The Road Much Less Traveled
by Eric T. Haskell, professor of French
For a step back into the 17th century and a memorable change of pace, I enthusiastically suggest a jaunt to the Island of Sark. Located some 80 miles off the southern coast of England and but a few hours boat ride from France, Sark is the smallest of the four main Channel Islands, which also include Guernsey, Alderney, and Jersey. This tiny island is only three miles long and one-and-a-half mile wide with a resident population of about 600-a figure that rises only to about 1,000 during the summer tourist season. And it boasts one of the most dramatic coastlines anywhere in the world.
A Unique History
Until the 13th century, Sark was a part of the Dutchy of Normandy. By a Royal Charter in 1565, the island became a possession of the Queen of England. However, today Sark is the last remaining feudal constitution of the Western world, a sovereign state unto its own. Overseeing the island’s independent legislature, court, and administration, the Seigneur of Sark governs the island and resides in La Seigneurie, a sprawling estate built in the 17th century.
Sark’s special brand of tranquility is assured by the fact that no automobiles -only horse-driven carriages and bicycles-are allowed on the island. Notable sea and bird life abounds, and the rhythm of life is uniquely quaint.
Accommodations and Dining
La Sablonnerie, a 400-year-old farmhouse, offers charming accommodations in the most remote and poetic of sites imaginable. Strawberries and fresh cream are served every afternoon at high tea in the garden. The Sablonnerie’s restaurant features refined cuisine, including the famous Sark lobsters, and all produce comes from the hotel’s own kitchen garden (visit www.lasablonnerie.com).
Sites of Interest
While coastal walks that take you past abundant dark caves, bays, and dramatic cliffs supply the central “sites of interest” on Sark, there are a few man-made structures that are definitely worth a visit.
The home of the Seigneurs of Sark since 1730, La Seigneurie was built on the site of the 6th century monastery of St. Magloire. The present house has been altered and extended over the years with a large Victorian watchtower erected in order that signaling could take place between Sark and the neighboring island of Guernsey. The house itself is not open to the public, however, the extensive gardens and grounds are open daily and are a popular destination for residents and tourists alike.
Built by the first Seigneur of Sark, Helier de Carteret, the estate of Le Manoir looks southwards down a sheltered valley towards de Carteret’s old home in St. Ouens, Jersey. The carved de Carteret arms are still visible on the outside of the house, which features walls as thick as four feet in parts. It was here, at a meeting of the Sarkese in 1581, that the first court of Sark law and legislature was created. Le Manoir remained the home of the Seigneurs of Sark until La Seigneurie was completed.
Not located on Sark, but on neighboring island Guernsey, is Victor Hugo’s Hauteville House, where the writer lived during his exiles from France. Full of memorabilia and decorative elements arranged by Hugo himself, it remains one of the most esoteric house museums in Europe.
Most of the small island shops are on “The Avenue,” a main street dedicated to both the tourist trade and daily island life. Along this stretch of town, you will find shops for general provisions, cycle hire, clothes and souvenirs, cafés, a perfumery, a hairdressing salon, two banks, and a post office. For news from the “outside” and under normal weather conditions, the London daily newspapers arrive each morning, but if you like your Sunday paper over a morning cup, be advised that the Sunday papers don’t reach Sark until the late afternoon.
The tax rates and prices are generally lower throughout all the Channel Islands than on mainland England. English currency or the Channel Island’s own printed money (a one-to-one equivalent with the English sterling) is accepted; however Channel Island currency is not accepted on mainland England.
How to get there
You may reach Sark by flying from the U.K. to the nearby island of Guernsey, then taking a boat. Better yet, enjoy a journey along the northern coast of Brittany from Mont Saint Michel to San Malo, where boats travel daily to Sark.
For more information on travel to the Island of Sark, contact the Sark Tourist Office at +44 (0) 1481 832345 or online at www.sark.info.