Meet Sark, The Fourth Smallest of the Channel Islands

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Welcome to the island of Sark, the fourth smallest of the Channel Islands. The island nestles in the English Channel just off the Normandy coast.  Part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, but with its own parliament and laws, Sark is unique: British but somewhere completely different.

Sark is approached by boat. The visitors’ first sight of the island is the towering cliffs topped by steeply sloping common land, called cotils, covered in bluebells, thrift and daisies in the spring, then turning green, and finally bronze in the Autumn.  Seabirds wheel over the bays, and sometimes in late spring boat passengers are able to see puffins bobbing about on the surface of the sea. Dolphins may also make the occasional appearance.

Visitors disembarking on the Sark quay can choose either to walk up the harbour hill footpath which will then bring them in turn almost immediately to the village, with its selection of quaint shops and cafes, or those who do not want to walk up can take a seat on the “toast-rack”, the tractor-drawn bus.  Once at the top of harbour hill, visitors who are staying on Sark may stroll to their hotel, guest house or self-catering cottage, or collect a hired bike. Alternatively, they might embark on a sight-seeing tour by horse and carriage .  Luggage is taken directly to the accommodation by one of the island carters.

There are no cars on Sark, only tractors, bikes or horses and carriages. The pace of life is leisurely and relaxed. The island provides a haven away from the noisy, everyday world; the perfect place to get away from it all. The views from the coastal headlands are magnificent.  The variety of flowers, butterflies and birds attract naturalists. Fishermen can enjoy peaceful days on the rocks, and divers make the most of the clear waters teaming with a variety of marine life. However,  many visitors just visit Sark for its tranquility, spending their days swimming or walking the many coastal pathways, lush with wild-flowers and insects.

Armed with a picnic and a bike the day is open to endless possibilities for exploration.  Will it be south first, over the narrow Coupee to Little Sark and Port Gorey, or perhaps north with walks over the Eperquerie Common and a visit to the beautiful Seigneurie Gardens? Or maybe west, to visit the ‘Window in the Rock’ or the Gouliot headland. Wherever you choose to wander you are never too far from a scenic picnic spot, or fine cuisine and refreshments at one of Sark’s hotels, restaurants or cafés.

Then at night, Sark becomes a haven for star-gazers. The unpolluted velvety night sky, with thousands of bright stars visible with the naked eye, draws visitors during the winter months. In January 2011 Sark gained the distinction of being awarded International Dark-Sky Association recognition for its exceptional quality of unpolluted darkness, and became the world’s first Dark Sky Island.

 

sark channel islands

Sark is a magical dream like island. No public transport. No major advertising. No worries or stress. 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. The population of Sark is less than 600 and it has its own flag and government.

The Official Sark Flag.

Sark was Europe’s last Feudal State – changing to a new system in 2008. In 2011 Sark became the world’s first Dark Sky Community – there are no public lights here – after dark – not a lampost in sight! It is a place I completely recommend visiting. Please. Please. Please. Get out to Sark and see it!

On the carriage on the back of a tractor – cars are banned and the only motorised transport on the island are tractors.

Sark was an easy backpacking option for me as I once worked on the Cross Channel Ferries that served Jersey and Guernsey. I managed to tour 4 of the Channel Islands at the time, and my favourite was Sark (the other was Herm – I still haven’t been to Alderney). Here I share my top 15 things to do in Sark.

backpacking sark

1. The “Tractor Entrance”
After getting the boat to Sark from St. Peter Port Guernsey, you arrive at the bottom of a hill. Motorised and public transport is banned on Sark, except for tractors. There are no cars allowed and bicycles and horse and cart are the norm. But have you ever got on a tractor after immigration? Prices are in British pounds here and it will cost you a quid.

sark in the channel islands

The tractor that I got on arrival into Sark, Channel Islands.

2. Bicycle Tour
So you’ve been on the tractor, well the only other transport options are bicycles or horse and cart. I recommend hiring a bike to tour the island since it the easiest way to get about and you can cover the whole island in a day.

sark  bicycle backpacking

Touring Sark on a bicycle – best way to get around.

3. The World’s Smallest Prison
For such a small island, Sark punches above its weight with these records it holds…the smallest prison has TWO cells in it. Rarely is there a criminal to put in them.

smallest prison sark

Outside the world’s smallest prison, Sark.

4. The “Stadium” of the World’s Worst International Football Team
Sark are not affiliated with FIFA of course but they have fielded an international football team before. They played in the Island Games, only once in 2003 when it was held in Guernsey and Alderney.

The Sark international team lost all four matches by at least 15 goals, having the unenviable and ridiculous record of scoring ZERO (0) goals and conceding SEVENTY (70) goals from just four matches. The island made games history by becoming the first team ever to fail to score a goal. They haven’t played a match since. I

5. Little Sark
While Sark is an island, it does have two parts to it – the big part of Sark (simply called Sark or Great Sark) and Little Sark – a smaller part and without question, you should aim to visit both parts of the island.

sark little

6. La Coupee

To visit both parts you walk along the stretch called La Coupee. I seem to remember that bicycles are banned on Little Sark, so you have to leave your bike by the entrance and walk across to Little Sark.

la coupee sark

La Coupee – the walk across to Little Sark.

7. La Seigneurie
La Seigneurie is the “parliament palace and gardens” if you like! It’s actually open to the public to walk around, with tours on Wednesdays though you can’t go into the living quarters of the Seigneur (currently John Michael Beaumont).

sark gardens

La Seigneurie Gardens in Sark

8. The Little Shop
Sark doesn’t really do commercialism and the Little Shop is definitely one of my favourites from my travels! This is a quirky wee shop selling Sark only souvenirs. It’s one of a kind from around the world, loaded with Sark flags, maps, postcards etc.

sark souvenirs little shop

Sark Souvenirs in the Little Shop.

sark little shop

The Little Shop in Sark.

9. St. Peter’s Church
The Church on Sark is open and very similar to any English country style Church: an old gate, bricks, decent design, and an Anglican church.

anglican church sark

Inside the Church in Sark.

10. Sark School
Sark has only one school and it is for children up to the age of 15. Beyond that age, kids have to go to Guernsey, or further afield. Some GCSEs are available in Sark however, but only since 2006 onwards.

sark school

I visited the school in Sark.

11. The Beach

Being an island, Sark has cliffs, rocks and beach all around it. To get to the beaches, you’ll need to veer down some of the steep paths but it’s worth it. In summer months, views are amazing and is a great spot to relax.

sark beach

One of the beaches on Sark.

12. Sark War Memorial
During the Second World War Sark was actually occupied by the Germans for a long time. However, people of Sark fought against Germany for Britain in both major World Wars.

sark war memorial

War Memorial in Sark.

13. Isle of Sark Visitor Centre
OK so Sark doesn’t attract a load of tourists, especially not in Winter months, but there is a visitor centre which is manned.

14. The Avenue (Sark’s Capital)
Once you have arrived by tractor, the street in front of you is “where it’s at”, known as The Avenue, this street is basically Sark’s “capital”. You will find a NatWest bank, a bike hire place, the Little Shop, tea houses etc. all along this main street.

The main street on Sark - The Avenue.

The main street on Sark – The Avenue.

The main street on Sark - The Avenue.

The main street on Sark – The Avenue.

15. The Bel Air Inn (Pub) – How cool is it to have a beer in such a remote tranquil island? I didn’t have a care in the world when I had a Guinness on Sark. There are actually a few bars and drinking dens but I opted for the Bel Air Inn.

Beer Garden at the Bel Air Inn, Sark.

Beer Garden at the Bel Air Inn, Sark (above). Out of all the places I have been on my travels, Sark still remains a highly magical part of my journeys and I absolutely encourage the trip.

 

 

 

Jonny Scott Blair
Jonny Blair is a self confessed traveling nomad who founded and blogs at Don't Stop Living. He sees every day as an adventure. Since leaving behind his home town of Bangor in Northern Ireland ten years ago he has traveled to all seven continents, working his way through various jobs and funding it all with hard work and an appetite for travel. Don’t Stop Living, a lifestyle of travel' contains over 1,000 stories and tips from his journeys round the globe. He wants to show others how easy it is to travel the world, give them some ideas and encourage them to do the same but most of all he aims to constantly live a lifestyle of travel. He is currently based in Hong Kong and on Twitter @jonnyblair.
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