Wonderous walking trails that unfurl into peaceful forests, paths that weave beside placid waters and hikes over ancient mountains – welcome to the Shannon-Erne Waterway.
Off-the-beaten track is an understatement for the landscape that surrounds the Shannon-Erne Waterway. This is countryside that compels you to go slow and take your time – a place where herons stand silently at the river’s edge and swans glide through the vitreous sheen of the river. Walking here is a particularly rewarding experience with a real variety of treks, ambles and hikes thanks to the Shannon-Erne Blueway series of trails that run on or along the water. You’ll find everything from gentle paths beside inky canals to trails that sweep off into ancient demesnes. There are mountains to explore, historic estates to scamper around and ancient forests filled with wildlife. And if it’s isolation you want, there’s no better place. Visit here in the pale light of winter and you’ll be gloriously alone, wandering for hours by quiet waters that boast glassy reflections of the skeletal branches and huge open skies above.
Ballinamore Looped Walking Trail, 4.5km
A great one for kids, this easy-going looped walking trail starts and finishes in the busy town of Ballinamore. There are a couple of road crossings and a canal crossing at the Ardrum Lock, but otherwise you'll mostly be beside tranquil waters where traffic is a distant memory. The looped trail starts and finishes at the Ballinamore Marina.
Ballyduff to Aghoo Bridge Walking Trail, 8km
Starting at the chunky stone lock of Ballyduff, this linear walking trail sweeps around through forest and farmland and by a golf course with the water at your side. It's a gorgeously quiet scenic route that shimmers with the electric green of the lush surrounding landscape in the summer, and offers a mix of forest, navy-coloured water and sweeping farmland. Crossing through the village of Ballinamore (a great place to stop off for a lunch in Smyth Siopa Ol), the route continues on towards the 19th century bridge at Aghoo.
Ballyconnell Loop Walking Trail, about 6km
Starting and finishing at the scenic village of Ballyconnell, this great looped trail sweeps into a landscape that mixes silky waters with a woodland of oak, ash and beech. Starting off, you'll have the Woodford River – part of a canal linking the Shannon and Erne rivers – by your side. Cross a couple of stiles and you'll be into Annagh Lough Woods, which was once part of the old Ballyconnell Demesne. The path here loops around the forest, before bringing you back along the river trail to Ballyconnell.
Killarcan to Kilclare Walking Trail, about 5km
Starting at lock 16 just a short distance from Leitrim Village, this lovely waterside walking trail takes you along a mainly grassy surface, crossing over locks and little bridges. It's flat most of the way, and an easy-going option at just 5km, although bear in mind it's linear and not looped.
Crom Estate Walking Trails
Get lost in nature, surround yourself with history and experience a sublime landscape of woods, islands and castle ruins at the wonderful Crom Estate. Set beside Lough Erne, the estate is a hugely important conservation site and is home to one of Ireland's rare broadleaved woodlands, filled with oak trees and a rich diversity of plant and animal life, including lichens and mosses. The remarkable Old Castle ruins will certainly catch your attention while walking here. Built in the early 17th century by a Scottish planter, Michael Balfour, the castle survived two sieges in 1689, before succumbing to a devastating fire in 1764. Nearby, you'll find the remarkable Yew Trees of Crom, which featured on the list of the 50 Greatest British Trees. Hire a boat and take in views of Gad Island and Crichton Tower; escape into the woodlands along the Wildlife Trail; or enjoy afternoon tea at the café, with views over the water.
Belturbet Heritage Town Trail
A great way of getting to know the historic town of Belturbet is with this leisurely walking trail. As well as taking in the town hall and Old Railway Station, you'll get a glimpse of nature, too, at Kilconny Quay. It will also bring you along the River Erne deep into the history of the area to one of Belturbet's most important sites: Turbet Island and the motte and bailey. Amazingly, it was here that the first ever remnants in Europe of the prehistoric woolly mammoth were found. Keep an eye out, too, for the motte and bailey, which would have once contained houses and other structures and reflects the island's importance as a crossing point in the River Erne.
Cuilcagh Boardwalk (Cuilcagh Legnabrocky Trail)
The imposing bulk of Cuilcagh Mountain dominates the surrounding landscape and offers something quite extraordinary to visitors: a linear walking route, a little over 12km in length, that takes you from the car park right to the mountain's distinctive flat summit, via a stepped wooden boardwalk. The views are breathtaking whichever direction you walk: head up the mountain and you'll find yourself fascinated by the play of light across Cuilcagh's rugged flanks. Reach the top of the boardwalk and you'll be gifted with the sight of Lough Atona, a glacial lake nestled at the foot of the mountain. And on the way back, enjoy a soul-stirring vista of distant blue hills, vast expanses of rust-coloured bog and the glinting waters of Lough McNean.