This week I was in Fermanagh for a short visit to preview the Festival Lough Erne that is taking place all this week and over the weekend. The highlight of the visit was a feast in the forest of Castle Caldwell, the home of the minerals used to make Belleek China. The town of Belleek is nearby and has a beautiful visitor centre for the rare China.
Though the castle is now an ivy-covered ruin, the grounds provide lots of walking and hiking trails. After a walk with two local guides, we arrived at a magical glade in the forest to the tinkling of a gentleman harpist.
Here a table made from the trunk of a tree was festooned and garlanded in moss and trailing ivy leaves. Platters made from slices of fallen trees were our placemats for an extraordinary dinner. This was the setting of Wilde Dining with Festival Lough Erne one of the events being showcased for this week.
Candlelight, crystal glasses, linen napkins, bonfires and twinkling fairy lights were the accompaniments to provide a stunning meal by celebrity chef Paula McIntyre. She cooked some of the food offsite and finished it on the wood fire.
The ingredients used were from food producers in Ulster. They included Fermanagh Sika venison, pork and black pudding from O’Dohertys of Enniskillen, Ballylisk cheese, Boatyard gin in the raspberry truffles, and apples from her own garden. See menu.
It was a fantastic experience to sit in a forest glade, eating beautiful food. The weather was lovely, dry and cool and no midges. There was a lot of chatter and laughter; sitting out under fairy lights in a forest will bring out the excited child in anyone.
After dinner there was a cocktail from the local gin distillery, the Boatyard Distillery based at Tullybay Marina. Three of the guests took part in a blind tasting of the botanicals that go into making the Boatyard Gin.
The meal event was organised by local designer and stylist Cathy McGovern, and no detail was left undone. There were Portaloos hidden among the trees, too. This event was quite an achievement when you are a business woman with two young children. At the end of the evening Cathy and her husband Geoff entertained us with music and guitar-playing. Another string to Cathy’s bow, is that she is a fine singer too.
The Feast in the Forest will be recreated next weekend, see details here.
The Lakelands of Fermanagh are aptly named as more than a third of the landmass of the county is covered in water. There are 154 islands to explore in this green county. Set in the north west midlands of Ireland, Fermanagh has developed tourism around its natural resources.
Here you will find lakes and rivers stocked with wild trout, salmon and pike. On Monday morning we watched enthralled from our fishing boat as a fisherman caught an eight-kilo pike nearby. Soon after he caught yet another one, maybe not as big, but still substantial.
It was a sunny autumn morning on Lower Lough Erne where we were trying our hand at fishing, a first for me and my two friends. Though the ghillie told us women were often lucky at fishing, we caught naught. Just as well, I probably would have screamed with fright.
We stayed in Dulrush Lodge five minutes from Belleek and next door to Castle Caldwell. Though primarily a fishing venue with its own harbour and boats Dulrush has great facilities for all kinds of trips to Fermanagh.
Women will love the outdoor hot tubs, there are three big ones. There is a outdoor lane swimming pool, sauna and steam room, and lovely grounds to explore. Dulrush is also a working farm and loved by families, see website here.