Sleepy Sark is the fourth largest of the Channel Islands and, since 2011, designated the world’s first Dark Sky Island due to the low level of light pollution which apparently makes naked eye astronomy possible. With an estimated population of only 600 people, the island is 5.45 km² in size including the island of Brecqhou, the privately tenanted island which lies next to it. Sark has its own language (Serquiais), its own laws and a fascinating feudal system of government that, until recent reform in 2008, had changed little since 1565. Ruled by a Seigneur, with law enforced by the Seneschal, cars are banned by law and only tractors, horse-drawn vehicles and bicycles are allowed on the island. I always remember my Mum referring to cross-eyed people as having ‘property on Sark’ (and therefore keeping an eye on it from Guernsey!!!!)
Sark is a stunning island divided by its natural geography into 2 halves – Greater Sark, the larger and northern part, and Little Sark in the south. The two parts of the island are linked by La Coupée (The Cut), a narrow 90 m long isthmus with sheer 100 m drops on either side. Before railings were put up in 1900, inhabitants used to crawl on their hands and knees to avoid being blown over the edge. A road across was built in 1945 by German prisoners of war but even today visitors are asked to dismount from their bicycles before crossing.
Once again accompanied by my cousin, Chris, we visited Sark on a day trip from Guernsey. The journey took just less than an hour and the Sark Belle docked at the Maseline harbour on the east side of the island. Sark’s beautiful, green and rugged cliffs rise steeply up out of the blue water as you approach in the boat. It is a beautiful island! Special tractor ‘buses’ wait to transport visitors up the steep hill to Sark’s only village for a small fee (£1.20). We chose to have a look at Creux harbour and walk up through the trees.
The village at the top is sleepy with a main street consisting of a handful of shops, a couple of restaurants and some bicycle hire shops. A line of horses with carriages and their drivers wait for tourist business. We had thought of hiring bikes but, in the end, decided to walk. The Anglican church of St Peter (one of 2 churches on the island) is spic and span and obviously well attended. A notice on the board inside the doors shows which of the church’s pews are allocated to which of the islands 40 tenants. The village’s post office is large and doubles as a souvenir shop. Outside it the island’s only post box is sprayed with gold paint to celebrate the Olympic Gold medal won by the British Dressage team in 2012 which included Sark’s own Carl Hester.
Further down the road we stopped in a general store with a large blackboard on the side announcing picked crab and Sark cream. The lady owner chatted to us and told us how many young people, including her son, had left for Guernsey but were now considering coming back to Sark to live but found it hard it to afford. We stopped for a cider in the sun at Cranagh Chocolates (where you can see them making the chocolate) before walking the rest of the way down to La Coupée.
Crossing La Coupée was fun. It was seriously windy and easy to imagine being blown over the edge! There are steep steps down to the beaches below with warning signs that you descend at your own risk – in English and French! The views from the top over the sea on both sides and over the island of Brecqhou were breathtaking!
Winding paths took us down through Little Sark past a lovely little pub/restaurant, La Sablonnerie, to the coast where an old man with a huge blue chair on the back of a van directed us to a nice picnic spot through a field populated by sheep and pretty little Guernsey cows with fabulous views across the sea to Herm and Guernsey. Taking another direction, we wandered past remains of old silver mines and had a picnic on the grass overlooking the Venus pools, a natural pool in the rocks below. Sark doesn’t have many beaches as most of its coastline is rugged so swimming spots are few and far between.
On the way back, we detoured over to the west of the island past the duck pond to staggering close-up views of neighbouring Brecqhou, inhabited by the reclusive Barclay twins – owners of the Daily Telegraph. We tried to see as much of the island as possible and took a different route back. We wandered back through the village and down the hill to the harbour for our boat back. A rowdy group who had imbibed a bit too much local cider were singing loudly from the tractor bus!
Sark is a beautiful island, rolling lush green hills, rocky cliffs and coastal paths, beautiful flowers, stunning views and quaint little buildings. Its history and feudal system is fascinating. The lack of cars and motorised vehicles gives a calm and peaceful feeling as though time has stood still here. We loved it but thought it was sad to see a lot of the village shops empty and some of the houses derelict.
NEXT ISLAND: The next and last of the Channel Islands is the tiny, tidal island of Lihou.