…and nowhere to hide from others to do it in the open!

TRAVEL & ACCOMMODATION DETAILS

Myself and the girls headed over from Dublin on a Monday morning for our short staycation and the drive was about 2.5 hours. We stayed at the Customs House Country Inn at the nearby village of Belcoo, Co. Fermanagh, which I booked via Booking.com for the night and it was a really great price. Similar to Cuilcagh, Belcoo is on the cusp of the Republic and Northern Ireland’s borders, resting in the latter by Lough Macnean Lower. The hotel is very nice, with a restaurant and bar area as well as guestrooms. The staff in both the hotel and restaurant was excellent and friendly, and their PPE was excellent too.

I had my own room on this trip, which featured a double bed, desk & chairs, with a large bath in the en suite. The bed was decent and comfortable, though I could feel the middle bit where I knew it was two single beds put together, whilst the bath was well and truly availed and very relaxing. What I will note is my room was way too warm, and the window barely opened to let air in, and unfortunately there was no air conditioning unit visible either.

PLEASE NOTE DURING CLOSE-PROXIMITY ACTIVITIES ON MY TRIP, I DID WEAR A FACE MASK, WASH MY HANDS AND/OR USE HAND SANITISER TO ABIDE COVID-19 GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES

RECOMMENDATIONS – DINING

Obviously where I eat out is important to me, and though many restaurants may be closed on a Monday, I booked evening dinner at our hotel’s restaurant, Customs House Country Inn, which was not only popular with residents but non-residents too.

The dining room was beautifully decorated with comfortable chairs, elaborate chandeliers and spacious tables. The dinner menu has a really wonderful range of options, including vegan dishes, but we skipped starters and went straight for the main courses; I ordered the Rack of Ribs and the Chocolate Brownie for dessert and a cheeky glass of Monkey 47 gin on ice.

The Rack of Ribs came out smothered in delicious Hickory BBQ sauce, in which they were also glazed, alongside coleslaw, salad and skinny fries on the side. It was a huge portion, but well earned after my hike. The meat was succulent, completely fat free and fell off the ribs beautifully – no sticky hands necessary! The flavour was excellent, smokey yet sweet, complimented by the freshness of the slaw and salad, and the fries soaked up the leftover sauce too.

Somehow I was able to fit more into my tummy, and hence ordered that day’s dessert special, which was an indulgent Chocolate Brownie with Hazelenuts and Raspberry, and a hazelnut ice cream too. To say that this was delicious would be really underselling it – it was feckin’ unreal! The chocolate brownie is always a favourite of mine, and raspberries are such a compliment but the crunch of the hazelnuts really added to this dessert. With a glass of Baileys, it was a perfect finish to our evening!

Customs House Country Inn also partake in the “Eat Out to Help Out” initiative in Northern Ireland, whereby you benefit from a 50% discount, up to a maximum of £10 per person, on food and non-alcoholic drinks, any Monday to Wednesday in August!

We opted for Bed & Breakfast at the Customs House Country Inn, and I must say I was impressed with their setup. Breakfast was available from 8am-11am, and when you come down in the morning you’re first shown to the fresh & dried fruit and yogurt station, where behind glass you can choose from a combination-choice: fruit salad or singular fruits, granola, oats, fruit coulis, homemade jam, yogurt and cereal too. There is also a selection of fresh fruit juices.

We sat at our same table from the dinner night before, which was designated for our booking only! The hot menu has a wonderful variety from Bacon Brioche or Poached Eggs on homemade Wheaten Bread, to the Traditional Full Irish, Burren Smoked Salmon with Scrambled Eggs, Cinnamon Porridge and more.

After a few minutes deciding, I chose the Eggs Benedict, which was served on a brioche bun with spinach and crispy bacon too. When it appeared, I was rather blown away with the generous portion size, and two runny poached eggs, lathered with Hollandaise sauce! Every bite was delicious, the bacon was perfectly crispy and the brioche bun soaked up the sauce and eggs the way it should. Bualadh bos!

Recommendations – Enniskillen

Before our journey home from Northern Ireland, we stopped into Enniskillen for a midday looksee. This town is beautiful. A sunny Tuesday afternoon, we parked at Enniskillen Castle Museums, which seems to be Free Parking – we had a few encounters with fellow visitors who also weren’t unsure if it was free or pay to park. We had a lovely wander around the grounds along the River Erne and Upper Lough Erne, seeing ducks and doggies, and a lot of happy smiley people. The views along the river are truly picturesque, you’d think you were abroad in Italy or France, but no, it’s Enniskillen!

It’s also a great spot for families as the park has the Council Play Park that’s full of enjoyable activities for all ages. Wandering through the streets of Enniskillen then, we walked along Darling Street, passed the pink-painted Enniskillen Methodist Church and stopped into The Jolly Sandwich Bar for a cuppa and sweet treat to take away. We returned to the park, sat by The Inniskillings Museum looking onto River Erne and took in the views before hitting the road back to Dublin.

Nirina xx

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Images © Nirina Plunkett

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