Sark [dead link] (French: Sercq; Sercquiais: Sèr or Cerq) is a small island within the Bailiwick of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Sark has no motor traffic except tractors, and is often said to be Europe's last feudal fiefdom.
With a population of 500 (2014) and an area of little more than 2 square miles, it lies 10 miles east of Guernsey island and 25 miles (40 km) west of the Cherbourg peninsula of Normandy. The main body of the island is Grande Sark, where La Seigneurie gardens are the big attraction. At its south end it's connected to Little Sark by a causeway teetering over a precipitous ridge. Just west is the island of Brecqhou, which is privately owned and you can't visit.
In medieval times you were granted ("feu'd") land in return for allegiance, military service, and peacetime labour for your liege-lord; all of which was personal and hereditary. On the mainland this evolved into cash rental, taxation and labour hire, regular armies and navies, and freehold property, but Sark went into a time-warp, as described below. The system was shaken by 20th and 21st century challenges, notably by legal battles with the Barclay brothers owners of Brecqhou. But many aspects remain, and the Seigneur (now the 23rd, Christopher Beaumont from 2016) is the resident ruler.
Sark Tourism in the main village is open M-Sa 09:00-17:00. They have listings online and on paper of all accommodation, services and visitor attractions on Sark, but (as of Sept 2019) their info is well out of date.
By boat is the only transport, there's no air service. Isle of Sark Shipping Co run foot passenger ferries to Sark from St Peter Port on Guernsey, taking 45 min, adult return £30. April-Oct there are 3-5 sailings M-Sa and two on Sunday, Nov-March have two sailings M W F Sa and only one (so no day-trip) on Sunday.
Manche Iles ferries sail April-Oct to Sark from St Helier on Jersey 3 or 4 days a week, taking 70 min, adult return £40. Some of these ferries start from Granville in Normandy so a day-trip is possible from either; the reverse day-trip is not possible.
The big cross-channel ferries to St Malo lumber past just east of Sark, but of course they don't call here.
With your own boat, use the public yellow buoy moorings at Havre Gosselin on the west coast and at La Grève de la Ville bay on the east coast, and also anchorages in various bays around the Island. Creux Harbour has toilet facilities and has space for a few boats which are able to dry out, but Maseline Harbour has no visitors' moorings and neither does Les Laches, outside Creux Harbour. Maseline jetty is in continual use by ferries, so it is not possible to remain alongside it.
Sark's main harbour is 1 Creux on the east coast. You land at Maseline jetty and walk through a short tunnel into the traditional harbour, then trudge up the steep lane to the village.
- Walk is always first option here.
- Toast-rack: Sark has no motor vehicles except farm tractors, but Harbour Hill from the jetty up to the village is steep. The "toast-rack" is a passenger trailer towed by tractor, which takes you up for a fare of £1. If you have luggage, check it in when you board your ferry and on landing it will be carted to your accommodation. This may be an hour or so after you get there yourself, so keep light essentials in your hand-luggage same as on a plane.
- Horse-drawn vans make tours of the island, starting from the top of Harbour Hill: £20 pp for an hour's circuit of Grande Sark, or £15 for a single trip to Little Sark. The driver acts as tour guide, and may speak French.
- Bike: your accommodation may hire or lend bikes to guests. There are two hire shops on Sark, A to B Cycles near Mermaid Tavern, email@example.com, ☏ ; and Avenue Cycle Hire, firstname.lastname@example.org, ☏ .
- Cycling is illegal on La Coupée and down Harbour Hill. Horses always have right of way, and may approach very quietly.
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.
- Sark Museum on Rue Lucas is open daily in summer 14:00-16:30. Exposition of island life, and only £2.
- 1 La Seigneurie, GY10 1SF (North-west of the island), ☏ . 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.
- 2 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 3 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 4 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.
- 5 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.
- Walk. The countryside north of La Seigneurie is more open and rugged, leading past the island's (and the whole Bailiwick's) highest point of La Moulin, 114 m. At the end of the lane, try to find the Buddhist carving on a rock. Beyond just offshore is the uninhabited islet of La Grune, in the distance north is Les Casquets lighthouse, and beyond over the horizon is Weymouth in Dorset.
- Cycle: see "Get around" for hire options.
- Tour by horse van: see Get Around.
- Beaches are not really why you come to Sark. They're rocky, and a bit of a scramble to reach from the cliff tops. Perhaps the best are Port du Moulin (below Window in the Rock), La Grande Greve (below La Coupée), and Dixcart Bay on the northeast coast.
Exchange rates for British pounds
As of 04 January 2021:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
Money: Sark uses the Guernsey pound, but UK and Jersey pounds are accepted. Some places take euros but at a poor rate, or will do cashback up to £50. The HSBC bank is central in the village on Rue Lucas, open M-F 09:30-12:30 and 14:00-15:00. There's no ATM on Sark. There's also a Natwest bank nearby, but only for their international customers, not Natwest customers from the UK.
Duty free sales are available if you're leaving the Bailiwick of Guernsey, ie your next stop is Jersey or France. The ferry has a duty-free store, but it's seldom much of a saving over mainland supermarket prices.
- Hathaways, La Seigneurie gardens, ☏ . Apr-Oct daily 10:00-17:00. Cafe doing light meals and refreshments, next to La Seigneurie; occasionally open for evening meals.
- 1 Caragh Chocolates & Tea Garden (on the road to Little Sark), ☏ . Apr-Oct daily 10:00-17:00. Chocolate maker and shop also has tearooms, a good refreshment stop on the walk to Little Sark.
- 2 Sue's Tea Garden and B&B (west of the island), ☏ . 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, see "Sleep", reservations strongly recommended.
You may need to order food to get a drink on Sunday. Sark now has a smoking ban in pubs, bars and restaurants; elsewhere it's legal but there are voluntary bans.
- 1 Mermaid Tavern, Main Street Sark, ☏ . Daily 10:00-23:00. Friendly old-fashioned pub, there's still a piano. With beer garden.
- 2 Bel Air Inn, top of Harbour Hill, ☏ . Daily 10:00-00:00. Great welcoming pub, limited range of food, you come here for the beer.
- La Valette Campsite (near lighthouse on east coast), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 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, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 (as above), Blanchard House, Clos de Vaul Creux, and La Marguerite.
- Beau Sejour, Rue de la Seigneurie, Sark GY10 1SF (Opposite La Seigneurie), ☏ . 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, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.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, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
Crime is rare on Sark, which only has a couple of volunteer connétables. One of these estimable officers single-handedly thwarted a "coup" in 1990 by a French dingbat toting a semi-automatic weapon.
You must have personal travel health insurance: like the rest of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, Sark has no reciprocal agreements with the UK National Health Service, EU "EHIC" system, or any other nation. Any local medical treatment must therefore be paid in full. The local GP is well used to dealing with medical mishaps, eg falls on the rocks or faltering hearts in elderly tourists. If you have to be carted away to the helipad in Sark's splendid horse-drawn ambulance, you'll resemble something between the subject of a Mafia funeral and a commercial consignment of tiramisu ice cream.