AS five-year-old Ruaridh and two-year-old Flora patiently practiced their counting skills while climbing up the huge staircase from La Coupee beach – I took the chance to turn back and admire the magnificent view afforded to me.
Welcome to The Isle of Sark, just a 50 minute boat ride from the equally stunning Guernsey in The Channel Islands.
Sark use to be the summer hideaway for my family as a child. Perfect for little ones, because no vehicles apart from tractors and bicycles are allowed.
And so it was high on the list for a revisit some 30 years later with my own two. We chose the beginning of May to visit because its when the wildflowers are at their best. And boy are they good!, bluebells and wild garlic everywhere, bringing wonderful colours to the landscape.
Unfortunatley for us, the weather wasn’t at its best when we first arrived in The Channel islands. We flew in to Guernsey on a small plane operated by Air Aurigny from Manchester. Service on board was pleasant and efficient with a selection of complimentary drinks to keep us entertained on the short hop to the modern and well run airport.
But the lashing rain which greeted us, meant the aeroplane skidded to a halt and gave us a bumpy welcome! The weather also delayed the ferry crossing over to Sark and when we finally took to the sea, it was a topsy turvey ride across!
However all thoughts of jumping overboard are dismissed once you get a glimpse of the harbour into Sark. It didn’t appear to have changed much since my days visiting. Once you jump off, Jimmy’s Carting Services is at hand to take your luggage and you can either walk up to the centre via the meandering footpath or hop onto the “toaster’’, a tractor pulled trailer which whizzes you up the steep hill.
If you walk, you will see the Harbour Café run by Mini, a friendly Londoner who moved over to the island nine years ago. She’s worth a stop-off as she makes tasty home-made cakes (the carrot cake was delicious!) as well as more adventurous dishes. The café is next to the small Creux harbour where the fishing boats park and here if you are lucky, you can buy a catch of the day from the local fishermen. Thanks to Mini, we tucked into two huge crabs, which she kindly boiled up for us as well as providing a loan of the vital fish cutlery.
Accommodation on the island is expensive, with the six main hotels providing luxury stays. There are guest houses and self-catering cottages too, but we opted to stay on one of the two campsites on the island. Fully equipped tents and sleeping bags can be hired to save carrying over, but its worth taking a trip to the supermarket on the mainland before you arrive, because food is costly and of limited choice in the two local shops.
Bikes are a must to help you explore the island, although there are horse drawn carriages too for the more sedate! And as soon as you arrive you will see the carriages parked up on the entrance to The Avenue, which is the main street.
Avenue Cycle Hire provides all the bikes you need, we had a tag on for Ruaridh, while Flora rode like a princess in the back of pull along buggy. And as the sun began to shine, we headed off.
The Avenue is the hub of the island, with food and souvenir shops, cafes, a bakery and the post office and at the end of the road lies the visitor centre, housed in the old school. It provides a wealth of information and exhibitions are laid on, there was an excellent one on wildflowers while we were there, with the staff offering special walks to see the flowers at their best. In the summer The Société Sercquiaise Room at the centre and full of artefacts, is run by volunteers and open to the public. Next to the centre is the old gaol.
Another must see are The Seigneurie Gardens, which lie at the official residence of The Seigneurie, Mr Michael Beaumont. They are beautifully kept, with a mass of colour, house secret places for the children to explore and a maze which kept my two fascinated for hours as they worked out how to reach the mini castle and totem pole in the middle. For war enthusiasts, there is The Occupation and Heritage Museum which houses World War II occupation memorabilia.
As well as its beautiful scenery, Sark is well known for its cream teas. There are several tearooms on the island, but we stopped off at Sue Guille’s on the way down to La Coupee. Served in her lovely garden overlooking the bay, you are treated to huge home-made buttermilk scones, Sark’s creamy butter and even creamier cream, along with a good dollop of jam and washed down with a pot of tea, perfect after a day’s cycling!
And it’s the cycling which is the most important as it gives you so much opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies. The whole island is well sign-posted and takes you to small, deserted beaches at Dixicart Bay, Port du Moulin or Derrible Bay, to name a few, where you can enjoy hours wandering round the caves and the shingle beaches as you admire the beautiful scenery and peacefulness.
The island has all the mod cons of life, accommodation, restaurants, places to visit, churches, The Island Hall (home to sporting facilities and a café and bar) and next to the school and play school. There’s a doctor surgery if you are ill and a small court, if you are naughty!
But what makes Sark unique, is that with a turn of a wheel or a foot you can find yourself away from the world, listening to the birds as you stare out to sea and drink in the scenery, now that’s what life’s really about!
For more information on the Isle of Sark, log onto www.sark.co.uk
Flight information and timetables are available via www.aurigny.com and ferry information can be found at http://www.sarkshippingcompany.com.sarkshippingcompany.com}