Sark (French: Sercq; Sercquiais: Sèr or Cerq) is a small island within the Bailiwick of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, with a population of 492 in 2015 and an area of little more than 2 square miles. Sark lies 10 miles east of Guernsey island and 25 miles (40 km) west of the Cherbourg peninsula of Normandy. The main body of the island is Grande Sark, where La Seigneurie gardens are the big attraction. At its south end it's connected to Little Sark by La Coupée, a causeway across a precipitous ridge. Just west is the island of Brecqhou, which is privately owned and you can't visit.
Sark has no motor traffic except tractors, and has a quasi-medieval government under a hereditary Seigneur - since 2016 this is Christopher Beaumont (b 1957).
Sark is semi-autonomous within the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which is a Crown Dependency and not part of the United Kingdom - see Guernsey#Understand. It's often described as the last feudal fiefdom in Europe. You would need a Doctorate in Late Norman Jurisprudence to fathom it fully, but the essence of it was "Whatever the Seigneur says, but definitely no cars, and no-one else can keep pigeons."
The oddity was that this was not an 800-year undying tradition, but a later retro-fit. Although inhabited from prehistoric times, by the 16th century Sark was just a nest of pirates. In 1565 the Seigneur of St Ouen in Jersey was awarded Sark by Queen Elizabeth I of England provided he settled it with 40 loyal men and rid the place of pirates. He laid out 40 plots of land, each man to build a house thereon and be ever-ready with his musket. These proto-minutemen were his tenants, and that word on Sark still means these hereditary landholdings, which remain today. But along with this, at a time when England was starting to feel its way towards modern governance, came legal arrangements more suited to Monty Python's Knights who say "Ni!" For instance, to make someone cease and desist from an unwanted action, anywhere else you could seek an injunction. In Sark what you did, in French and before witnesses, was to recite the Lord's Prayer and cry upon your Prince to defend you: À l'aide, mon Prince, on me fait tort! This Clameur de Haro was last invoked on Sark in 1970, concerning a garden wall; if only it had been a shrubbery. In 2021 it was invoked unsuccessfully on Jersey to try to block an eviction.
Sark got by with this, sort of, only because not much happened and there was little resort to law. For instance offshore finance and company domiciles, a major aspect of 20th-century Jersey and Guernsey business life, bypassed Sark. But in 1993 the media tycoons David and Frederick Barclay bought extensive property here, including the entire island of Brecqhou, and soon came into conflict with the system. Thus, Sark law dictated that their estate had to pass entire to the oldest son. That was a standard medieval rule to prevent fragmentation of feudal responsibilities and landholdings - but in 1993? Writs began flying, and appeals to higher jurisdiction, which cast a cold light on Sark's legal system and lack of democracy. The Barclays also claimed that Brecqhou was independent of Sark: in this they failed, but one casualty of the conflict was the old feudal legislature, which disbanded in 2008 to make way for an elected council. In a huff, the Barclays sold all their property on Grande Sark and retreated to Brecqhou, which with its natural moat lacked only a drawbridge to pull up and a portcullis to drop.
Sark Tourism west end of the main village is open M-Sa 09:00-17:00. They have info on all accommodation, services and visitor attractions on Sark.
Get in edit
By boat is the only transport, there's no air service. Isle of Sark Shipping Co run foot passenger ferries to Sark from St Peter Port on Guernsey, taking 45 min, day-return adult £29.50, child £14. April-Oct have 3-5 sailings M-Sa and two on Sunday, Nov-March have two sailings M W F Sa and only one Tu Th Su - the latter are primarily for cargo with limited passengers.
Manche Iles ferries sail April-Oct to Sark from St Helier on Jersey 3 or 4 days a week, taking 70 min, adult return £40. Some of these ferries start from Granville in Normandy so a day-trip is possible from either; the reverse day-trip is not possible.
The big cross-channel ferries to St Malo lumber past just east of Sark but don't call here.
With your own boat, use the public yellow buoy moorings at Havre Gosselin on the west coast and at La Grève de la Ville bay on the east coast, and also anchorages in various bays around the Island. Creux Harbour has toilet facilities and has space for a few boats which are able to dry out, but Maseline Harbour has no visitor moorings and neither does Les Laches, outside Creux Harbour. Maseline jetty is in continual use by ferries, so it is not possible to remain alongside it.
1 Creux on the east coast is Sark's main harbour. You land at Maseline jetty and walk through a short tunnel into the traditional harbour, then trudge up the steep lane to the village.
Get around edit
- Walking is always first option here.
- Toast-rack: Sark has no motor vehicles except farm tractors, but Harbour Hill from the jetty up to the village is steep. The "toast-rack" is a passenger trailer towed by tractor, which takes you up for a fare of £1.50. If you have luggage, check it in when you board your ferry and on landing it will be carted to your accommodation. This may be an hour or so after you get there yourself, so keep light essentials in your hand-luggage same as on a plane.
- Horse-drawn vans make tours of the island, starting from the top of Harbour Hill: £20 pp for an hour's circuit of Grande Sark, or £15 for a single trip to Little Sark. The driver acts as tour guide, and may speak French.
- Bike: your accommodation may hire or lend bikes to guests. There are two hire shops on Sark, A to B Cycles near Mermaid Tavern, email@example.com, ☏ ; and Avenue Cycle Hire, firstname.lastname@example.org, ☏ . Cycling is illegal on La Coupée and down Harbour Hill. Horses always have right of way, and may approach very quietly.
- 1 The Avenue is reached at the top of Harbour Hill from the pier. Most of the island amenities are around here. Many of the buildings are pre-fabs, a curious mix of modern and Butlins. Rue Lucas branches north.
- Sark Museum on Rue Lucas has closed down, but the Old Island Hall on Chasse-Marais somtimes has exhibitions of bygone life.
- 2 La Seigneurie, Sark GY10 1SF, ☏ . Apr-Oct daily 10:00-18:00. Home of the Seigneur of Sark since 1730, but the house interior is not open to the public, you come for the magnificent walled garden. There are guided tours of the garden Wednesday at 11:30. Adult £6, with tour £8.
- 3 The Window in the Rock overlooks the coast directly west of La Seigneurie. In the 1850s the Rev Collings was Seigneur, and blasted this tunnel: perhaps partly to facilitate haulage of goods from the beach below, perhaps work creation, and not least the fun of using newly-invented explosives to improve the view. (This was almost as popular with Victorian landowners on rocky terrain as blasting at grouse.) The tunnel opens onto a sheer drop, keep a tight hold of the children and dog.
- 4 L’Eperquerie is the north tip of Grande Sark, embellished by a Buddhist rock carving inscribed in 2000. It faces west to Guernsey island and Herm, while just north is the islet of La Grune.
- 5 Sark Henge was constructed in 2015 to mark 450 years since the island was feu'd to Hellier de Carteret. Nine one-eyed megaliths surround a stone disc, all symbolic of this and that.
- 6 La Coupée is the giddy causeway between Grande and Little Sark, only 300 feet (91 m) long but somewhat more than that straight down if you stumbled over either edge. It was built in 1945 by German POWs - before that the inhabitants had to scramble over the perilous ridge, clinging on against winds that tried to hurl them into the abyss.
- Little Sark once safely across La Coupée is almost anticlimactic, a quiet farming landscape. The big draw is the excellent La Sablonnerie Hotel and Restaurant, see Sleep. Below the cliffs, Venus pool (south tip) and Adonis pool (west tip) are natural bathing pools replenished by the sea. Also south are a large Neolithic dolmen and the remains of 7 silver mines worked in the mid 19th century.
- 8 L'Etac is the islet seen south of Little Sark. Scuba diving trips sometimes visit, as the strong currents promote marine life.
- Caves: the cliffs of Sark are riddled with caves close to the waterline and only accessible at low tide. Look up tides online, for instance at Easytide using "Maseline Pier" as the reference port, or ask any boatman. Good examples are the Boutique Caves at the north end of the island, and the Gouliot Caves on the west coast.
- 9 Brecqhou, but you only view it from the west coast of Grande Sark. This is the one that all the fuss was about, separated from Sark by 100 yards of channel, millions of pounds of litigation, and fiercely defended private ownership, but not by any political autonomy. Until 1929 the island was a tenement of Sibyl Hathaway (1884-1974) the Dame of Sark, and when this formidable lady stipulated that its sale came with all feudal obligations, then feudally obligated it damned-well came.
- Herm is the island seen to the northwest. You have to backtrack via St Peter Port on Guernsey to reach it.
- What's on? See the island website[dead link] for upcoming events.
- Walk. Quiet lanes criss-cross bucolic countryside mid-island, while north of La Seigneurie is more open and rugged, leading past the island's (and the whole Bailiwick's) highest point of La Moulin, 114 m. At the north tip beyond the uninhabited islet of La Grune you look out towards distant Les Casquets lighthouse.
- Cycle: see Get around for hire options.
- Tour by horse van: see Get Around.
- Beaches are not why you visit Sark, as they're rocky, and a bit of a scramble to reach from the cliff tops. The best are Port du Moulin (below Window in the Rock), La Grande Greve (below La Coupée), and Dixcart Bay on the northeast coast.
- Dark night skies: there's no street lighting or cars, so the island is clear of light pollution. Once night falls (which in midsummer is after 22:00) it's a great place to sky-watch, with the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon like the wake of a celestial ferry. Sark Astronomical Society have an observatory (with an uncanny resemblance to a chicken coop) and host meetings and events once the nights draw in.
Exchange rates for British pounds
As of January 2024:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from xe.com
- Food Stop is a general store on The Avenue open M-F 08:00-17:00, Sa 09:00-16:00, Su 10:00-12:30.
- Mon Plaisir is a small store north on Rue de Sermon open M-Sa 09:00-18:00, Su 10:00-15:00.
- Money: Sark uses the Guernsey pound, but UK and Jersey pounds are accepted. Some places take euros but at a poor rate, or will do cashback up to £50. The HSBC bank is central in the village on Rue Lucas, open M-F 09:30-12:30 and 13:30-15:00. The Natwest has closed; the Post Office acts as a branch for their international customers, but not for customers from the UK. There's no ATM on Sark.
- Duty free sales are available if you're leaving the Bailiwick of Guernsey, with your next stop in Jersey or France. The ferry has a duty-free store, but it's seldom much of a saving over mainland supermarket prices.
- Hatters, The Avenue (main village), ☏ . Daily 08:00-19:30. Great cafe for breakfast and lunch, good portions.
- Nicole's in the village serves trad food Tu 18:00-20:00, W-Su 12:00-14:00, 18:00-20:00.
- Hathaways, La Seigneurie, ☏ . Apr-Oct Su M W 11:00-14:30, Th-Sa 11:00-14:30, 18:00-20:30. Cafe at La Seigneurie Gardens named for Sibyl Hathaway the former Dame of Sark. They do light meals and refreshments, with dinner some evenings.
- Caragh Chocolates & Tea Garden (on the lane to Little Sark), ☏ . Apr-Oct daily 10:00-17:00. This chocolate maker and shop half a mile north of La Coupee previously had tearooms. These remain closed but you can buy takeaway coffee, chocolates and cake.
- Upscale dining options are Stocks Hotel and La Sablonnerie on Little Sark, see "Sleep", reservations recommended.
- You may need to order food to get a drink on Sunday. Sark has a smoking ban in pubs, bars and restaurants. Elsewhere it's legal but there are voluntary bans.
- Bel Air Inn, Harbour Hill, ☏ . Daily 10:00-00:00. At the top of the steep lane from the harbour, so it might be your first or last resort. Good pub with beer garden and pizza.
- Mermaid Tavern, Rue de Hotton (north side of village centre), ☏ . M-Sa 10:00-23:30, Su 12:00-18:00. Friendly old-fashioned pub, there's still a piano. With beer garden.
- La Valette Campsite (near lighthouse on east coast), ☏ , email@example.com. Large open site normally open April-Oct, but closed for 2022. With modern toilet and shower block, cubicle washrooms with shaver points and a dish-washing sink. You can also hire pods and pre-erected tents. Great views towards Alderney and France. Adult £10, child £5, pods £30.
- 1 Pomme de Chien Campsite, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Large campsite open all year, with pitches, fully equipped tents, pods and a self-catering cottage. Tent £10 + £10 per adult per night.
- B&Bs on Sark include Pourquoi Pas, Old Forge Plaisance, Sue's[dead link], Le Vieux Clos[dead link], Blanchard House, Clos de Vaul Creux (below), La Marguerite and Sea Mist. Beau Sejour was for sale in 2020 and no longer offers accommodation.
- Clos de Vaul Creux, Rue Lucas (main village), ☏ . Pleasant welcoming B&B at top of Harbour Hill. B&B double £180.
- 2 Stocks Hotel, Dixcart Lane, Sark GY10 1SD, ☏ , email@example.com. Upscale rustic-chic 43-room hotel in a 16th-century farm. Set in a wooded valley in the south of Grande Sark, with heated pool, spa pool, bar and excellent restaurant. B&B double £250.
- 3 La Sablonnerie, Little Sark GY10 1SD, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Glorious upscale 22-room hotel on Little Sark in a 17th-century farmhouse, with gardens and croquet lawn, and its own horse-drawn and carriages. With excellent restaurant. B&B double from £350.
Stay safe edit
Crime is rare on Sark, which only has a couple of volunteer connétables. One of these estimable officers single-handedly thwarted a "coup" in 1990 by a French dingbat toting a semi-automatic weapon.
You must have personal travel health insurance: like the rest of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, Sark has no reciprocal agreements with the UK National Health Service, EU "EHIC" system, or any other nation. Any local medical treatment must therefore be paid in full. The local GP is well used to dealing with medical mishaps, such as falls on the rocks or faltering hearts in elderly tourists. If you have to be carted away to the helipad in Sark's splendid horse-drawn ambulance, you'll resemble something between the subject of a Mafia funeral and a commercial consignment of tiramisu ice cream.
The dialling code for Sark and Guernsey is +44, same as for mainland Britain and Jersey, so to call between them you don't dial +44. It's as if the entire Bailiwick of Guernsey was a mainland city with dialling code 01481 and UK domestic call charges.
Sark has 4G from each of its three carriers: Airtel-Vodafone, JT and Sure. As of Sept 2022, there some dead areas in the north of the island, and 5G has not arrived here. For the latest detailed coverage see GCRA[dead link], as Nperf doesn't track coverage in the Channel Islands. And even GCRA doesn't map Brecqhou, probably because they've no authority to do so under medieval Norman law.
Visitors from the UK and Europe should check their mobile provider for roaming charges.
Go next edit
- Most routes lead back to Guernsey. Plenty to see and do there, and ferries ply from St Peter Port to Herm and Alderney the other islands of this Bailiwick.
- In summer you can take a direct ferry to Jersey, and some of these continue to Normandy.