Sark

Travel Guide Europe Channel Islands Sark

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Introduction

Sark is a small island in the Channel Islands in the southwestern English Channel, off the coast of Normandy, France. It has a population of about 600. Sark (including the nearby island of Brecqhou) has an area of 5.44 km2. Sark is one of the few remaining places in the world where cars are banned from roads and only tractors and horse-drawn vehicles are allowed. In 2011, Sark was designated as a Dark Sky Community and the first Dark Sky Island in the world.

Sark is semi-autonomous within the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which is a Crown Dependency and not part of the United Kingdom - see Guernsey explanation. It's often described as the last feudal fiefdom in Europe. You would need a Doctorate in Late Norman Jurisprudence to fathom it fully, but the essence of it was "Whatever the Seigneur says, but definitely no cars, and no-one else can keep pigeons." The oddity was that this was not an 800-year undying tradition, but a later retro-fit. Although inhabited from prehistoric times, by the 16th century Sark was just a nest of pirates. In 1565 the Seigneur of St Ouen in Jersey was awarded Sark by Queen Elizabeth I of England provided he settled it with 40 loyal men and rid the place of pirates. He laid out 40 plots of land, each man to build a house thereon and be ever-ready with his musket. These proto-minutemen were his tenants, and that word on Sark still means these hereditary landholdings, which remain today. But along with this, at a time when England was starting to feel its way towards modern governance, came legal arrangements more suited to Monty Python's Knights who say "Ni!" For instance, to force someone to cease & desist from an unwanted action, anywhere else you could seek an injunction. In Sark what you did, in French and before witnesses, was to recite the Lord's Prayer and cry upon your Prince to defend you. This Clameur de Haro was last invoked in 1970, concerning a garden wall; if only it had been a shrubbery.

The island got by with this, sort of, only because not much happened and there was little resort to law. For instance offshore finance and company domiciles, a major aspect of 20th-century Jersey and Guernsey business life, bypassed Sark. But in 1993 the media tycoons David and Frederick Barclay bought extensive property here, including the entire island of Brecqhou, and soon came into conflict with the system. Thus, Sark law dictated that their estate had to pass entire to the oldest son. That was a standard medieval rule to prevent fragmentation of feudal responsibilities and landholdings - but in 1993? Writs began flying, and appeals to higher jurisdiction, which cast a very cold light on Sark's legal system and lack of democracy. The Barclays also claimed that Brecqhou was independent of Sark: in this they ultimately failed, but one casualty of the conflict was the old feudal legislature, which disbanded in 2008 to make way for an elected council. In a huff, the Barclays sold all their property on Grande Sark and retreated to Brecqhou, which only lacked a drawbridge to pull up and a portcullis to drop.

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Geography

Sark consists of two main parts, Greater Sark, located at about 49° 25' N x 2° 22' W, and Little Sark to the south. They are connected by a narrow isthmus called La Coupée which is 90 metres long and has a drop of 100 metres on each side. There is a narrow concrete road covering the entirety of the isthmus, built in 1945 by German prisoners of war under the direction of the Royal Engineers. Due to its isolation, the inhabitants of Little Sark had their own distinct form of Sercquiais, the native Norman dialect of the island.

The highest point on Sark is 114 metres above sea-level. A windmill, dated 1571, is found there, the sails of which were removed during World War I. This high point is named Le Moulin, after the windmill. The location is also the highest point in the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Off the south end of Little Sark are the Venus Pool and the Adonis Pool, both natural swimming pools whose waters are refreshed at high tide.

Sark also exercises jurisdiction over the island of Brecqhou, only a few hundred feet west of Greater Sark. It is a private island, but it has recently been opened to some visitors. Since 1993, Brecqhou has been owned by Sir David Barclay, one of the Barclay brothers who are co-owners of The Daily Telegraph.

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Sights and Activities

Sark Museum on Rue Lucas is open daily in summer 14:00-16:30. Exposition of island life, and only £2.
La Seigneurie, GY10 1SF (North-west of the island), ☏ +44 1481 832208. Apr-Oct daily 10:00-18:00. Home of the Seigneur of Sark since 1730. The house interior is seldom open to the public, there were tours in 2018 but none since, so visitors come for the magnificent walled gardens. There are guided tours of the garden Wednesday at 11:30, £8 includes admission. Adult £6.
The Window in the Rock overlooks the coast directly west of La Seigneurie. In the 1850s the Rev Collings was Seigneur, and blasted this tunnel: perhaps partly to facilitate haulage of goods from the beach below, perhaps work creation, but probably mostly for the chance to improve the view with explosives. The tunnel opens onto a sheer drop, keep a tight hold of the children and dog.
Little Sark is the southern extension of the island. Most of the fun is in getting there, along the giddy causeway of La Coupée, only 300 feet (91 m) long but somewhat more than that straight down if you stumbled over either edge. It was built in 1945 by German POWs; before that the inhabitants had to scramble over the perilous ridge, clinging on against winds that might hurl them into the abyss. Once across, Little Sark is an almost anticlimactic farming landscape, but the big draw is the excellent La Sablonnerie Hotel & Restaurant, see "Sleep". Below the cliffs, Venus pool (south tip) and Adonis pool (west tip) are natural bathing pools replenished by the sea. Also south are the remains of disused Silver mines.
Caves: the cliffs of Sark are riddled with caves close to the waterline, which means they're only accessible at low tide. Look that up online, or ask any boatman. Good examples are the Boutique Caves at the north end of the island, and the Gouliot Caves on the west coast.
Brecqhou but only from the west coast of Sark. This is the one that all the fuss was about, separated from Sark by 100 yards of channel, by millions of pounds of litigation, and by fiercely defended private ownership, but not by any political autonomy. Tours were conducted for a brief period in 2012 but not since.
Dark night skies: there's no street lighting or cars, so the island is clear of light pollution. Once night falls (which in midsummer will be after 22:00) it's a great place to sky-watch, with the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon like the wake of a celestial ferry.

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Weather

Sark has a typical maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters. Temperatures in summer average around 20 °C during the day or a bit less. Winters are generally above zero with a few degrees below zero sometimes at night. Variations in temperatures, both between summer and winter as well as between days in the seasons, are low. Rain is possible year round, though autumn and winter is a bit wetter compared to the late spring and summer season.

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Getting There

By Boat

Sark can be reached by a 45 minute ferry ride from Saint Peter Port in Guernsey. There are usually two or more sailings in each direction per day, while in the height of summer this rises to as much as five sailings each way. Expect to pay around £22 return per adult. The services are run by Isle of Sark Shipping

Summer ferries from St. Helier on Jersey (£40.50 day return per adult) and Granville and Carteret in France (€58.50 return per adult, boats stop in St. Helier but you don't have to get off) also operate by Manche Iles Express.

A 12-passenger boat, the Lady Maris II, operates regular services to Alderney.

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Getting Around

Sark does not allow motor vehicles, apart from agricultural tractors, but as it's only around three square miles in size walking around isn't so exhausting. Harbour hill is quite steep, so it may be worth paying the £1 fare to take a "toastrack" (one of two specially constructed passenger trailers towed by one of the 31 ubiquitous tractors) up. If your baggage is labelled (including hotel name), the hotels and ferry companies organise a "carter" (their dedicated driver of a tractor and trailer) to deliver your bags on arrival and departure.

The other means of transport available are horse-drawn vans. They usually depart from the top of Harbour Hill. They cost about £20 for an hour's drive around Sark, or £15 for a single trip to Little Sark. Prices are per person. The driver will also act as tour guide, and some will speak French.

There are also a couple of cycle-hire shops on Sark. Note that you may want to book before you arrive on the island, particularly in the summer. Also, cycling is illegal on La Coupée and down Harbour Hill. Finally, horses always have right of way on Sark, be careful as they can be surprisingly quiet, even when drawing a cart, so you may not hear it arrive.

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Eat

Hathaways, La Seigneurie gardens, ☏ +44 1481 832209. Apr-Oct daily 10:00-17:00. Cafe doing light meals and refreshments, next to La Seigneurie; occasionally open for evening meals.
Caragh Chocolates & Tea Garden (on the road to Little Sark), ☏ +44 1481 832703. Apr-Oct daily 10:00-17:00. Chocolate maker and shop also has tearooms, a good refreshment stop on the walk to Little Sark.
Sue's Tea Garden and B&B (west of the island), ☏ +44 1481 832107. M-Th 12:00-16:00. Nowadays primarily a B&B but still does excellent cream teas for passers-by.
Upscale dining options are Stocks Hotel and La Sablonnerie on Little Sark, reservations strongly recommended.

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Drink

They are a few cafes and two pubs on the islands. The pubs are not allowed to open on Sundays and alcohol can only be served in cafes on Sundays with purchase of a meal.

Mermaid Tavern, Main Street Sark, ☏ +44 1481 832022. Daily 10:00-23:00. Friendly old-fashioned pub, there's still a piano. With beer garden.
Bel Air Inn, top of Harbour Hill, ☏ +44 1481 832052. Daily 10:00-00:00. Great welcoming pub, limited range of food, you come here for the beer.

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Sleep

The Sark Tourist Office (see below for link) provides full listings of all accommodation options on Sark.

La Valette Campsite (near lighthouse on east coast), ☏ +44 1481 832202, ✉ lavalette@cwgsy.net. Large open site open April-Oct, with modern toilet and shower block, cubicle washrooms with shaver points and a dish-washing sink. You can also hire pods and pre-erected tents. Great views towards Alderney and France. Adult £10, child £5, pods £30.
Pomme de Chien Campsite, ☏ +44 1481 832316, ✉ rangjill@hotmail.com. Large family-run campsite open all year, with pitches, fully equipped tents, pods and a self-catering cottage. Adult in own tent £9 ppn.
B&Bs on Sark include Pourquoi Pas, Sue's, Blanchard House, Clos de Vaul Creux, and La Marguerite.
Beau Sejour, Rue de la Seigneurie, Sark GY10 1SF (Opposite La Seigneurie), ☏ +44 1481 832034. In a 19th-century farmhouse, this has one double and one twin room self-catering; it is no longer run as a B&B. Double r/o £65.
La Sablonnerie, Little Sark GY10 1SD, ☏ +44 1481 832061, fax: +44 1481 832408, ✉ reservations@sablonneriesark.com. Glorious upscale 22-room hotel on Little Sark in a 17th-century farmhouse, with gardens and croquet lawn, and its own horses and carriages. With excellent restaurant. B&B double from £350.
Stocks Hotel, Dixcart Lane, Sark GY10 1SD, ☏ +44 1481 832001, fax: +44 1481 832130, ✉ enquiries@stockshotel.com. Upscale rustic-chic 43-room hotel in a 16th-century farm. Set in a wooded valley in the south of Big Sark, with heated pool, spa pool, bar and excellent restaurant. B&B double £250.

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This is version 6. Last edited at 11:52 on Dec 23, 20 by Utrecht. 3 articles link to this page.

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