Take a step back in time to this magical island in the south-western English Channel off the coast of Normandy. Enjoy peace and tranquillity exploring the picturesque coastal paths, magnificent gardens and idyllic hidden bays.
There are many reasons to be smitten with Sark. As the smallest of the four main Channel Islands (with around 500 ‘Sercquaise’ living on the island), there are no cars and no street lights – just unpolluted, unspoilt charming landscape, and many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The locals are wonderful, friendly and quirky – we learned Sark even has its own language, “Sercquiais” with around 15 people still speaking it today. Don’t however be fooled by its beauty, Sark is an island you don’t mess with. In August 1990, André Gardes, an unemployed nuclear physicist from France, attempted an audacious one-man invasion. After arriving on Sark, he put up posters declaring his intentions to take control the following day at noon. However, whilst changing the magazine of his automatic rifle the next morning, the island’s only volunteer police constable arrested him and the invasion came to an early and unsuccessful end.
The Clameur de haro is a traditional custom historically used on Sark. If a Sarkee believes their rights are being infringed, (to stop a neighbour from building a fence, for example) they can still issue an injunction by reciting the Lord’s Prayer and then crying “Haro, Haro, Haro! To my aid, my Prince! I am being wronged!” in French, and the disputed action must be stopped until the matter is resolved in court.
This was used as recently as 2021 in a boundary dispute affecting access to a property. Famous for having been ruled since the 16th century, in a unique, pseudo-feudal manner by a ‘Seigneur’, the constitution was modernised, only in 2008, to allow for a democratically elected council style assembly.
The locals are passionately proud of their island and quite rightly so. The lack of roads, houses and street lights enabled Sark to become the first island in the world to be granted Dark Sky status. Perfect for the band of local enthusiastic stargazers who run Sark’s astronomical society, and who today share the wonders of Sark’s magical night-time display with their island visitors.
As a place with no motor vehicles (apart from farm tractors), journeys are either made by horse and cart, or by walking and cycling along the tracks and pathways. The islands of Sark and Little Sark are connected by a narrow isthmus, La Coupée. For many years it was believed to be haunted, and residents thought that their donkeys refused to cross the rocky ridge because they were frightened by the presence of a ghostly dog named Tchico – not because of the steep 260ft drops on either side!
We stayed at Stocks Hotel, the finest luxury hotel on Sark, located at the heart of the Island. Home to the Armorgie family for 30 years, now owned by the Woolford and Magell families. Originally an early-Georgian granite farmhouse, becoming a hotel in 1895, sitting in a sheltered, south-facing valley and surrounded by acres of grounds, some tended as immaculate gardens and others given to woodland and meadow. Perfectly presented, its 23 newly-renovated bedrooms and suites provide spacious, stylish and comfortable accommodation.
The suntrap terraces, housing a heated, outdoor swimming pool, are just right for afternoon tea or a glass of the hotel’s delicious homemade wine, and the restaurant’s reputation for the quality of its dishes, using, predominantly, locally sourced ingredients, is absolutely right – the food is delicious. The gardens feature a traditional old granite cider press, one of a number still found in Sark, and adjacent to the swimming pool is allegedly the oldest mulberry tree in the Channel Islands.
The lack of roads, houses and street lights enabled Sark to become the first island in the world to be granted ‘Dark Sky’ status.
Life on Sark needs to be experienced to be truly appreciated. Following a scrumptious farmhouse breakfast at Stocks Hotel we were determined to see as much of the Island as possible. Our adventure began with some rather daring coasteering, scrambling along the picturesque coastline of Havre Gosselin and Visitor Moorings.
We met James, our guide from Adventure Sark at their base opposite the Island Hall just a short cycle ride from Stocks Hotel. Wet suits on, we walked and chatted, passing the Methodist Chapel, Beauregard Duck Pond and Pilcher Monument before descending the cliffs to reach the shoreline.
There was quite a swell in the water, blue skies, crisp air and a ray of warm morning sunshine.
The rugged natural scenery is just beautiful, and James assured us the whirlpool waves were perfect for coasteering as they would soften our landing.
We scrambled around the jagged cliffs, passing glistening rock pools and exploring inside sea caves. The water was crystal clear and there was nobody in sight – it was a chance to really let go and feel at one with the elements. Living in the moment we gained in confidence as we took on the higher adrenaline-fuelled jumps.
We stopped to admire the mock-Gothic castle built upon Brecqhou, a small island opposite Sark’s west coast with just the flowing water of Gouliot Passage and one tiny islet between. Owned by the Barclay brothers, identical-twin billionaires from England (sadly David, the elder by ten minutes, passed away in 2021), the private and remote island is complete with its own private harbour and helipad.
Grandly situated in the middle is their mysterious 100-foot-high granite walled castle, with no less than 22 cannons. James tells us of the Barclays’ motto, Aut agere aut mori meaning either do or die, famously inscribed in the stonework over the entrance. Sark claims Brecqhou as its own which is strongly refuted by the Barclay family, who consider Brecqhou as their private property. They drive cars and land helicopters on Brecqhou, both of which are prohibited under the Sark law and so this has caused upset with some of the locals.
We admired the views over Jethou and Herm, as well as the larger island of Guernsey in the distance before returning back onto the headland which is a blanket of bluebells and primroses – a popular picnic spot and place to sit and watch the sunset.
Next, we head back to the hotel in time to meet Helen and Alex Magell. Helen’s parents, Jan and Rob Woolford bought the hotel in 2009 before refurbishing and reopening it as Stocks.
Helen and Alex live in a beautiful property adjacent to Stocks Hotel, with access from the hotel gardens, which they run as a B&B – Le Grand Dixcart. One of the original Sark farmhouses it includes a very pretty stone cottage with roses around the windows – sleeps six and has an indoor pool and guest lounge, with bedrooms named after Helen and Alex’s much-loved horses, Marmite, Bagheera, Poddy, Molly, Minstrel, Beau, Ron and Willow.
Willow was ready to take us on a horse and carriage ride with Helen at the helm. As we rode off Helen told us how her grandparents had moved to Sark in 1972 and how she would spend her summer holidays in Sark driving horses and carriages. Her husband, Alex, originally hails from Lancashire, and met and fell in love with Helen while they both studied farming at Agricultural College in the UK after which Helen introduced Alex to the delights of Sark. Alex subsequently qualified as a Chartered Accountant and Helen as a Teacher and they were thrilled when they had the chance to move to Sark together with their expanding family in 1999.
Helen and Alex share their passion for giving people a true Sark welcome and helping them enjoy the beauty of the island. Helen and Willow took us to see Sark’s most northerly point, stopping at L’Éperquerie Common.
We disembarked and explored the beautifully rugged headland, discovering the Buddhist Rock Carving before enjoying a picnic with views out to Bec du Nez. Known by the locals as the Buddhist Carving or Monk’s Stone, the stunning granite rock was carved out for the Millennium by a Tibetan Buddhist monk, who came over in 1999, and went all over the island with a friend to find the best spot to make his carving. The sacred Buddhist mantra is translated into English, Behold – The jewel in the lotus.
On the ride back to the hotel Willow and Helen took us through the centre of Sark village as Alex chatted away pointing out interesting places including Sark’s Prison, which is (probably) the smallest prison still in use in the world. We also rode slowly past Le Moulin, Sark’s three storey windmill. Used as an observation tower during the German occupation, it is situated on the highest point on Sark (114 metres or 374 feet above sea level).
We later wandered through the village ourselves, discovering yet more points of interest including the post office full of souvenirs, Sark’s only postbox (which in 2012 was painted gold to celebrate Carl Hester’s role in Great Britain’s dressage team’s gold medal), the village stores, fashion boutiques, a stylish gift boutique, wine shop, museum, bank and several pubs and cafés.
At only three miles long and a mile and a half wide it doesn’t take long on a bike ride to stumble across yet another of the Island’s highlights, La Seigneurie Gardens, the traditional residence of the Seigneur of Sark. It is easy to lose yourself in the maze and wander among the rose beds, flowers and plants sheltered by granite walls – many of which would only survive under glass in other parts of the British Isles. In the summer months, roses by the leading grower David Austin are beautifully vibrant and don’t miss the newly-planted vine house, or the Chapel which tells the history of Sark’s Seigneurs and the Seigneurie itself. Refuelling is made easy at the gorgeously renovated 16th-century carriage house terrace café and restaurant, Hathaway’s.
There was just about time before our dinner reservation for one last cycle stop and nature walk to the beautiful pebble beach of Port du Moulin Bay where just a short detour from the path above you will stumble across the unmissable and awe-inspiring Window in the Rock. Seigneur of Sark in the 1850s, Rev Collings blasted the Window in the Rock into the cliffs above Port Du Moulin in order to frame the view of Les Autelets – and what a fabulous job, it is an absolutely stunning and picturesque spot.
A five-minute cycle ride from the Window in the Rock is the new Captain’s Bar and Bon Marin Café. These are located inside the Island Hall which is also the Community Centre and Sark School (where there are around 30 students in total across all year groups). The evening we visited there was live music and it was burger night, with beef, chicken, fish, spicy bean and pulled pork on the menu. Many of the locals had told us the chicken burgers were unmissable so it was an easy choice all round – and they didn’t disappoint.
We woke up early to meet Sark’s new dairy farmer, Jason, a prize-winning cattle breeder. He moved to Sark with his wife Katherine from Suffolk where they have a farm and cheese-making business. Locals and guests to the island are welcome to watch or help Jason feed his herd, and we were among the first guests to experience his brand new milking parlour. Locals can now collect fresh milk here every morning from a vending machine using re-usable glass bottles. There is even a choice of flavours to add to your milk, including chocolate, banana, raspberry and toffee, for those with a sweet tooth.
Following another hearty breakfast back at the hotel we headed out towards Little Sark in search of the Venus Pool. Before walking across La Coupée (cycling is not allowed) we stopped to admire Grande Grève Bay – Sark’s largest sandy beach, surrounded by a 100-metre cliff with a steep path of steps (built by volunteers) to lead you down. Sark’s natural rugged beauty intensifies as you reach its most southern peninsula – Little Sark. Back on our bikes, we cycled the floral paths, passing pretty cottages, an ivy-covered windmill and lots of sheep. There is a giant pink chair left following the Sark Folk Festival. It makes a great resting place to look out over the magnificent southern views towards the sea.
It was also a good sign we were on the right path to the Venus Pool. As we got closer to the coastline there were piles of rocks placed by locals that helped us to find the right path down the cliff. I recommend good footwear as it is quite a clamber down. Once at sea-level head left and you will know when you have found it. The natural rock pool is filled with shimmering deep turquoise water inviting you in. The unpolluted freshness of the coastal air makes the cold water adventure even more enjoyable. I stayed in the water for around 15 minutes, floating and dipping under a few times. It was an incredibly tranquil experience (the best time to visit is two hours on either side of low tide).
“The natural rock pool is filled with shimmering deep turquoise water inviting you in.”
Our next stop on the Sark side of La Coupée was to Caragh Chocolates Café for some of their utterly delicious hand made chocolate, using the same fresh, creamy milk we sampled that morning at the new dairy farm. There is no shortage of chocolate inspiration with every flavour you can imagine including Sark cream and champagne, vanilla and tiramisu. We ordered hot chocolate and hearing about our dip in the Venus Pool, owner Caragh suggested I might like to add a shot of rum to mine. Caragh’s also serve healthy wraps and salads, ice creams, cake, soft drinks, beers ciders and prosecco. There’s a beautiful garden, a giant red tractor, and even an outdoor swimming pool. Caragh also offers masterclasses where you can learn how to make your own bars and hand-rolled truffles.
From Caragh Chocolates we referred to our map and decided to make our way through Dixcart Valley towards Sark Henge. We stopped at Dixcart Bay, another of Sark’s sand and pebble beaches, and enjoyed exploring inside the giant natural arch rock formation which framed the sea, reminding us of a Lord of the Rings film set. We got back on the path, found ourselves a little lost in Hog’s Back Headland before eventually finding the right path up high above Derrible Bay where the sun was beginning to set. Sark Henge with its coastal views out to sea looked wonderful, golden hour set in and we just sat and marvelled at the views.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner back at the hotel. Feeling sad it was our last night at Stocks Hotel we stood in awe once more at the glistening bright stars feeling grateful for the magic we had found on this beautiful and charming little island. Sark is all about the simple life and enjoying nature. With so much fresh air and exercise during the day, and so little digital stimulation I have never slept so well. It is no surprise that Sark has been the inspiration of artists and writers for centuries. It is the perfect destination for a family adventure, an uplifting health break or a romantic break for two. No matter which type of holiday you choose, to experience Sark is worth its entire island weight in gold.
Prices start from £94.50 per person per night, bed and breakfast during the spring and autumn. Pre-book the new Stocks Dining Package option for 10% discount off all lunches, dinners and drinks at Stocks Hotel. Furthermore, stay for 4 nights or longer and Stocks Hotel will refund your Guernsey-Sark return ferry fare with the Isle of Sark Shipping Company. → stockshotel.com
TOP TIPS FOR VISITING SARK
Getting to Sark is part of the adventure
Flying with Aurigny from Southampton to Guernsey takes just 45-minutes, jump in a taxi taking 15-minutes from the airport to St Peter Port followed by a 45-minute boat ride over to Sark (tickets are available from the Isle of Sark Shipping Company). Plus, pop into Sark Visitor Centre for information about local events, maps, walks and leaflets.
Take some time to explore Guernsey between your transfers
We left our luggage in the hold at St Peter Port and walked 10 minutes to Castle Cornet to watch the noonday gun. For lunch, stop in at Crêpe Maison for Crêpes Suzette and Rocquette Cider.
Be sure to have some money for the passenger tractor bus.
On arrival at Sark buses takes passengers and their luggage up the rather steep hill. It is only a couple of quid but they will only accept cash.
Stay at Stocks Hotel
Everything is looked after for you as a guest of Stocks. On arrival your luggage is whisked away and transported to your hotel for you, enabling you to start your holiday from the moment you arrive on the island.
Bike hire is essential for adventurers
We collected ours from A to B Cycles in Mermaid Lane just a short walk from where the tractor bus drops you on the Avenue at the centre of the Island.
Remember to take head torches
With no street lights and many dangerous cliffs you will be grateful for them when you are still exploring in the evening under the bright stars.
Words | Jessica Way