Ireland // Tyrone and Fermanagh //

The Marble Arch Caves and around

Fermanagh’s caves are renowned, and while some are for experts only, the most spectacular system of all, the Marble Arch Caves, five miles west of Florence Court, is accessible to anyone of average fitness or above. A tour of the system lasts around an hour and a quarter, beginning with a boat journey along a subterranean river, then on through brilliantly lit chambers, calcite-walled and dripping with stalactites and fragile mineral veils. Tours of the caves are sometimes booked out by parties, so it’s worth calling ahead; in a steady Irish downpour the caves can be flooded, so check weather reports as well. You’ll need sturdy walking shoes and warm clothing as the temperature can drop significantly.

From whichever direction you approach the caves, you’ll travel along the Marlbank Scenic Loop, with tremendous views of Lower Lough Macnean, and on either side you’ll see limestone-flagged fields, much like those of The Burren in County Clare. It was fifty thousand years of gentle water seepage through the limestone that deposited the calcite for the amazing stalactite growths in the caves below.

Almost opposite the caves’ entrance is the Legnabrocky Trail, which runs through rugged limestone scenery and peatland to the shale-covered slopes of Cuilcagh Mountain. This forms part of an environmental conservation area and offers a strenuous six- or seven-hour walk to the mountain’s summit and back (be prepared to turn back if the weather turns sour). A part of the Marble Arch Caves centre is now devoted to an exhibition describing the restoration of the mountain park’s damaged peatland and bogland habitats.