Sark: Times change, even on this tiny island

Sark has become a democracy. Is it any different, asks Adrian Mourby

At 8am the Bon Marin de Serk pulls out of Guernsey harbour in the cold, clear morning light. The sea is calm but I'm not. It's been 16 years since I last visited Sark. I'm worried that it will have changed and I won't like it any more.

There's a noise from the quayside. Six young men running and shouting, some still pulling on coats. Half the Sark football team work on Guernsey and they've got a match this morning. The captain curses but turns the ferry round to pick them up. Maybe not too much has changed after all.

"Aye, aye, where you staying?"asks a portly goalkeeper who joins me on the bow.

"Little Sark," I say. "La Sablonnerie."

He whistles. "That's a long way." It's three miles, actually. Forty minutes by pony and trap from the harbour. I think Goalie doesn't go down the south end if he can help it.

As we draw near there's one change I do notice. Ahead on the adjoining island of Brechou, once part of Sark itself, there stands what looks like a huge power station. As we get closer I see it's a beautifully constructed faux medieval castle with perfect lawns, two helipads and batteries of security cameras. I don't remember this. A helicopter swoops over us. "That'll be the Brothers bringing folk in for the weekend," says Goalie. "They say David Cameron was here last week."

The "Brothers" are the billionaire twins Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, who've been doing battle with the Seigneur of Sark for several years. They even petitioned the Privy Council to ensure that Sark's reforms properly embraced democracy in accordance with European law. This will be Sark's first tourist season since it stopped being a feudal state.

Helicopter flight paths aside, not much else seems different. At Maseline harbour luggage is still loaded on to your hotel's tractor and the walk up to the Avenue is no less steep. The Avenue is Sark's dusty main street. Here is where you hire your bike and, if you arrive in business hours, you can draw money out of the bank. (ATMs are yet to reach Sark.)

There are not many things to do on this green, farmer's island; that is part of its prelapsarian charm. You can visit the Seigneurie (where the Dame of Sark famously demanded that occupying German officers wipe their feet). You can take a boat trip round the island with George or a pony and trap ride with Danny or Norman.

Norman is as old as they come. He knows the story behind every building on Sark. I think he watched most of them being built. As we pass the junior school, Norman laments that some families send their children away to the mainland now. "An' once they go and see how the other half lives, they never come back." He gives me a meaningful look and I have the very definite feeling that it was Norman who took me around 16 years ago.

"They've plans for a five-star hotel over there," says Norman shaking his head. "Open all year round!" Such a thing has never happened on Sark. "But we don't want helicopters landing here. Sometimes we hear them all weekend ferrying folk to Brechou. No, Sark has got to change but there's change and there's change, if you know what I mean."

We get back to the Avenue in time for a quick lunch at Le Petit Poulet, a little licensed cafe which only opened last year. When the owner, Kristina, came to Sark 17 years ago, Le Poulet was a cafe. Since then it's been all manner of shops. "Now it's a cafe again," she explains. That's Norman's kind of Sark. Things can change as long as they stay the same.

I spend the afternoon with George Guille, who has been piloting his boat around the island's rugged coastline for decades. In his time he has grown used to whole cliffs collapsing and caves disappearing. "The sea is always changing things. But there's a stack I've been telling folk about for years. 'You take a photograph of that! It won't be here next spring!' And yet it always is."

In the evening I cycle to La Sablonnerie, a gorgeous little farm converted into a hotel and run by Miss Elizabeth Perree, descendant of one of the 40 feudal families that settled the island in 1535. "We must remember, Sark has worked wonderfully for 450 years. It's the outsiders who come to the island because they love it, and lo and behold they want to change things once they get here. It'll be a tragedy if it becomes like anywhere else in the world."

I find myself agreeing. I love this little rock caught in its time warp. It can change as much as it likes. As long as it stays the same.

COMPACT FACTS

HOW TO GET THERE

Adrian Mourby travelled with Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com), which flies from Southampton to Guernsey from £64 return. Ferry crossings to Sark cost £22 return with Isle of Sark Shipping (01481 724059; sarkshipping.info). La Sablonnerie (01481 832061; lasablonnerie. com) offers b&b in a double room from £67.50 per night.

Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all