From extraordinary underground caves to tranquil waterside walks, there are plenty of ways to fall for the delights of the Shannon-Erne Waterway.
Standing on the flat, heather-flecked
bogland at the top of Slieve Rushen, it’s astonishing to think that beneath
your feet lie horizontal layers of sandstone and limestone first deposited here
over 300 million years ago. This is an ancient landscape, where echoes of the
past are everywhere, especially if you know where to look.
Panoramic views stretch out from the
summit, but cast your gaze northwest and you’ll see the Cuilcagh Mountain, formed
when the land was once covered by a tropical sea millions of years ago. The Ice
Age has made its mark, too, with ridges, mounds and drumlins threaded into this
distinctive terrain, while traces of humans who once called this place home are
evident in megalithic stone tombs and Bronze Age burial cairns.
At the foot of Slieve Rushen sits the easy-going
town of Ballyconnell, which can trace its history back to around 3500BC. Back
then, Ballyconnell would have been an attractive place to make a settlement,
with its location on a ford and in the thick of a forest. Today, the water is
still a fundamental characteristic of the town, thanks to its position along
the Shannon-Erne Waterway – which takes in 63km of river, lake and still-water
canal. It makes Ballyconnell a sort of outdoor playground where you can enjoy
the soft beauty of shimmering waters and quiet woodland, get stuck into an
afternoon of horse riding, cycling, kayaking and golf, and finish up with an
evening in a cosy, local pub.
Venture beyond town and the Shannon-Erne
Waterway – which started life in 1860 as the Ballinamore and Ballyconnell canal
– opens up before you. Here, in summer, cruises and barges float along its
glassy waters, and walkers and cyclists explore the Blueway paths and trails,
which run both on and off it. But at any time of the year a trip along the
Shannon-Erne Waterway’s placid shores rewards with delightful rural scenery and
a wealth of wildlife, including swans and otters.
Scattered across the landscapes are the
charming towns and villages of Leitrim village, Belturbet and Ballinamore; world-class
experiences from the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark to the conservation haven
of Crom Estate; and a burgeoning food scene that can be enjoyed at fire-warmed
pubs and charming waterside restaurants.
Take it slow, embrace your adventurous side and
you’ll quickly find that Ballyconnell and the Shannon-Erne Waterway is one of Ireland’s
most rewarding destinations.