Castle of Dreams – Heather White finds out about luxury self-catering accommodation in the West Wing of Crom Castle, County Fermanagh.
Close to the shimmering waters of Upper Lough Erne, Crom Castle stands proud in the morning sunlight. With its turrets and towers stretching far into the sky above, this Victorian Castle is both enchanting and mysterious. Designed in the 1800s by the architect Blore, who was responsible for sections of Buckingham Palace, it is the private home of Lord and Lady Erne and is not open to the public. However, in a new venture, the Earl and his son Viscount Crichton are opening the West Wing as an exclusive self-catering retreat for groups of six to eleven.
“We have got Five Star Accreditation from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. The uniqueness of the West Wing is the fact that it is my son’s home whenever he is in Ireland, so it is not an entirely commercial undertaking,” Lord Erne explains. A busy Estate Agent in London with Lane Fox, the thirty-three-year-old John Crichton obviously knows a thing or two about houses and their interiors and as a result of his own personal input the West Wing has been impeccably decorated and furnished.
The ideal location for a corporate ‘think-tank’, a management conference, a family holiday, or a retreat for overseas visitors to Northern Ireland, the West Wing is entirely separate from the main Castle. With its own entrances and access to its own terrace, guests can be assured of the utmost privacy.
Two features of the capacious accommodation downstairs are the enormous Drawing Room which opens onto the terrace and the Dining/Kitchen area which is housed in the Castle’s former Billiard Room. The Drawing Room, decorated in a warming daffodil yellow, is resplendent with wonderful paintings, objets d’art, antiques and stylish period furniture. In the vast eating area billiard room lamps hang in a trio beneath a gothic ceiling over a cooking island, beyond which a dining table for twelve is placed for obvious conviviality. And that is not all – beside this table there is a magnificent open fireplace and sitting area, the size of an average drawing room in any modern home. Additionally, if there is a requirement for a cook, a fully equipped modern kitchen is located behind the cooking area at the head of the room. Downstairs too, situated off the long atmospheric corridor are ensuite bedrooms, a TV and Computer Room – not to mention a bar, cloakroom, laundry room, boot room and staff rooms.
Upstairs the glamour continues with more characterful ensuite bedrooms, each styled and decorated with exquisite taste. The romantic four-poster ‘Buff Room’, the delicately hued ‘Blue Room’, the heady ‘Rose Room’ and the stylish ‘Print Room’ to name but four of the seven bedrooms in the West Wing.
Outside, West Wing guests will, for the first time, have access to the Earl of Erne’s private gardens. Attractions include the use of a tennis court and a boat for exploring the lakes. Given that the Lough Erne Yacht Club was formed at Crom in the mid 1800s as the result of inter-familial boating races between the Crichtons, Saundersons and the Massey-Beresfords – a historical record hangs in the West Wing – it is an opportunity that cannot be missed.
For those who prefer terra firma, there are the Crom parklands to explore. Some 1,900 acres are currently managed by the National Trust, giving the public an opportunity to experience the tranquility and beauty of this veritable nature reserve. An area of important conservation Crom houses the largest surviving area of oak woodland in Northern Ireland, and one of the most important and least spoilt freshwater habitats in the British Isles. The wealth of wildlife in the estate is exemplified by the presence of two rare butterflies – the purple hair streak and wood white, the elusive pine marten and the largest herony in Ireland.
As the Earl takes me on a tour of the grounds we walk through what is left of old Crom Castle. As with all Irish seats of such stature, the history of Crom is rich and colourful. The original castle was built in 1611 by a Scottish Planter, Michael Balfour, and was acquired in 1644 by the Crichtons, ancestors of the Earls of Erne. Having survived two ferocious Jacobite sieges in 1689 it met an untimely demise in the 1740s as the result of a domestic fire.
Standing in what was once a lakeshore tower of the old castle, Lord Erne points to the stunning vista. “If you were to ask me what sums up Crom for me, I suppose I would have to say this viewpoint.” The subsequent sweep of his arm across the entire lakeland and countryside before us, an indication of the expanse that is the Crom Estate in County Fermanagh. “On our left we have the South of Ireland, in the middle of the lake Crichton Tower on Gad Island, across the water, on Garden Island, Holy Trinity Church where we go every Sunday by boat, and returning to this side of the lake the Crom tea house where it was once customary for the family to take refreshments, and the boathouse.”
As he talks a flock of wild geese flies overhead and in the distance deer can be espied running through the parkland. Close by, at the original entrance of the old castle garden, two magnificent yew trees, one male and one female, have formed a citadel of branches. Over 800 years old, and reputed to be the oldest in Ireland, this giant of nature is testimony to the longevity that is Crom.