Much of inland Northern Ireland is formed by neighbouring Tyrone and Fermanagh, predominantly rural counties whose few sizeable towns, with the exception of Omagh, lie at the eastern and western fringes of the region. Stretching from the shores of the vast Lough Neagh in the east to the Donegal border in the west, Tyrone is primarily a farming country with little evidence of industrialization apart from the neat planters’ villages that grew up with the linen industry and a smattering of heavier industries in the towns near Lough Neagh. The county’s chief scenic attractions can be found in the wild and desolate Sperrin Mountains in the north, where the village of Gortin, on the Ulster Way footpath, makes a good base. The region’s towns hold little of interest, though the largest, Omagh, is near the Ulster American Folk Park, which explores the connections between the Ulster province and the US.
In contrast to Tyrone, Fermanagh attracts plenty of visitors – chiefly for its watersports, boating and fishing. Justly famous for the intense beauty of its lakes, much of its landscape is dominated by their waters, which, along with numerous rivers, constitute more than a third of the county’s area. At its core is Lough Erne, a huge lake complex dotted with islands and surrounded by richly beautiful countryside. Lower Lough Erne, in the northwest, draws the most visitors, but the Upper Lough in the southeast also has its attractions, its hills wooded with oak, ash and beech. There are plenty of opportunities for watersports, while the less energetic can get onto the lough by renting a boat or taking a cruise. Walkers will find mostly gentle hills and woods which rise to small mountains in the south and west of the county, made accessible by the Ulster Way. For cyclists, there are well-surfaced, empty roads though routes around the Upper Lough are harder to negotiate, with little lanes often leading to the empty reed-filled shore – an atmospheric spot for a picnic.
At the point where the Upper and Lower loughs meet, the county town of Enniskillen has long been a strategic bridging point: today, it has more amenities than the rest of Fermanagh put together, and, consequently, makes an ideal base for touring the area. With your own transport you can easily access Fermanagh’s impressive series of planters’ castles, while two of the county’s stately houses, Florence Court and Castle Coole, are open to the public.