Staycation - discovering the joys of one of Donegal's neighbouring counties

A view of life in Donegal through the coronavirus crisis by journalist Siobhán McNamara

Ready to go canoeing on Leitrim's Lake Garadice

Ready to go canoeing on Leitrim's Lake Garadice on the Shannon-Erne waterway

‘Staycation’ is the buzzword of the summer and the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that you don’t need to go far to have a relaxing, enjoyable holiday.

I was disappointed earlier this year to have to cancel my long-awaited family holiday to France. If you had told me then that by early August I would be very happy to be heading off for a few days in Leitrim, I’m not sure how I would have felt. 

I say that with no disrespect intended towards our neighbouring county which certainly merits its tagline of Lovely Leitrim. And as we discovered, it has a lot to offer a family on staycation.

The mountains of north Leitrim were already somewhat familiar to me but the lakelands region where we rented a house for a few days was new territory. 

We were on the shores of Lake Garadice a little to the east of Ballinamore on the Shannon-Erne waterway. According to tourism brochures there are 40 lakes within a 10km radius of Ballinamore and there certainly seemed to be one around every corner. 

We had brought our Canadian canoe, and were very happy to take to the water and relax on a quiet,  tree-lined river that ran behind the holiday home (Garadice View) linking Lake Gardadice to a smaller lake.

On the recommendation of a lady from Leitrim that I had been speaking to on my last day of work before heading off, we visited Leitrim Village and hired bicycles. There was an option to hire electric bikes which sounded like a good idea given how long it is since I was last on a bicycle. But I refrained from taking the easy option, figuring that a round trip of 7km on canal paths would be manageable with pedal power alone, and that the exercise would do me good.

It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable afternoons I have spent in a long time. The earlier drizzle had cleared to a pleasant but not too hot day and the people in Leitrim Electric Bike Trails made sure we all had bikes to suit our various shapes and sizes. 

The journey along the canal path was an absolute joy. Locks and bridges, flora and fauna, and some lovely conversations with boat owners all contributed to the experience. There was a strong sense of history in the engineering ingenuity of the locks, the well worn path once travelled by barge horses, the lock houses and the remains of huge winches along the way.

As we reached the turning point, I spotted a sign for McNamara’s bar and shop. There aren’t too many of us McNamaras here in the north west, and we had planned on stopping for refreshments anyway so we popped into the shop for ice cream and water. 

Mary McNamara gave us a warm welcome in the well-stocked little shop. The adjoining bar (Sheemore Inn) like so many others was closed due to Covid-19 restrictions but Mary told us that she was getting organised to start serving food with a view to being able to reopen. 

We left feeling refreshed, with promises to call in  if we were down that way again.

Our visit to Leitrim was short but it is only down the road and we will make a few day trips to further explore the waterways, trails and many hidden gems that this lovely county has to offer.

We have been enjoying day trips in our own lovely Donegal too, which also has a lot to offer.

This  pandemic is awful, but if it helps us to reconnect with the people and places around us, then at least something good will have come out of it.

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