Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

On the Isle of Sark, time crawls by

On Sark travel is slow and sedate.

On Sark travel is slow and sedate.

“Small, sweet world of wave-encompassed wonder.” — A.C. Swinburne

Like most people, I had never heard of the island of Sark before being introduced in 1996 to its existence through a magazine article shared with me by my friend, Ruth. Each of us was experiencing the daily chaos of life with teenage off-spring and my marriage was ending. The slower, peaceful pace of life that we learned was enjoyed by residents of Sark, such a contrast to our harried lives, was appealing. We devoured information about this beautiful island in the English Channel, three miles long by 1.5 miles wide, located 7.5 miles east of Guernsey and 22 miles west of Normandy, France.
The only surviving feudal nation in the world, Sark is the smallest independent state in the British Commonwealth. It has its own Parliament, laws and titled leader called the Seigneur. Its earliest recorded history is at the founding of a monastery there in AD 565. Claimed alternately for centuries by England and France (most of the place names on Sark are in French), it became part of the British Empire permanently in 1565.
The more we learned of Sark the more intrigued we became. The wildflower-strewn landscapes, beaches and caves called out for our exploration. We increasingly began sentences with, “Someday, when we go to Sark …,” only half believing that we ever would.
Then, a health crisis in early 2000 prompted me to look at life in a new way. I had learned first-hand how quickly life can change, and that putting things off until “someday” may mean putting them off forever. Grateful that I had recovered almost fully, I applied, for the first time in my life, for a passport, in early 2001. Ruth and I seriously began to make plans for a trip to Sark, scheduling it at the end of May. A friend of ours remarked when he heard of our plans, “You can’t be going to Sark. That was a trip that was never supposed to happen!” but, as we boarded our Northwest flight to London, I remarked to Ruth, “Someday is today.”
Our eight-hour plane flight lasted through the night, before landing at Gatwick Airport. Our bodies told us it was 3 a.m., but London clocks insisted it was 9 a.m. After a two-night stay in nearby Canterbury (spending a day touring the Cathedral there), we caught a British European Airways flight from Gatwick to the island of Guernsey. The only way to reach Sark is by sea, from the coasts of Guernsey, Jersey, England or France. At Guernsey we hopped an Isle of Sark Shipping Company ferry for the 40-minute English Channel crossing to Sark.
Tractors are the only motor-driven vehicles permitted on Sark, so after landing at Maseline Harbour we were transported to our hotel, La Sablonnerie, by horse-drawn carriage. The buildings that comprise La Sablonnerie, one of six hotels on the island, are converted from what was a 16th-century farm. The door to our accommodations, leading directly to a beautiful garden outside, had no lock. We learned that crime is so negligible on Sark as to be non-existent and, although among strangers and thousands of miles from home, we never feared for our safety. We slipped effortlessly into a daily routine of substantial English breakfasts, days spent exploring on foot or bike (available for rent in the village), afternoon cream teas and wonderful evening meals back at the hotel. Each evening would conclude with coffee served with rich Sark cream the consistency of custard from the island’s pedigreed Guernsey cows.
The island’s best-known feature is La Coupee a narrow land isthmus, connecting Little Sark, a five-square-mile area where La Sablonnerie is located, to Big Sark, the part of the island where most of the island’s sights are found. German prisoners-of-war had paved La Coupee and added iron railings to this narrow crossing in 194r5, after the conclusion of World War II (Sark, along with other Channel Islands, was occupied by German troops, from 1940-1945). We learned how, before the railings were installed, school children living on Little Sark, going to school on Big Sark, would sometimes crawl on their hands and knees across the 100-yard-long path to avoid being blown off to the rocks and sea 260-feet below. Today, except for those driving a horse-drawn carriage, the only method permitted to cross La Coupée is on foot. This is the best way, anyway, to enjoy the breathtaking views of coastline cliffs and the sea on the other side.
Not known for my spontaneity, a first-time trip overseas to a destination no one has heard of may seem a strange choice. Chalk it up to a a triumph of faith in God’s care over fear of the unknown and a fresh awareness of the shortness of life, accompanied by a strong dose of curiosity and having a fun, travel-savvy touring companion. This trip to Sark was a dream come true. I find myself thinking about the next “someday” I would like to move into the present.
To learn more about Sark, visit the official Sark website, www.sark-tourism.com or write Sark Tourist Information Centre, Harbour Hill, Sark, Channel Islands, GY9 OSB.