Gems of the English Channel III - Sark the Feudal Island
Sark has no public street lighting, no paved roads and cars, no light pollution. You will find some tractors, a lot of bikes and horses but nothing else. It is a small island easily visited by foot only during a day trip from Jersey or Guernsey. Some 600 people live in this little paradise.
Not part of the United Kingdom nor the European Union, like Guernsey and Jersey, Sark was the smallest independent feudal state in Europe and had the last feudal constitution in the western world. The Seigneur of Sark, holding a unique status, is the head of the government and holds the island for the English monarch. It all started when the Seigneur of St Ouen (Jersey), Helier de Carteret moved onto the island in 1565 to prevent French occupation. Queen Elizabeth I then rewarded Helier by granting him the feudal title of fief. He had the obligation to maintain 40 households and men with arms to defend the island from French. He also had to pay the Crown the twentieth part of a knight’s fee annually for the privilege (less than 2 actual pounds). This is how was established the strange constitutional basis of the island. The ownership of Sark could change only with royal approval and it changed several times since the 16th century.
In 2004, under the pressure of the European Union, the island abolished a law allowing hanging as a punishment. Elections were introduced in 2008 and Sark started its long walk torwards democracy. Although geographically located within the Bailiwick of Guernsey, Sark is fiscally entirely separate from it. Some laws, especially in criminal matters, do apply to the entire Bailiwick though.
The current Seigneur is Christopher Beaumont, son of Michael Beaumont, often referred to as the last feudal baron as there were many changes under his rule.
Until 2013, the Seneschal of Sark was the head of the Chief Pleas. Since 1675, he has also been the judge of the island. Since 2013, the Seneschal acts only as a judge. He presides the Court of the Seneschal that has unlimited jurisdiction in civil matters and limited jurisdiction in criminal matters. Serious criminal matters are transferred to The Royal Court in Guernsey.
It is only in 2003 that the Chief Pleas (Parliament) voted the end of the ban on divorce in the island by extending to the Royal Court of Guernsey power to grant divorces.
Sark, like its sister islands, is a tax heaven.
In 1990, André Gardes, a French nuclear physicist tried to depose Michael Beaumont and establish himself as seigneur. It obviously failed.
Until 2008, only the Seigneur or Dame of Sark could possess pigeons and an unspayed dog.
The unique old Norman custom of the Clameur de haro is still surviving in the island. Using this legal device, a person can obtain immediate cessation of any action he considers to be an infringement of his rights. the Clameur must be performed in front of at least 2 witnesses, in the presence of the wrong-doer, and in the location of the offence.
The Criant must fall to his knees with his hands in the air and call out "Haro, Haro, Haro! À mon aide mon Prince, on me fait tort!" ("Haro, Haro, Haro! To my aid, my Prince! I am being wronged!"). It should then be registered with the Greffier within 24 hours. All actions against the person must then cease until the matter is heard by the Court.
This custom was in use in Normandy and around the Channel Islands.
How to get there?
The only access is by sea. There are regular ferries going there from Guernsey and Jersey. It is a popular destination but transportation is weather dependent. This can considerably shorten a day trip from time to time.
You can also book private charters.
Have good shoes, you will walk. It also get very muddy once it rains.
Have a good jacket, weather can be really crappy and there is not much protection against rain on the island.
You can ever walk up to the village or take tractor pulled trailers. I recommend the latter because it is a steep walk.
What to see?
Maseline Harbour and Creux Harbour
Maseline Harbour is the commercial harbour and Creux is the old harbour.
Small and cute colourful place full of little shops and bars and restaurants. There is also a post office appearing on numerous postcards of Sark. A mill and a prison are also present on the island.
The beautiful gardens of the Residence of the Seigneur or Dame of Sark are open to the public.
Sark is a paradise for walkers, whatever the weather is. It is beautiful under the sun or the rain. The weather was awful the day I went there (end of July) but the walks were fantastic.
The island is also great for bird, butterfly and wild flowers spotting.
It is a causeway linking Sark to Little Sark. 100m long, 80m high and 3m width, it is gradually being eroded, meaning Little Sark will eventually become an island.
Be very careful, it can be slippery. It actually used to be dreadful to pass until some works were done to secure the passage.
Here you will find the remains of the silver mines. The whole site is privately owned. As always around ruins, it is dangerous to explore it so you must keep strictly to the paths at all times.
Since 2011, Sark has been awarded the title of the World's First Dark Skies Island. Because there is no light pollution, the sky is beautiful at night.
There is an observatory since 2015 but the sky is so dark and clear that gazing at the stars can be done from everywhere.
There are numerous hotels where to stay for a night or two or more.
If you need a quiet place to rest, go there. Sark is the perfect place to reboost yourself.