As the craggy outcrops, secret coves and steep rocky cliffs of the isle of Sark come into view, you get the sense that you’re about to embark on a wild adventure. Sitting just off the coast of Normandy in the English Channel, Sark is the second smallest of the Channel Islands, and can only be reached by boat.
A trip to Sark feels like stepping back in time. Until 2008, Sark was governed under Europe’s last remaining feudal system – a set of rules, based on Norman law, followed for more than 400 years. There are no cars or street lights (remember to pack a torch), so to get around your options are horse and cart, bicycle or boot. Tractors are the only form of motorised vehicle – the ‘toast rack’ tractor chugs up and down the steep hill, taking passengers through a leafy tunnel of trees from the little harbour to the island’s chocolate-box settlement, known simply as the The Village.
Life beneath Dark Skies
Greater Sark and Little Sark are connected by a dramatic, narrow isthmus called La Coupée, or ‘The Cut’ in English. Framed by sweeping coastal views and steep cliffs, the 100m concrete walkway, built by German prisoners of war in 1945, is one of Sark’s most famous landmarks.
Thanks to its mild micro-climate and low levels of pollution, the island’s unspoilt landscape is a haven for rare wildlife and plants. Many birds, including puffins, razorbills, guillemots and cormorants, use Sark as a feeding station during migration, and black rats, one of Britain’s rarest mammals, may also be seen. In summer and early autumn, the fields, woodlands and hedgerows burst with wild berries, such as blackthorn, which is used to make Sark’s infamous sloe gin.
This small Channel Island became an official Dark Sky Community in 2011, and is the first Dark Sky Island in the world. On a clear evening, shooting stars and the Milky Way fill the night sky.
A nine-mile walking route takes in the whole island, although there are options to shorten the way or split it into two or three days of walking. Three miles in length and half that across, Sark’s small size encourages visitors to slow down. There are plenty of trails, but no official coast path, so after visiting viewing points, you will need to retrace your steps inland at times.
Sark walking route
1. Hills and harbours
Starting at Creux Harbour, head through the tunnel and up the steps to the road. You will soon see a footpath sign on your right. Ascend to the cliff top and enjoy spectacular views down towards the harbour. Further along the coastline is Maseline Habour, the larger commercial port where most passenger ferries dock. Here you will find toilet facilities and a small café.
Keep on the trail, turning left at a fork to follow the footpath towards the northern tip of the island. You will arrive at another fork – here, you can veer right to reach Eperquerie Common and Landing, where conservation work is ongoing to repair Butts tower and parapet. Otherwise, turn left along the rugged north-western side of the island to the next viewing point.
3. Hole in the wall
Retrace your steps along the main path until you see a sign for Window in the Rock (Port du Moulin) in the valley – the hole in the rock offers a lovely frame for the bay below.
4. Wetland wander
Return to the main path. From here, either cut back to the harbour (again well-marked) or, at the junction, turn right to pass Island Hall and a small chapel. Walk over Gouliot headland, a protected wetland, then follow the main path to reach La Coupée and Little Sark.
5. Time for a swim
Test your head for heights and walk across La Coupée. There is an option to scramble down the steep steps to Le Grande Grève beach. Keep going along the main track and pass a patchwork of farmer’s fields. When you reach the small village of Little Sark, take the right-hand fork towards Port Gorey where you can see the remains of the old mines and a stone tower. From here you can either head towards Venus Pool and scramble down the cliffs for a swim (please note, this is a strenuous scramble and only suitable for strong swimmers and in good weather) or take the main track back inland, returning over La Coupée.
6. Back for tea
Once back on Greater Sark, take a right and follow a small path along the edge of a field around the Dixcart Valley. Pay a visit to Dixcart Bay or Derrible Bay, or continue to follow the track towards the centre of the village in time for a traditional Sark cream tea.
Other activities to do in Sark
Hire a bike
If you fancy exploring on two wheels, there are several bike rentals on the island. With no cars, the quiet country lanes are perfect for a leisurely ride. We used Avenue Cycle Hire or you could try A to B Cycles.
Cruise the coast
If you fancy seeing the island from the water, take a boat trip with George Guille. Coming from one of the oldest families on Sark, George has spent his entire life on the island and is an expert on its unique history and coastline. www.sark.co.uk/cruise-the-coast-2-10623/
For the more adventurous, book a kayak and coasteering trip around the island with Adventure Sark. Equipment and full training is provided. www.adventuresark.com
Best places to stay and eat in Sark
REVIEW: Clos a Jaon self-catering cottages
We stayed at Sark's newest self-catering accommodation, the luxurious and comfortable Clos a Jaon. Newly refurbished to a high standard, modern features are complemented with original touches, such as Sark's beautiful local granite. Built in 1700, Clos a Jaon was originally just a simple pair of cottages with an adjacent barn, before it fell into disrepair over the centuries. An initial restoration was started in the 1970s, before an ambitious project was undertaken in 2015 to renovate the buildings. Suitable for family celebrations or a break with friends, Clos A Jaon is just the place to escape the stresses of modern life and enjoy Sark's slower pace of life.
Clos a Jaon offers five comfortable holiday cottages, with wood burning stoves in the lounges of each cottage - perfect for cosy evenings playing board games or watching films. In warmer weather, make the most of Sark's beautiful surroundings by eating outdoors in the lovely garden. There is a high level of attention to detail within each of the cottages, with luxurious bathrooms, comfortable beds and added extras such as a sound system and free wifi.
For groceries, take a trip to the local 'Food Stop' in the main Avenue, which sells Waitrose products or order home delivery from Mon Plaisir Stores. There is also a well-stocked organic kitchen garden available for use by guests.
After a fun yet tiring day exploring Sark, Clos a Jaon is a welcome and peaceful retreat.
Visit: http://closajaonsark.com/ to book
Other places to stay in Sark
Built in 1741, Stock’s is the oldest hotel on Sark. Offers 23 comfortable rooms, plus self-catering options. Two swimming pools and an excellent restaurant on site, plus dog –friendly rooms available. www.stockshotel.com
La Sablonnerie Hotel
Traditional Sark hotel with restaurant. Charming interior with open fire and lovely garden surroundings. Fresh seafood and excellent Sark cream teas. www.sablonneriesark.com
Sark is a 50-minute ferry ride from Guernsey, which is well-served with a busy airport with several flights a day from across mainland Britain and Europe. See Sark Shipping Company for timetables www.sarkshippingcompany.com
Four more Channel Islands to visit
The largest of the Channel Islands, this cosmopolitan mecca offers fine dining, shopping and luxurious places to stay, contrasted with spectacular white sandy beaches, quaint villages and beautiful countryside. Explore castles, botanical gardens and museums to learn about the island’s history and heritage.
Guernsey has a bustling town centre near its capital, St Peter Port. However, venture a little further afield and you’ll find pretty country lanes, a lovely coastline and ruins and historic buildings to explore.
The northernmost and third largest of the Channel Islands, the mild climate of Alderney has spectacular beaches and a wetland of international importance, with birds such as little grebe, coot, moorhen, heron and mallard nesting at the site. Other rare island wildlife includes the blond hedgehog and black rat.
The smallest of the islands at just a mile and a half long and half a mile wide, this titchy island feels like paradise, with white sandy beaches, turquoise water and a quaint harbour. There’s one brilliant pub, the Mermaid Tavern and only one hotel to stay, the White House. Along with cars, bicycles are also banned on the island, so to get around you’ll need to rely on your own two feet.
Main image: Sark, Getty
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