20 Years From Now...

"20 YEARS FROM NOW," Mark Twain said, “you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than the ones you did.”THIS online journal is dedicated to our next 20 years!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Sark, Channel Islands

While visiting Guernsey we took the ferry to Sark. The morning of our departure it rained poured and the seas were choppy, but at least one of us appeared to be having a good time!

It continued to be a soggy affair after we arrived, but the rugged coastline of Sark was still visible in the mist and we eagerly set about to see the sites. First, however, we had to traverse a tunnel that cut through the rugged rocky shoreline.

During the German occupation of WWII there was a swastika painted on the right hand side of this tunnel. The exact spot is now covered over with paint and three signs.

Sark is one of the few remaining places in the world where the only vehicles allowed are horse-drawn carriages, bicycles and tractors. So it seemed fitting a number of tractor drawn carriages met us on the other side of the tunnel and took us up the hill to town. Our first stop was this little cafe for a 'cuppa' as we had about 30 minutes to wait until our pre-arranged 90-minute island tour via Sark Carriages

If you click on the link to the Sark Carriages website you'll see it is quite elegant with many wedding photos and the majority of people dressed in tuxedos or formal attire. Now, I don't need a spiffy uniformed tour guide, but the premise of what was presented online compared to the reality of the situation did make me smile. 

Our guide who shall remain nameless reminded me of Peggy Armstrong portrayed by Gwen Taylor in the British television series Heartbeat. Although our guide was born on the island and obviously knew most if not all of its 600 permanent residents she was rather rough around the edges and unless prodded (done ever so politely by yours truly) she was not all that forthcoming with details about Sark and we got the feeling we were more of an inconvenience than valued customers. 

She began by bluntly asking what we wanted to see. Well, duh, you're the expert, I felt like replying. Show us the highlights or what you love most about Sark. After a little encouragement she cracked the whip and the poor horse plodded down the dirt road. Also, while we'd paid for a 90-minute tour she dropped us off shortly after the 60-minute mark at La Seigneurie Gardens and pointed us in the direction we had to walk to return to town! Nonetheless the tour with "Peggy" was certainly an adventure and if nothing else provided an amusing story to go along with our island outing.

A few facts about Sark: 
1. Following the Norman conquest of England in 1066 it was united with the Crown of England.

2. It is a Crown Dependency, but separate from England and until 2008 was the last European stronghold of feudal law. 

3. it is also a tax haven which likely enticed billionaire Barclay brothers to buy an island within Sark's territorial waters in 1993. Almost immediately they campaigned for a newer, more modern political system and given their financial clout they got their way. Well, almost as the new system is a hybrid of old and new. 

Rush hour on Sark!

4. Some residents, including our tour guide, will tell you point blank they prefer feudalism to democracy and there is a palatable amount of animosity between the locals and the Barclays.

5. On a more positive note, in 2011 Sark was designated as Europe's first Dark Sky Community becoming the first Dark Sky island in the world. 

Now...on to the sights and sounds of Sark. Our first stop was St. Peter's Church.

Every pew is adorned with a colourful needlepoint cushion no doubt made by the parishioners while stained glass windows and quilted wall hangings add to its welcoming and cosy interior.

Like the Guernsey Tapestries this quilted wall hanging provides a visual history of Sark. Note the puffin on the right hand side. It would have been lovely to see a real one during our visit, but no such luck.

Climbing back on board we continue around the island of Great Sark and head toward Little Sark. 

The two islands are joined by a narrow isthmus known as La Coupee. 

Tractors are allowed on Little Sark, but not horse-drawn carriages so 'Peggy' suggested John and I hop off and walk across...she gave us about 10 minutes, but we gave our La Coupee the time it deserved. With the wind and rain and steep drop down to the ocean it was definitely an experience we won't soon forget. 

The photos are smudged as I had to continually wipe raindrops off the lens.

The other folks arrived a few minutes after us and their driver suggested they pop into the little cafe on Little Sark for tea. Perhaps Peggy could take a few pointers from him!

Carrying on, we soaked in the incredible vistas, sprawling farmland and lovely homes made of granite.

The island's school and community centre are housed in this building.

Next stop was La Seignuerie Gardens where we said goodbye to 'Peggy' as well as the rain. (Coincidence? I think not!) This property was once home to the seignuer and his family who have ruled Sark since Queen Elizabeth I sanctioned the title in return for keeping Sark's waters pirate free. The seigneur or lord of the manor agreed to pay her majesty 1.79 GBP per year (equivalent to $3.37 Cdn) and as Elizabeth did not think to make the price for Sark linked to inflation that price stands today. Because of their advanced age, the current Seigneur, Michael Beaumont, and his wife live in another home nearby so they don’t have to deal with the official home’s seventeen flights of stairs. The gardens, however, are open to the public. 

The nearby dovecote is a common feature of Channel Island manor houses. Only the seigneur could own a dovecote, a custom dating back centuries when pigeons were bred for food and when, as now, uncontrolled breeding would have endangered the tenants' crops. 

This cider press it off to the right of the dovecote.

There is also a lovely little restaurant, but we opted to wander into town instead of eating here.

The village is a cluster of homes and shops that stretch along a main street. 

 We passed by the doctor's surgery.

Parked outside is the doctor's tractor that serves as an ambulance - although I'm afraid the ride back to the surgery in the red bucket would be extremely uncomfortable for the patient.

The visitor centre offers more information about Sark. 

While to its far left is the island's jail that can accommodate two prisoners.

The town has everything residents could need or want including a post office (gold box).

The Waitrose grocery store is surprisingly larger than the exterior suggests. We wandered around and were surprised that prices were not out of line with what's offered in the UK.

Scattered here and there are the requisite souvenir and gift shops. 

We aren't quite sure of the significance of this dragon, but he stands guard outside a bicycle shop.

Lunch at A.J.'s Cafe was a delight. We had a long chat with our waitress who mentioned she and her family spend the winter months in Florida. She added there are so many restrictions on Sark that she and her husband recently purchased a farm in France to grow mushrooms that will be used in the cafe because it's easier than getting permission to grow them on Sark.

John ordered fish and chips...

While I ordered the quiche of the day. Delicious!

On our way back to the harbour to catch the ferry this Sark resident came up to say goodbye.

Sark offers a fascinating glimpse into a slower pace of life and we're delighted to have experienced it first hand.

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