It’s every girl’s dream to live in a castle and now it’s possible – to wake up in one at least. Lord Erne, owner of Crom Castle on Upper Lough Erne, and his wife, Anna, a former Swedish model, have set up a new venture at Crom Estate and are renting out the west wing of their private home in the 19th century castle itself.
“The west wing belongs to my son, John, the Viscount Crichton who lives in London. It really wasn’t being used as much as the main part of the castle where my wife and I live but when he comes home, he loves to bring friends to relax and stay in the west wing with him and enjoy the castle and the grounds of the estate. But with work commitments and what not, he’s really not back in Fermanagh that often and he likes the idea of the wing being enjoyed when he’s not at home,” Lord Erne explained.
The west wing, which sleeps up to 11 people, is comprised of six spacious bedrooms (all of them en suite), a drawing room, sitting room, barrel-vaulted kitchen/dining room, boot room, cloak room and study. It is a luxurious self-contained apartment attached to the main castle itself. The wing’s long, inviting corridors, which stretch like a pathway into the past, down one side of the castle, are lined with paintings, photographs and a collection of model yachts, offering some insight into the history and ancestry of the Crichton family. All the rooms (bar the kitchen) lead off the wing’s corridors on two levels and outwardly face west, overlooking the grounds of the 1,900 acre woodland estate. “It’s a home, not a hotel,” Lord Erne stressed. “The west wing offers self-catering accommodation and although it’s attached to the castle, it’s a completely separate house. People who come to stay here will have the advantage of staying in very private, homely accommodation and yet have the full use and run of the estate,” he said.
Crom Estate is famous for containing the largest surviving area of oak woodland in Northern Ireland, including the oldest yew tree in the country, possibly in Europe, which can be found in the grounds of the ruins of Old Crom Castle. The estate is one of the most important conservation areas in the province and sits on the edge of one of the most famous fresh water habitats in the UK our much loved and cherished Lough Erne. Many historic old buildings enhance the landscape at Crom, including the ruins of The Old Castle, which was destroyed by a fire in 1740 – accidentally caused by a maid walking with a candle upstairs – the Crichton Tower, a Victorian Boat House (home to the first lough Erne Yacht Club, founded by Lord Erne’s grandfather), a Tea House, an old saw mill and Crom Church. The estate is now owned and managed by the National Trust but the 19th century castle remains privately owned by Lord Erne and has not been open to the general public, until now.
The family recently redecorated the entire west wing, in preparation for its self-catering lease, but maintained its style and decor in keeping with the Victorian castle itself. Noel Johnston, who grew up on the estate, has been appointed manager of the west wing. He says he can remember childhood days spent carrying stacks of wood across the grounds for use as fire wood. “The west wing has been given a full face lift and a whole new heating system has been put in. It’s almost nicer at night when the lights are dimmed and the rooms all have the warm glow of a lived-in home. I think guests visiting Crom will really be able to enjoy the place,” Noel said.
“We’ve done our best with it,” said Lord Erne, who returned home to live in the castle after school in England when he came of age in 1958. “When I first moved into the castle permanently, there was no electricity and I’ve spent a lifetime bringing it up to date,” he added. Lord Erne farmed and worked the land at Crom until the National Trust offered to take on management of estate some years back. But the castle remains in the hands of Lord Erne and the Crichton family who came to Fermanagh as planters in the 1600s. “My family came here in the 1600s and built the original castle (the seat of the Crichtons, the Earls of Erne). It survived two sieges before it was destroyed by fire in the 1700s and then there was a gap of about 100 years until the present day castle was completed,” Lord Erne said. “This castle was occupied by the military during the second world war and my wife and I, who came to live here in 1958, were the first generation to have lived in the castle all year round for almost 100 years,” he added.
Now it’s possible for anyone to have a taste of life at Crom, enjoying the luxuries of four poster and ‘princess and the pea’ style beds, a private outdoor tennis court, access to a boat house, row-boat with outboard engine, fishing and easy access to the open waterways of Lough Erne. But it comes at a cost. Lord Erne admits he’s aiming at the top end of the market and rental rates reflect that ethos. “It’s perfect for families who want to holiday together, bridal parties or corporate groups or groups of six to eleven friends. There are weekly and weekend rates but guests are paying for the experience of staying in a luxurious, private, accommodation surrounded by marvelous tranquil countryside on the shores of Lough Erne. When our son brings friends home to visit, they are absolutely bowled over by the place. They love it – it’s such a contrast to the city. We wanted it to be welcoming without being forbidding. There are great views over the countryside and walks around the estate and we look forward to welcoming guests at Crom, ” Lord Erne said.