A dark island with a sunny disposition
I visited Sark as part of a recent visit to the channel island of Guernsey. Sark is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey but is unique in that it is a fiefdom which was granted to the Seigneurie of St Ouen in Jersey on 6th August 1565, provided he could keep the island free from pirates. He was obviously successful as I didn’t see any on my visit!
Home to around five hundred people, this small island is just six miles east of Guernsey and a car-free haven of tranquillity. I arrived by boat, around one hour’s journey from St Peter Port, Guernsey’s capital and the only means of getting to the island. From the dock you can either walk up a hill to the village or, as I did, take an uncomfortable tractor-hauled cart with seats, known as the ‘toast rack’ at a cost of £1.20. The same applies to the return journey although it is perhaps easier to walk down than up.
There are no roads on Sark, just tracks and country trails, so good footwear is recommended. Being car-free it’s an ideal place for walkers and hikers and although the island is small, there are many signposts to help you on your way.
Other than walking, the only means of transport for visitors are cycling and horse and cart. Cycles can be hired from around £6.50 a day. A horse and cart, seating around six passengers, costs £10 per person for a one hour tour, and £15 for two hours.
I walked to La Coupee, a narrow hilly strip of land connecting Greater Sark to Little Sark. It offers stunning views and is probably the most-remembered image of the island. I also visited La Seigneurie Gardens. Guided tours are available and visitors can see the historical chapel, gun battery, dovecote, maze and Victorian greenhouse as well as the gardens themselves. The grounds are also home to the Isle of Sark Brewing Company. I really enjoyed a bottle of Settlers 1565 ale, bursting with flavour and worth seeking out.
Private guides offer walks on Sark by arrangement which can also include a picnic. Adventure Sark organises coasteering, kayaking and team games and you can visit the Heritage Room at the Visitor Centre from April to September, as well as the restored Cider Press building. You can even visit the Occupation Museum by appointment. There are a few hotels and pubs on the island for visitors needing refreshment or a place to stay.
Sark is Dark. In 2011, Sark was the first island to be designated a dark sky island. As there are no street lights or cars on Sark there is almost no light pollution, allowing the night sky to be viewed in all its glory. The only other dark sky island is Coll in the Inner Hebrides. No special equipment is needed to enjoy the starry display but there is a powerful telescope in a small observatory which is primarily designed to keep star-gazers warm at night. There is no charge for using the observatory but donations are welcome and £5 per person is the suggested amount. Alternatively, groups of up to eight people can enjoy an observatory visit hosted by a volunteer member of Sark’s Astronomy Society.
Small it may be, but Sark goes out of its way to welcome visitors and provide activities for them. However, visitors need appropriate medical insurance as the EHIC card is not valid in Guernsey and Sark. You should also take some form of photo ID, although you probably won’t be asked for it.
I visited Guernsey and Sark on a coach tour organised by the Coach Tourism Association. For more information on coach tours visit www.findacoachholiday.com
Condor Ferries operates a year-round service to the Channel Islands from Poole with its fast ferry Condor Liberation, alongside a conventional ferry service from Portsmouth. Prices start from £28pp each way for a foot passenger return. www.condorferries.com or call 0345 609 1024
Isle of Sark Shipping Company operates regular services between Guernsey and Sark and offers a range of activities on the island such as guided tours and adventure days.
For more information on Sark go to www.sark.co.uk