In May we headed to County Fermanagh, home, amongst other things, to some lakes, Enniskillen, Ballinamallard Football Club and the Marble Arch Caves.
"Go on, you've got to pick something to do for your birthday" they urged in a coffee shop.
"I dunno, how about the Marble Arch Caves". That decided, the day came and Norngirl rang ahead to make sure the caves were open and not flooded, we got picked up by our friend and we were on our way.
Yeahhhhhh, it didn't quite go to plan at first as we ended up in Portadown. Never worry though, we soon realised the mistake, not being in the right town and all that, and made our way back to the M1. As we made our way along the road I may have been a little excitable and have spent time annoying everyone else in the car by making farm yard animals as we passed by the relevant creatures in the fields. In my defence, being mentally three I was acting my age. Our next stop was the village of Augher, which was, for the most part, shut. Thankfully the quite nice public toilets were open, as was the convenience store so we did get some drinks and snacks.
Up the hill from Augher came Clogher and then Fivemiletown, a thousand or so fields later and we were in Enniskillen. Here we went for a wander, found a bar and had lunch. I don't know much about what is in Enniskillen other than what I've since read about the place. Sadly we didn't have chance to stay for very long but we saw the high street:, a monument to a former Earl of the town and part of the River Erne.
On the way out of town we also saw the castle, a Cathedral and a couple of churches. It'd be nice to head back at some point in the future and maybe have a better look around the area as it was just a lunch stop on this occasion.
So we had some caves to find and they were out in the County Fermanagh countryside. The Marble Arch Caves themselves are not too far, about 12 miles South-West from Enniskillen. Once we had arrived at the visitors centre and bought our tickets (£8.50 each) for the guided tour of the caves. In the centre there are lots of information boards to read as well as a cafe and a gift shop.
We waited on the benches by the door where the tours leave from and before long it was our turn to be counted and head down the forest path to the caves.
After a bit of an introduction to the scenery in the forest and the geology underfoot.
We descended down the steps cutting through the karst scenery and admired the limestone rock faces.
It's at this point you head underground into one of natures little wonders, the Marble Arch show cave. To begin with there is a short ride on an electric boat along a part of the underground Cladagh River.
Then the rest of the journey was on foot. I really liked the little boat ride as it was a nice spectacle, but being a nerd I preferred the walking part as it allowed me to straggle behind a little and take more time admiring the pretty cave structures (Sorry tour guide lady, I must have been a nightmare!).
The caves are full of all the usual favourites of a solution cave, from stalactites, stalagmites and columns, to slimey looking flowstone features.
When we got to the part of the cave where they've built a submerged walkway through part of the river, I did feel a little like I was in the queue for a ride on the Valhalla at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. It's just for access though and as we reached the far end of the section of the caves that are part of the tour it was obvious as to why they were eager to gain access to show visitors this part:
After cutting back to the steps we made our ascent back up a lot of stairs (thankfully with a bench to rest on half way) and back to the gift shop where we promptly bought a fridge magnet to add to our collection.
I loved the whole underground adventure but then I was totally in my element (seemingly my element is Calcium, who knew!). I'm not too sure if everyone else enjoyed the caves as much as I did (apparently not everyone has nerdgasms about rocks, I know right, what's wrong with 'em?) but everyone did say they enjoyed the trip.
I'd highly recommend a visit if you like this sort of thing, it's a bit of a way to travel from Belfast (give a couple of hours to get there by car) but as far as being worth the trip, I thought that it really was, I only wish I could have spent longer down in those caves. I shall have to go back one day!