Weekend break: Lusty Beg, Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh

 

Weekend break: Lusty Beg, Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh

FIRST, there’s the name. When you tell someone that you’re off to Lusty Beg, there’s a quizzical little smile and then the question. Lusty what?

Well, there’s Lusty Beg, or little Lusty, derived from the Irish word lóiste or lodge.

Then, there’s the wild-fowl reserve Lusty Mór (Big Lusty) but there’s no Lusty Mheán (medium Lusty), which is just as well as that sounds far too like Lusty Man for comfort.

That’s the thing about Lusty Beg: once you’ve heard the name, you’ll never forget it.

What you won’t know until you go there is that you’ll never forget the place either.

This 75-acre island on Lower Lough Erne is a singular gem that makes a lasting impression.

Initially though, it’s all about forgetting.

When you take the two-minute ferry ride out to the island, it’s as if you’re stepping into another time zone.

There is something about the act of crossing that tiny stretch of lake water that makes you feel as if you’re entering a sanctuary far removed from the frantic hubbub of daily life.

It’s raining hard when we arrive. (“Well, we have to fill the lake somehow,” island owners Arthur and Liz Cadden say later.)

The path to our wooden refuge is alive with frogs and the smell of woodland immediately informs your city-weary body that you are far away from it all.

To talk about full-bodied, warm welcomes is something of a cliché, but here it is utterly true.

We are shepherded to our four-star lakeside lodge with the benevolence of a kindly relative. Mary and Catherine, thank you.

We turn the key in the door to find a lodge that is luxurious, spacious and ultra-modern, yet welcoming and cosy.

There’s a stove in the corner, a big squishy leather sofa, a bottle of wine in the fridge and the makings of a cuppa in the superbly kitted-out kitchen.

The hypnotic sound of the lake lapping against the shore is the only sound as the night-time rain subsides.

The following morning is bright and magnificent.

We can see now that the lake is just metres away from the verandah; a pair of swans is gliding up and down to complete the almost-too-idyllic picture.

You can, if you like, make breakfast yourself or beat a path to the island restaurant for a full Ulster breakfast.

We do the latter and, thus fortified, walk the length and breadth of the island, following the signposted nature trails.

We can hear the parp parp of clay-pigeon shooting in the distance.

And for those who want a rush of adrenalin, there’s off-road driving, archery and canoeing.

There’s a wedding today, too, and we can see the bridal party assemble.

When Liz and Arthur Cadden took over the island in the 1990s, it was popular as a venue for corporate team-building.

However, when the phones stopped ringing after the crash in 2008 they had to take stock and rethink.

The line seemed to go dead all at once, they recall.

They shifted the focus to weddings and weekend breaks.

We sneak a peek into the Art Deco-inspired Willow Room, which is beautifully set out for a civil ceremony.

Yet, all of this is happening in the distance and while the wedding party feels it has the island to themselves, so do we — Lusty Beg is big enough and well-planned enough for that.

After tea and fancies, it’s time to float away into oblivion at the island spa with a massage and facial using organic Voya products made in nearby Sligo.

A shout-out and thank you to the gifted Amy and Stacey.

Soaking in the oily ooze of a hot, hand-harvested seaweed bath is not for everyone, but I beg you to try it.

A friend once compared it to going back to the amniotic fluid of the womb.

I don’t know about that but it does make you feel as if you are enveloped in an inviolate capsule of warmth and safety.

Afterwards, I’m able to take in the fact that seaweed baths not only relax the muscles but can help psoriasis, eczema and very dry skin.

When I come to from that state of deep, deep relaxation, we amble out on to the jetty and step aboard the rigid inflatable boat to take a trip around the lake and some of its 100-plus islands.

A storm can whip up on Lough Erne in a flash, says skipper Kaupo, doing the equivalent of a hand-break turn to give us an idea how a sudden gale might rock the boat.

We round the tip of the island and see so many swans that I have to look up the collective noun (“a bevy or a whiteness of swans, apparently).

Fermanagh itself is teeming with wildlife.

Later, we meet a man with a serious camera: he shows us his celebrity shot, a stunning close-up of a robin.

If he’s lucky, he could spot anything from a tawny owl and sparrowhawk to a great spotted woodpecker or nuthatch.

It’s appetite-inducing work. We’re back at the restaurant trying to pick from a menu of locally sourced food.

We pick two starters — gambas pil pil and wild mushrooms on toast — followed by Killybegs hake fillet with winter cabbage and Gubeen chorizo, and chicken Tikka Masala.

The chocolate fudge cake is a step too far, but there’s always tomorrow.

And it does feel as if time has been magically suspended in this very special place.

Two nights’ B&B with €25.50 credit in the spa costs €151 for two people, staying in the Courtyard Bed and Breakfast.

Two nights’ in self-catering with a two-course meal and breakfast both mornings for four people costs £228.

For more offers, see www.lustybegisland.com

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