Apart from a seasonal ferry to White Island and a larger boat to Devenish Island there are no commercial boat services on either Upper or Lower Lough Erne.
If you want to explore the lough you have two choices. You can drive around it stopping off at points of interest and take the available boat trips to Devenish and White Islands. Alternatively, or additionally, you can hire a boat and spend some time out on the lough.
In terms of hiring a boat there are two approaches – you can hire a cabin cruiser – expensive, though it does double up as a hotel, or you can hire a more modest boat for a half or a full day.
I have never hired a cabin cruiser (some day I will) so this review relates to day boat hire.
There are a number of places hiring day boats including Castle Archdale Boat Hire and the Manor House Marine both of which I recommend.
Both operators boats are fairly similar and cost roughly the same. Two size of craft are available, one holding up to six persons and the other up to eight. The boat for six costs (2015) GBP85-90 for a day and that for eight GBP125-130 (summer 2015 prices). Half day hire (4 hours) ranges from $60 (six persons) to GBP90 (eight persons). If you choose to hire a boat I strongly recommend hiring it for a full day (8 hours).
The cost of the boats include buoyancy aids, navigation charts and fuel, so no hidden extras. You need no licenses or skills to operate these boats but the hirer must provide photographic identification and be over 21.
In terms of value for money, if you plan on visiting White Island and Devenish (which I imagine 90% of hirers would do and something 100% should do!) using the ferries mentioned earlier would cost GBP 84 for six persons and GBP 112 for eight. Having your own boat for a day lets you visit additional places and provides you personal freedom. It’s really a no brainer for six plus persons.
Of course most visitors do not arrive in groups of six or eight (and personally I feel those numbers on the respective boats leave them overcrowded) so you will need to consider value based on the size of your group. I think a day hire by two people is worth the money if it’s a nice day – this really is a beautiful area to explore.
A few of words of caution should you decide to hire a boat:
Firstly, Lough Erne is much bigger than it looks on maps and in guidebooks and you will not be able to go from one end of it to the other and back in a day. Picture 2 attached (courtesy of Manor House Marine – though I have added the location of Castle Archdale/White Island) depicts the lower lough and a small part of the upper lough (at the bottom). It details one way cruising times from the Manor House Marina.
I would suggest the following itinerary for a full day hire – White Island, Devenish Island and Enniskillen with a run out to Bellanaleck for a taste of the upper lough and the nice pastries they do in the café in the village!
Secondly, the large expanse of water at the northern end of the lower lake can get rough should the wind pick up so be careful and keep a close eye on weather conditions. Personally I feel this section of the lough is the least pretty anyway and your time would be better spent elsewhere on the lough. Note that you can drive onto Lusty Beg/ Boa Islands (there is a restaurant/ bar on the former and more importantly you can see ‘Janus and the Lusty Man’ on the latter (separate review)) so I would not use scare boat time to get there.
Finally, drinking and operating a boat is not a good idea.
Operating times and contact details:
Castle Archdale Boat Hire – Castle Archdale Marina, Lisnarick, Irvinestown – Tel: (028) 686 21156 or (028) 686 21892 – http://www.castlearchdaleboathire.com/boats.html
10 am – 6pm daily during July and August, and on weekends and bank (public) holidays during March April, May, June and September.
Manor House Marine – Manor House Marine & Cottages, Killadeas – Tel (028) 686 28100 – http://www.manormarine.com/day-boats
I have not been able to find operating times for this operator though I suspect they would be the same as Castle Archdale.
It is a good idea to ring both operators in advance to reserve a boat in high season or to check operating times out of high season.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on many trips to Enniskillen. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Take the Ferry to White Island – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – “Fare thee well Enniskillen, ………..”