Almost before the ferry is moored, the passengers alight, disappearing through a tunnel signposted “Welcome to Sark.” With far less certainty, my boyfriend and I gaze around the dusty port, noting the tiny ticket office and the lighthouse high up on the cliff. We wander through the tunnel just in time to see a tractor tugging a carriage full of people towards the unsealed Harbour Hill Road, wisps of dust rising in its wake. These are the only motorised vehicles on the island. It’s tractors, horses and carriages and bicycles from here on out. Moments later, Andrew Miller appears with a welcome smile. “Don’t worry,” he says, “The tractor is coming back to take you up the hill on a private ride.” Andrew, it seems, has connections. We soon discover, on an island with a population hovering around the 500 mark, everyone is connected.
Andrew's family has a long history here. Now, he runs a cottage industry – literally. He is the proud owner of Clos a Jaon, a former pair of cottages and barn that have been transformed into luxury accommodation, along with two further cottages and a glamping site, equipped with high-spec bell tents. Chez Nous, our home for the next few days, is part of his collection. The spacious, three-bedroom bungalow is light and airy, with a host of thoughtful touches, like fresh eggs for breakfast and a chest containing board games.
Sark is one of those places where people leave their doors unlocked and their bikes unchained. The island’s little barrel-roofed two-celled prison, the smallest jail in the world still in use, doesn’t see much action. We’re there before peak season and it feels idyllic. It could be a tad warmer, but the sun makes an appearance in an impossibly blue sky every day, people nod in greeting as we ride past on our hired bicycles, and while not all of the restaurants have opened their doors for the season yet, there are enough dining options to ensure we won’t go hungry.
Our days are filled with pedal-power exploration. Everything moves at a slower pace here, and we do too. We cycle until we run out of road and then we walk along the paths that lead to the coast. We make our way over the narrow isthmus known as La Coupée that leads to Little Sark. On both parts of the island the “sights” are small: a Buddhist carving on a rock; a circle of stones called Sark Henge; a tidal pool on the edge of the ocean; the remnants of an old silver mine. The views, however, are immense. Rocky cliffs plunge to a cobalt sea, birds hover on the breeze, and blue and yellow wildflowers paint forest paths. The island is looking for a dairy farmer. Views like this make me wish I knew more about cows.
One afternoon, we have tea and cake with the Seigneur — Sark's head of state and a vestige of the island's feudal past. Seigneur Christopher Beaumont, the 23rd Seigneur, and his wife Sarah are delightfully down to earth and while they are not blind to the island’s foibles, they have a clear affection for its laid-back ways. They are busy building an amphitheatre in the back yard of the Seigneurie near the walled garden, bringing opera to the island, and they have ideas for promoting Sark to a broader audience. Their enthusiasm is infectious. When I ask how immigration to Sark works, the Seigneur says “Just move here.”
Later that night, we take a seat at the fine-dining restaurant at Stocks Sark, which has a heavy focus on fresh local produce. ‘Sark local’ is defined as being sourced from within a five-mile radius of the hotel, incorporating the exclusive three-mile territorial waters around Sark and the hotel’s own market garden, 250 metres from the back door of the kitchen. We feast on Sark lobster and cauliflower bisque, hand-dived Guernsey scallops, and Sark lamb and line-caught turbot, finishing off with a dark chocolate brownie and salted caramel fondant. The island certainly provides.
Cycling home, with only small headlamps to light our way – there are no street lights on Sark – the cool air on cheeks flushed with wine is exhilarating, It’s a clear night and thousands of stars sparkle overhead – Sark was designated as the World's First Dark Sky Island in 2011 and with no light pollution, the sky is endless.
When it’s time for us to leave. Andrew tells us of a local legend that says if you throw a flower into the wake of the ferry as you leave, you’ll return to Sark. He hands us two perfectly formed yellow blooms and leaves the rest to us. Onboard, the ferry swings around in a wide arc, preparing to trace a path to Guernsey. We slowly count to three and cast our wishes into the sea.