EX­PLORE… THE ISLE OF SARK A

A true es­cape from mod­ern life, this tiny car-free is­land is a wildlife haven made up of bu­colic coun­try­side, se­cluded coves and a vi­brant com­mu­nity

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - words by anna jury

true es­cape from mod­ern life, this tiny car-free is­land of bu­colic coun­try­side and se­cluded coves is a wildlife haven

I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN, as I watched a lone cor­morant div­ing in and out of the turquoise water of Guernsey Har­bour, that I was about to go some­where a bit spe­cial. Wait­ing for the ferry to Sark, as my avian com­pan­ion perched on the rocks, spread­ing his el­e­gantly ta­pered wings so they could dry in the sun, there was a def­i­nite sense of things slow­ing down and, as a re­sult, na­ture’s pres­ence be­ing a bit more preva­lent. Just 4.5 square miles in size with 550 in­hab­i­tants, the Isle of Sark, the sec­ond small­est Chan­nel Is­land, is one of the few re­main­ing places in the world where cars are banned (the fire en­gine and am­bu­lance are pulled by trac­tor; other trans­port op­tions in­clude bike or horse and cart). The re­sult is a sense of es­capism most of us can only dream of.

A RICH PAST

The un­usual his­tory of Sark stretches back to 1565, when El­iz­a­beth I granted it in per­pe­tu­ity to Helier de Carteret, a noble­man who planned to re-cul­ti­vate the then-de­serted is­land. As a re­sult, de Carteret be­come its first leader or ‘Seigneur’ and re­cruited 40 men to make up the govern­ing body or ‘Chief Pleas’. Amaz­ingly, 550 years on, this con­sti­tu­tion re­mains in place. Not con­sid­ered a part of the UK or Great Bri­tain but a ‘Crown De­pen­dency’, the is­land con­tin­ues to self-gov­ern via the Chief Pleas to this day and the dy­nas­tic line of Seigneurs has passed between only four dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies since the 16th cen­tury. Far from a cer­e­mo­nial role, the Seigneurs are ac­tively in­volved in govern­ing the is­land – per­haps the most no­table ex­am­ple be­ing Dame Sibyl Hath­away, whose dig­nity and ne­go­ti­a­tion skills when the is­land was in­vaded by Ger­man sol­diers dur­ing World War II were said to be the rea­son the res­i­dents re­ceived such favourable terms dur­ing the en­su­ing oc­cu­pa­tion.

The re­sult of this re­mark­able back­story is that, as a vis­i­tor, you en­counter a true com­mu­nity on Sark. It could so eas­ily be pop­u­lated by of­ten­empty hol­i­day homes but, in fact, most of the fam­i­lies who live here have done so for gen­er­a­tions. There’s a pri­mary school, a post of­fice, a lo­cal doc­tor and con­sta­ble, and, as you’d imag­ine, every­one knows each other. This leads to an ex­ten­sive cal­en­dar of com­mu­nity events, which vis­i­tors are wel­come to at­tend, that ranges from po­etry read­ings at Stocks Ho­tel to guided walks and fes­ti­vals. (For de­tails on what’s on, visit sark.co.uk/events.)

TAN­GI­BLE HIS­TORY

An­other re­sult of Sark’s past are the nu­mer­ous his­tor­i­cal sites (you can eas­ily cy­cle between them). The most un­miss­able has to be La Seigneurie, which has been the tra­di­tional res­i­dence of the Seigneur of Sark for cen­turies. The build­ing it­self is worth see­ing, with tow­ers and crenu­la­tions, and its own wind­mill, built in 1571 and used up un­til World War II when it was turned into an out­post. The spec­tac­u­lar gar­dens that sur­round it have a Vic­to­rian glass house, a kitchen gar­den and a maze for vis­i­tors to lose them­selves in. You can also fol­low a path through ma­ture wood­land to the ponds cre­ated by the monks of St Ma­gloire Pri­ory in 565 AD (la­seigneur­ie­gar­dens.com).

A WALKER’S PARADISE

While the is­land is a joy to cy­cle around (sail­ing down tree-lined av­enues with­out any on­com­ing cars is sur­pris­ingly lib­er­at­ing), you can see even more of what it has to of­fer on foot. The whole of Sark is criss-crossed with beau­ti­ful routes, but the walk round the south­ern sec­tion known as Lit­tle Sark is par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable. To get there, you will need to cross La Coupée. An isth­mus only a few me­tres wide, with an 80-me­tre sheer drop ei­ther side, it is now topped by guard rails and a road laid by Ger­man prison­ers of war, but the story goes that, be­fore this, chil­dren would have to crawl along it for fear of be­ing blown off. Push­ing your bike over it is safe and comes with amaz­ing views, but you may need to wait for a horse and cart to cross as they have to do this at speed in or­der to make it up the steep gra­di­ent.

Most walks on Lit­tle Sark be­gin at La Sablon­nerie Ho­tel, a charm­ing place for af­ter­noon tea among the flow­ers (sablon­ner­iesark.com). From here, you can walk along the west side of the is­land past views of neigh­bour­ing Brec­qhou, gorse bushes thick with bees and but­ter­flies, free-rang­ing hens and the odd Guernsey goat. Turn­ing along the south­ern tip, you may see swal­lows div­ing for in­sects along the cliff edge be­fore you get to Port Gorey, where the re­mains of a 19th-cen­tury sil­ver mine can still be seen. A lit­tle fur­ther along and you’ll find Venus Pool. One of the best swim­ming spots on the is­land, this is a nat­u­ral basin in the rocks, which can only be ac­cessed for two hours ei­ther side of low tide. Get­ting your tim­ing right is worth it, though, be­cause you’ll be able to bathe in cerulean wa­ters be­fore dry­ing off on the sun-warmed rocks. (Find out about walk­ing routes at sark.co.uk or by pop­ping into the Tourist Of­fice in the mid­dle of the is­land.)

STARS AND SANDY BEACHES

There are no street­lights on Sark, so the is­land is plunged into vel­vety black­ness once the sun has set. This leads to ex­cep­tional night skies, of­fi­cially recog­nised by the In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky As­so­ci­a­tion in 2011. Take ad­van­tage of this by vis­it­ing Sark’s ob­ser­va­tory, run by lo­cal ex­pert Richard Axon (who also runs the tiny brew­ery). His knowl­edge is re­mark­able but al­most as won­der­ful is the night­time walk up to the ob­ser­va­tory in to­tal dark­ness (sas­tros.sark.gg).

When the sun is up, make sure you visit the beaches. Sark has some sandy ones such as Dix­cart Bay as well as peb­bly coves you are likely to have all to your­self (Port du Moulin was our favourite). But, to feel like a true Robin­son Cru­soe, take the ferry to nearby Herm. At just a mile and a half long, it’s sur­rounded by a ring of pris­tine white sand, which, as you walk bare­foot along the water’s edge, gives the feel of an undis­cov­ered desert is­land.

OP­PO­SITE La Coupée is the nar­row cause­way that links ‘Big’ and ‘Lit­tle’ Sark THIS PAGE, CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT The is­land’s res­i­dents have lived here sim­ply and tra­di­tion­ally for gen­er­a­tions; the beau­ti­ful gar­dens at La Seigneurie; Sark Light­house...

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT Tra­di­tional means of travel are utilised in­stead of cars; Dix­cart Bay; guille­mots lay their eggs on Les Autelets rock stacks; the cav­ernous sea cave sys­tem

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