We reveal why you must consider taking a trip aboard Erne Water Taxi when visiting the Fermanagh Lakelands...
We arrive at the Killyhevlin Lakeside Hotel jetty at 9.00a.m. where the distinctive yellow Erne Water Taxi
is ready and waiting. Barry Flanagan, the owner, pilot and guide greets us with a warm handshake and a welcoming hello. We don our life jackets and settle into the fibre glass boat’s comfy cream leather seats. The 8 seater covered cabin is light and airy, immaculately tidy and smells brand new! The taxi, an innovative on-demand service for water trips on Lough Erne was inaugurated in March this year.
The boat sits low in the water which today is completely calm and smooth as a mirror. We set off at a comfortable cruising speed of 5 knots for a tour of the island town recently celebrated in song by country and western sensation Nathan Carter (Island Town) who lives in Enniskillen and is himself a keen boatman. As we glide past the Killyhevlin lakeside chalets we get a cheery wave from residents eating breakfast on their balcony. Usually this stretch of Lough Erne is busy with pleasure boats, cruisers, water skiers, canoes, kayaks, fishermen and rowing boats (local school rowing crews train here) but this morning we have it all to ourselves save for the odd duck or swan. We can therefore enjoy uninterrupted views of the river, its banks lush with summer reeds and water lilies. We pass the Ardhowen theatre and then a row of elegant homes with immaculate lawns and private jetties.
The large office building which is the headquarters of Waterways Ireland, the body that regulates all the waterways, rivers and canals in Ireland, comes into view. Barry is enthusiastic about their latest initiative, the Blueways trail, which will offer a wide range of recreational water and waterside activities and facilities.
Erne Water Taxi cruising on Lough Erne
Though Barry Flanagan and his wife Helen, both trained as architects, they enjoy outdoor sports and have become increasingly involved in local tourism. In 2014, Barry directed the first ever Islander Festival on Upper Lough Erne. The couple set up their new company when they realised there was a need for a water taxi which could travel the length and breadth of the Erne waterway, all 38 miles of it and stop off at Devenish or Cleenish, Inishcorkish or Dernish which are just some of the 154 islands. The taxi can be booked at short notice and can accommodate family and visitor groups for sightseeing or heritage tours, sunrise to sunset.
Barry explains how a three hour round trip from Enniskillen will take passengers as far as Crom Castle in Upper Lough Erne or White Island on the lower lake. The water taxi carries a cool box, a small gas cooking stove and, for the Islander Picnic, a hamper filled with a mouth watering array of first class locally produced foods including freshly baked soda and wheaten breads. Pat O’Doherty’s award winning black bacon and black pudding is supplied from his herd of Wessex pure black, Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot pigs raised on Inishcorkish island. Corleggy cheese is made in Belturbet from the raw milk of goats, sheep and cows. Near Enniskillen, Jayne Paget produces Erin Grove preserves, chutneys and marmalades. Tickety Moo ice cream is manufactured from the creamiest Jersey cow milk down on the farm at Killadeas. There is craft beer from Inishmacsaint and Sheelin Blonde Ale from Bellanaleck. And of course food tastes even better in the open air!
From 10.00a.m. to 1.00p.m each Saturday the Erne Water Taxi is participating in the Lough Erne Food trail in support of Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, 2016. The trip includes a cruise on either Upper or Lower Lough Erne and a lunch at any one of four restaurants including the Watermill near Lisnaskea, the Catalina at the Lough Erne Golf Resort, the Belleek at the Manor House Hotel or Kove at the Killyhevlin Lakeside Hotel. Here head chef Kevin Watson and premier sous chef Trevor Shannon have devised an exceptional taster menu which includes Killyhevlin Whiskey cured salmon from Keenan’s, Fermanagh Black Bacon paté maison with Berry Preserve and Irish stout ice cream.
Meanwhile, on our hour-long taxi tour, we get a close up view of Enniskillen castle’s ancient Watergate then drive under the town’s west bridge in the direction of the Round O which is one of the main pick up points for the Erne Water Taxi, the other being the jetty at the Lakeland Forum. Before we turn back up river we pause to admire a superb view of the imposing 400 year old Portora Royal School soon to be renamed Enniskillen Royal Grammer School whose most famous past pupils include Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and Henry Francis Lyte.
At a point on the water where speed restrictions do not apply, Barry accelerates to 30 knots in order to demonstrate the capacity of his boat. It moves through the water with exhilarating ease then returns smoothly to a cruising pace. We moor up once more at the Killyhevlin landing jetty. It’s been a perfect early morning tour and now for a coffee in the hotel’s conservatory lounge!