Last week we visited the extraordinary island of Sark as part of our Travelling History Island project. For the adventurous, for those with a little more time or for those simply looking to get well away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life for several days, we are putting together itineraries on remote and quiet island locations.
Sark ticks all these boxes. A forty five minute boat trip from Guernsey, Sark boasts a complete absence of cars. There are some tractors, which will helpfully haul you and your luggage from the harbour up the hill to the village centre and convey your luggage to your accommodation. There are horse and carriages if you prefer to travel in a little more style but the main forms of transport are foot and bicycle.
There is history - lots of it. We were lucky enough to visit during an excavation undertaken by Sir Barry Cunliffe, working on a Neolithic field system and standing stone. We enjoyed the additional pleasure of joining Sir Barry for dinner at the excellent Stock’s Hotel.
There is a wonderful dolman on Little Sark, and many hints of the presence of a dolerite axe factory. There are plenty of dolerite seams around the coast and it is very easy to find yourself seeking out fascinating geological features, such as “Serpentine balls”
1565 was a significant date for Sark when Elizabeth I granted the island in perpetuity to Helier de Carteret on the condition that an annual rent (currently £1.79) was paid to the Crown and there were always forty men available to defend the island. De Carteret granted land to forty settlers, who also laid out the road and field systems. There are still descendants of the original 40 families on the island today and they are fascinating people to speak to.
Each family’s land included a section of coastline that they were to defend and today you can still see some of the cannons set up (now in many cases rather recumbent) for this purpose.
Elizabethan heritage can still be seen today, particularly at the Mill, one of the oldest buildings on the island. Constructed in 1571 you can still just about make out the date carved on the lintel above the door. This is the highest point of the island and interestingly, recent excavation revealed evidence of Neolithic activity under the mound.
In 1835 Cornish miners started silver mining on Sark, which also saw the origins of the tourist trade as visitors were attracted to the island to view the mine works.
Sark boasts a number of world firsts. It has the world’s smallest known prison, which can accommodate two felons,constructed in 1856. One feature we particularly liked was the prisoner’s pews in St. Peter’s Church, to enable them to attend services.
Sark is also the world’s first Dark Sky Island. With no headlights or streetlights, the absence of light pollutions affords the visitor with extraordinary views of the night sky. An observatory was established in 2014 housing a 10 inch Meade LX200 telescope which is run by the local astronomical society - SAstroS.
Sark also has it’s own henge. Sark Henge may not quite have Bronze Age origins, it was erected in 2015 to mark the 450th anniversary of the Fief of Sark. Its spectacular location above Derrible Bay encapsulates the history, the heritage and the spirit of this marvellous little island.
Aside from the rich history and astronomy, Sark offers plenty to keep the geologist, botanist, ornithologist, adventurist, and anybody seeking peace and tranquility busy.
Sark offers a broad range of accommodation, from camp sites, bed and breakfasts to luxury hotels,. It is a truly unique place that we are looking forward to working closely with in the future.