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Sark from the air.
Sark, all 1,274 acres of it, lies in the English Channel, the smallest of the four major Channel Islands in the shelter of the French coast.
Guernsey, Sark’s nearest shopping centre, is an hour’s boat ride away to the west. The only way to get to Sark is by boat; aeroplanes are not even allowed to fly over it under 2,000 feet.
GEOGRAPHY & POPULATION:
Sark is the one Channel Island with no wartime defences; it doesn’t need them because it is a plateau. The cliffs rise over 250 feet from the sea with a few paths descending to beaches with caves and wide sands, rocks and fascinating wild life in just a few places.
There is no natural body of fresh water on Sark, and very few streams. In the spring the spread of wild flowers delights naturalists. No cars are allowed on the island. Transport is by foot, bicycles and, usually for visitors, by horse and carriage.
The population is about 600 and there are no major centres; the people live scattered over the top of the island, although there is one short shopping street, The Avenue, at the top of the harbour hill. Sark has no hospital, no dentist and no vet. There are five hotels, most of which only open in the summer.
Sark is currently the last feudal state in the western world. In 1563, the Seigneur of St. Ouen, in Jersey, applied to Queen Elizabeth I for permission to recolonise to prevent permanent French settlement. This was granted, and in 1565 Helier de Carteret was awarded Sark as a fief on condition that he kept it inhabited, had 40 men with muskets to defend the island and paid the Crown one twentieth of a knight’s fee annually. That is how Sark stands today. It is still a Fief Haubert and the present Seigneur, Mr Michael Beaumont, holds Sark in perpetual lease from the Crown, provided that he meets the conditions set out in 1565.
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY:
Sark is the smallest independent state in the Commonwealth, has its own parliament, Chief Pleas, and makes its own laws. Traditionally Chief Pleas has constituted 40 seats for Tennants derived from the original settlers plus 12 additional seats for the elected deputies of the people. However, change is imminent and a new constitution is currently awaiting royal assent. As from 1st January 2006, Chief Pleas will comprise of 16 tennants elected by their peers and 16 deputies elected by the remainder of the population.
Lawbreakers are brought before the Seneschal by the Connêtable and the Vingtenier and may be kept in the tiny two-cell prison beforehand. Sark raises its own taxes, which do not include income tax, and decides how to spend its own income.
Sark was a self-contained fishing and farming community until discovered by the Victorians and visitors bring in the larger part of the island’s income. There are cottage industries, like knitting, pottery and some other arts & crafts. Farming and fishing still supply some island needs. The making of butter, ice cream, fudge and chocolate are all modern derivatives of the traditional dairy farming industry. However, tourism related activities such as horse & carriage rides, cafés, guest houses and hotels have become more important ways of earning a living.
LANGUAGE & CULTURE:
Official notices are still written in French, and the older Sark residents still chat to each other in Serquiaise, a patois (only spoken and not written) barely comprehensible to most French speakers, though most people do speak English. The traditions of story telling and singing, produced a community well able to entertain itself, with concerts and plays, dancing, gardening and crafts.
SPORT & LEISURE ACTIVITIES:
The only drawback to living in a small community is that team games pose a problem; local sporting interests inevitably centre on individual skills rather than team games. However, the Sark Sports Club was recently inaugurated and Sark now boasts a cricket XI; a football team and a rugby XV, albeit with the willing assistance of a handful of guest players to make up the numbers! The football team gained notoriety during the 2003 Island Games following some spectacular defeats. There is an annual road race in May; the Sark Ten, which is popular with runners from Guernsey, Jersey and further afield. The tides and currents round Sark make swimming and rowing extremely dangerous.
It is hoped that the completion of the new Sark island community centre with changing rooms and clubhouse facilities, and immediately adjacent to the sports fields, will allow visiting teams to participate in wide variety of sports and games for both teams and individuals.
last updated: 22/06/07