Sark: The island where time stood still ... until now

This little Channel island's first elections disrupted its peaceful atmosphere. But tourists will now find the place as serene as ever, says Steve Usher

You see the shadows first, rippling across the hard ridges of sandy beach before accelerating skyward, soaring above the cliffs, where they arc back on themselves, crying and shrieking.

The wide-winged guardians of Gulls Chapel and Pointe Derrible seem to want to keep this beautiful idyll to themselves. This is Sark, smallest of the British Crown Dependencies, standing proud in the choppy English Channel like a giant oyster shell lushly topped with gorse and honeysuckle.

Bottle-nosed dolphins guide us into Maseline Harbour, where we wave goodbye to the Bon Marin De Serk, which has ferried us from St Peter Port on Guernsey, just 50 minutes' sail away. We climb on to the back of a tractor and pay £1 each for the ride up Harbour Hill. Sark is car free as well as carefree – no need for Sark-Nav.

Red Admirals and Jersey Tiger butterflies lead the way to the Bel Air pub, where Smudge, the short-eared old moggy, keeps a watchful eye on locals and visitors enjoying tax-free beer and cider at half mainland prices. The wind sweeps in from across the sea like an invisible hairbrush combing fields and woodlands bursting with wild garlic, borage, and briar rose, and forcing the children, playing in La Seigneurie Gardens maze, to duck down and hide.

Meanwhile, in Sark's "other" pub, The Mermaid, the talk is of getting the island's cider production going again. Ian Cunneen, 49, is a perfect example of how to survive on Sark. The tourist season is all too short and islanders must have more than one string to their bow. He does drains, he does sewers, he fixes boats, and he runs a publishing company. Oh, and he is planning to restart cider-making on Sark with an organic version weighing in at about 9 per cent strength.

"It will be organic cider. Nothing added, nothing taken away, just apples fermented twice. Me and some friends made cider last autumn and brought it up for people to try, but you need a production licence now. We are required to pay a small tax but not enough to put you off," he says, making do for now with a bottle of Rocquette cider shipped in from Guernsey.

Laws and licences are a new experience for people here. Until recently, an Elizabethan constitution allowed Sarkees to do pretty much what they wanted. Sark sets its own laws, its own tax regime and its own regulations through its parliament, the Chief Pleas. But Brussels Eurocrats want changes to make Sark's governance "human- rights compliant". So, Sark is tangled up in talks on revising a system that most of the 600 islanders know and trust.

The island held its first elections in December, becoming the last European territory to abolish feudalism, but it is still recovering from the well-documented turmoil those elections caused. When the preferred candidates of the Sarkees' Brecqhou neighbours, Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, failed to win seats, the businessmen shut their operations on the island resulting in lost jobs for a sixth of the community. But almost all the hotels and businesses are now open again. The Sarkees have a history of repelling unwanted influences that goes back to the Vikings. They can be choosy about who they welcome in.

A reminder of a true invasion is La Coupée, a sliver of dirt track connecting Big Sark to Little Sark, with 260ft drops on either side. It was rebuilt in 1945 by German prisoners of war following the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands. Cyclists must dismount and cross on foot. Holidaymakers in carriages disembark until the horse and carriage are safely over to the other side. It is no place for the faint-hearted in a gale.

Little Sark enjoys breathtaking views from its rugged cliffs. There are also the shimmering clear waters of the Adonis and Venus pools to swim in, not to mention the sandy beach at La Grande Gréve.

It is also worth crossing La Coupée to Little Sark to dine on dishes such as fresh Sark lobster grilled with a lime and ginger butter glaze at the award-winning hotel and restaurant La Sablonnerie, run by Elizabeth Perrée, whose family has been in charge here for more than 300 years.

Our host at La Vaurocque, a family apartment on a private estate back on the main island, is the affable John Donnelly. He speaks with passion of the island he has lived on for 33 years. In the wake of the Barclays' investments and failed attempts to gain power in the recent elections, the notion that islanders are always engaged in petty squabbles has taken root in some quarters, but he says this is far from true. "We are all in it together here and everyone accepts that."

John's 19-year-old daughter, Olivia, appears with her Connemara pony, Prudence, and invites my daughter, Dorothy, to go for a ride through lanes lined with ragged robin and foxgloves. Sark is only three miles long and a mile-and-a-half wide, yet it offers great opportunities for riders, walkers, cyclists, sailors, scuba divers and fishermen. Wrasse, grey and red mullet, pollock, bass and bream can be landed from the rocks with rods. Mackerel, flatfish, dogfish, conger eel and whiting are plentiful further offshore.

As the sun sets over the Barclays' Brecqhou Bastille and the lights of St Peter Port in Guernsey twinkle away to the west, a party out on an evening bat walk pass by as we stand astride our bicycles at the foot of the Pilcher Monument, overlooking Havre Gosselin and enjoying the moment. The pace of life here is so relaxing that a week on Sark is worth two weeks anywhere else.

Compact facts

How to get there

From Guernsey, the Isle of Sark Shipping Company (01481 724059; has returns from £25. From Jersey, the Manche Îles Express ferry (01534 880756; offers return fares from £33. La Sablonnerie (01481 832061; has B&B from £30 per person per night.

Further information

Sark Tourism (01481 832345;

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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions