The island of Sark in the Channel Islands, the first Dark Sky Island, is a great holiday destination with beautiful views, wildflower walks and boat trips.
Sark, in the Channel Islands, is the tiniest place. Just 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, it boasts a population of 600 people, although not all 600 live on the island all of the time. Except on festival days, Sark is surprisingly quiet in parts. Which is just the way to enjoy it. The island of Sark is quite unique, and perfect for families. It’s a world apart.
The Channel Islands
There are several Channel Islands, of which Sark is one. While not that far from England, the islands lie much closer to France and have a delightful European ambiance. Jersey and Guernsey the two largest, are well worth a visit. They benefit from a thriving tourist industry, interesting shops and beautiful views. But Alderney, Herm and Sark, although traditionally less well known, are now coming into their own. This is particularly true of Sark, where recent political developments including the end of feudalism, have put the island on the map. But Sark still retains its traditional customs, which is all part of its charm.
There are no cars on Sark. Residents on Sark use bicycles or walk, and tractors are a frequent feature. A ride on a tractor is a rare treat. Visitors to Sark can stroll about without concern for cars; they can hire a bicycle from one of the nearby cycle hire shops, or they can take a carriage ride (horse and cart). Some of the rides go to Little Sark, the furthest and most rural part, which is joined to the main island by a narrow isthmus called La Coupée. Out of season, it is often shrouded in mist. The view from the causeway to the beach below is stunning.
How to travel to Sark
Travelling to Sark, a 45 minute journey by boat from Guernsey’s St. Peter Port harbour, is part of the adventure. Services run throughout the year, but more frequently in high season. From April to September, it’s also possible to travel to Sark from Jersey.
Once in Sark, passengers can walk up the (very steep) slope (Harbour Hill) to the village, or take the “toast rack,” a motorised vehicle like an open-air bus. The journey takes five minutes, and en route visitors get to see woodland, the wildflowers and those fellow passengers brave (or rash) enough to walk up the hill. The walk takes 10-15 minutes.
Sark: places to see
At the top of the hill is another great view. It’s difficult to go anywhere on Sark that doesn’t have a view, the island being 200 feet above sea level. There are few accessible beaches but many delightful walks, such as to the Venus Pool in Little Sark, above which are the old silver mines built in the 1830s. They are also interesting to visit.
Hogs Back also offers a beautiful aspect, and can be reached via the Dixcart Valley, a wooded area which is a mass of bluebells in Spring. Hogs Back separates Derrible and Dixcart Bays, and an old cannon at the top highlights the area’s former role as a defence headland.
No visit to Sark would be complete without a trip to La Seigneurie, the home of Sark’s seigneurs (feudal lords) since 1730. The gardens are open from Easter to October and include a café and restaurant (opened by Prince Edward), which used to be a milking parlour and stable.
Wildflower walks and boat trips
Each year Sark celebrates the vast array of wildflowers found on its paths and headlands. Visitors can follow highlighted routes on their own by contacting the Sark Visitor Centre for a brochure. Those visiting Sark in April can also go on organised wildflower walks, where they will learn about plants not seen on the mainland, many of which are tiny, and well adapted to the rocky and windswept but warm climate.
A boat trip around the island is an opportunity to see caves and bays not visible from Sark itself, as well as learning about the varied bird life. Be sure to take a hat and some sun screen.
Sark: the first Dark Sky Island
With no cars and no street lights, there is very little light pollution on Sark. In early 2011 Sark was recognised as the first Dark Sky Island (by the International Dark-Sky Association) in acknowledgment of its lack of light pollution and very dark sky.
Apart from enjoyment of the sky itself, the dark nights add to the island’s atmosphere. Torches are advised if going out and bicycle lights are a must!
The Sark way of life
Sark is different. The pace of life is slower, nothing is rushed, yet things get done. People know one another and visitors (they aren’t called tourists) are welcome and welcomed. Out of season the island shifts focus, first to regeneration, then to preparation for the seasons to come. Many visitors return annually, appreciating the tranquility and peace that is Sark.
Sark is a welcome break from today’s high-pressure world. Visit Sark and step, not so much back in time, but outside it.
There are a range of hotels, guest houses and lodgings to suit every budget. The Sark Tourism website gives full details as well as information on travel to Sark.