We didn't think that finding accommodation in a touristy town such as Enniskillen would be so difficult, but it turns out that everyone else had had the same idea as us.
It was about 3 PM when we arrived, and we both sighed in relief at the thought that for the next three nights, we'd have nothing to do and nowhere to go except what and where we pleased. One of the hard things about bicycle touring with a fixed end date is that if you're not careful, each day can seem like a mission rather than a holiday. It's a veritable mental exercise to keep the spirits high and the laughs coming, especially when your bike breaks down for the umpteenth time and you're so soaked through from the rain that you might as well just throw yourself into the sea. But it's still our preferred way of travelling, and any challenges that come our way are simply part of the experience.
Enniskillen is a picturesque city along the River Erne that's comprised of an undulating main street with many shops, Victorian-looking townhouses, and three (yes three) churches to boot. It's a great place to base yourself for a couple days whilst you enjoy the nature and activities that the surrounding areas have to offer. One such thing that we already have on our agenda is a visit to Belleek 25 miles away - Ireland's oldest pottery studio (read on in the next post for a recap of our trip there).
But first, a place to stay. Before we arrived, we already had one night booked at the Tirconaill Lodge, about a mile out of town, and figured that we'd book the other two nights when we got there. Turns out we didn't need to worry since there was a last-minute cancellation, so the Tirconaill was able to sort us out after all. Luckily, in the event that you're stuck, the tourist office on Wellington Road has a service where for £3, they'll call a bunch of B&Bs in the area that might not be as well advertised and ensure that you'll have a place to rest your head. Worth the fee to save yourself the effort.
We had an hour before our check-in time, so we took the opportunity to visit the Buttermarket on Down Street before it closed, as we wouldn't have time to see it at the weekend. A dairy market in a former life, it has since been renovated from its 1835 original self and is now a craft and design centre for small businesses to make their mark.
At 4:30 PM, we rode over a mile down Sligo Road to a large house that thankfully came with a private parking lot for guests. Michael, the owner of the Tirconaill, greeted us at the door with a friendly smile and showed us to our room. For £60 per night, we got a large double with ensuite bathroom, TV, and our choice of breakfast each morning - perfect for our days of recuperation (as it was in Derry). Whilst this was a few minutes out of the city centre, we did also have a pub and drive-through liquor store (!) right next door should the urge for late-night munchies come up.
After a round of showers and general hanging about watching the latest episode of Home and Away, we took the tandem for a ride back into town for dinner. In its unpacked state, it felt impossibly light and fast, so much so that we got a bit carried away and accidentally rode the wrong way up the one-way main street... Whoops.
Once in town, we were surprised to find that at 8 PM on a Friday evening, all restaurants were either booked solid, had stopped serving (seriously?), or closed early. Luckily, an Indian restaurant on a quiet side street (where we were the only patrons the whole night) saved us and served all the lamb curry and garlic naan we could want.
Enniskillen is also known for its infamous Blakes of the Hollow bar, which is very much part of the fabric of this town after 130 years in business. It seemed like everyone and their best friend was in here tonight as we squeezed into a pew against the back wall and watched Liverpool thump Chelsea (so something good did happen today after all). There was also some fantastic live music happening in the background, and we drifted back and forth amidst the hazy happiness and laughter that only comes from a pub stuffed with local people.
A random fact we learned at Blake of the Hollow was that it was the proud owner of one of the 10 Game of Throne "doors". In January 2016, a storm hit the Dark Hedges (also known as the Kings Road to Westeros) and two trees were taken down as a result. Rather than let the wood rot and be thrown away, the Irish Tourism Board fashioned 10 intricately carved pub doors, each which told a story of an episode from Season 6 of the acclaimed series. They are now scattered in significant filming locations all over Northern Ireland, and we came across our first one here.
It's easy to become pensive under such circumstances, and our conversation took on a more serious turn when Jess brought up the outsider's perspective that over these last few days, she had observed that the majority of people seemed to be more comfortable talking to Neil than her. Perhaps it was because he was from there and they were more amenable to that familiarity. But we've both noticed occasions where only Neil will be addressed in discussions when both of us are concerned, and some won't even look at Jess in the eye. Often enough, they'd ask where he was from, and then Jess would volunteer her origin story to silence.
Eventually, Jess stopped talking at all. It was easier to let Neil take the lead whilst Jess unpacked the bags and stayed in the room. There was no point pushing the matter and demanding to be heard, as it would only lead to everyone feeling uncomfortable. But we wonder in the stories they all tell about that tandem they saw once upon a time which was ridden by a local boy from Belfast - would Jess even be remembered as having been there too?