For the first week, my mind was a tattered mess of multiple time zones. Night after night, spent tossing and turning through periods of sleeplessness that far outnumbered minutes of sound slumber. Sitting down to write proved an impossible task which ended with me staring at a blank page.
As my years advance on thirty, body and brain are losing their youthful readiness and ease at shaking away the toils of jet lag.
Crossing from Hong Kong to my island home of Guernsey, we lost eight hours of time over a twelve-hour flight to Heathrow, followed by an hour drive to Gatwick, before connecting with the hour flight into the Bailiwick.
Over a decade of travel, it’s only ever taken a couple days to shake the effects of the long haul flight – until now.
Luckily, my parents had seemingly preempted these extreme lagging effects, and booked us a little holiday to the most relaxing island in our Bailiwick, the carefree and carless Isle of Sark.
Taking our time to cross the channel
The ferry from St Peter Port Harbour sets the trip’s speed right from the start. A slow, scenic adventure that cruises by a couple other of our emerald green islets that strike from the aqua ocean. Passengers are advised to keep a watchful eye for seals, puffins, and even dolphins.
Sitting out front on the ships bow, Mum, Dad, Kaleigh, and I were blasted by brisk winds from a stormy sky, the first stage in blowing away the now six-day old jet lag cobwebs.
Approximately forty minutes after departure, the moody skies opened on us, sending most passengers to seek shelter in the cabin. Yet I couldn’t rip my eyes from the dramatic vista of sheer cliffs quickly rising ahead, instead weathering the short shower to enjoy every moment of this mini homecoming.
Landing in the magical Isle of horse drawn cart
The steep but verdant island sides seem impregnable, looming 1-200ft tall above the ferry as it rounds the northern coast – seagulls soaring on invisible updrafts without needing to flap their wings.
The tiny harbor we eventually docked in is connected to the main road – a dusty undeveloped drag of gravel – by a tunnel through the thick rock cliff, adding to the atmosphere of entering a magical place. A ‘toast rack’ pulled by tractor awaits, taking tourists up the winding hill, so cramped that your knees slot into the person’s opposite, like bread in a toaster.
Spitting up a cloud of dust on dry days, it’s the only form of motorized transport, ending after a five-minute jaunt at the hilltop miniature town center. Where horse drawn cart and rented bicycles, or your own two feet, are the only options for traveling further.
Another downpour, this time harder, had us huddled under an old oak tree, soaking in all the small, shack like buildings that make up this historic center of Sark, which has barely developed over a hundred years.
The rain lasted longer than we were prepared to wait, as water drips trickled down through our leafy roof. Taking a wee muddy path which weaved downward from the unpaved main road into a densely verdant valley, we slipped and slid a little but managed to stay on our feet.
Arriving at our countryside hotel, clothes soggy and shoes muddy, right as the clouds emptied their final drops.
Checking-in to a hotel lost in vegetation & time
Originally a working farm built in the sixteenth century, the Stocks hotel has kept much of its old world charm, featuring original stonework and design from three hundred years gone by, all situated in the islands still lusciously wild heart.
Stepping inside, the darkened hallways have a sense of deep history, despite being recently refurbished. The bedrooms are light and modern, displaying delicately painted vibrant porcelain door knobs that hint at a high level of finishing touches, which we soon learned to expect during our stay.
Another stroke of excellence presented itself in a box of locally made chocolates and a bottle of homemade sloe gin, sitting on the bedside table as a thank you for guests who book direct.
Steeped in history and centuries of beer, the Smugglers Bar is located in the oldest part of the hotel, evoking the imagination of pirates and offering a full range of alcoholic beverages brewed with other wild berries – raspberry vodka, mulberry rum, and for those who like the sloes but not the gin – sloe vodka.
The four-star accommodation is set in an emerald crown, well maintained by loving owners over hundreds of years, recently incorporating modern features such as a solar heated pool and water slide, without detracting from the authentic timely feel.
After settling in with a few sips of the liquor – tasting all the sweeter for being free – we lunched on cuisine that continued to impress with flurries of finishing touches. A freshly made brioche bun so soft and fresh it perfectly encased my thick ’N’ juicy, mature cheese slathered, homemade burger. The Dutchman in me delighted at dipping the perfectly crisped chunky chips into a mayo prepared that day.
At an hours end, we were all seemingly pregnant with delicious food babies that would have induced us into food commas if we didn’t get out the door for an afternoon stroll.
Exploring an endless warren of pathways
The island may be small, but its interconnected maze of pathways are capable of keeping even the avid hiker happy for months. Weaving through dense bush tunnels, trekking along the high and wind whipped hilltops, or down to surf strewn bays – each path has diverse and unique magical qualities.
We set off past Le Seigneurie manor and gardens – the traditional seat of power in Sark – whose roots reach right back to the 6th century and flower beds are regarded as some of the best kept in the entire Channel Islands.
After a fifteen minute walk past fields of flowers, sheep, and horses, we emerged atop the northwest cliffs, where a curious man-made tunnel, known as the Window in the Rock, provides an epic vantage point of the stunning rock stacks below. An eccentric Seigneur blasted through this 20ft thick section of cliff in the 1850s – possibly to help haul seaweed up the 150ft sheer drop to be used as fertilizer, or possibly just to make for a nice view – nobody’s absolutely sure.
Heading back under a canopy of foliage that blotted out the now shining sun, we eventually reconnected with the main dirt track heading south.
After a forty-five minute walk, both sides of the path completely peeled away, leaving a thin bridge of land 262ft high, known as ‘La Coupée’, that connects the larger main island and ‘Little Sark’; looking like something straight out of Game of Thrones.
Crossing onto this smaller isle, we explored down and around the old silver mines at Port Gorey. Ancient crumbling ruins close to sea level, once used to mine a suspected yet never found fortune, where huge swells often batter the coast.
Ascending back up the cliffside walkways, we continued on to try and find the large natural Venus Pool, perfect for an afternoon dip, when the tide isn’t so high it covers them completely.
On our way back, we once again swooped down to sea-level, this time for a swim in the crystal clear waters of Sark’s mini-harbour, where local ladies and lads jump from a high wall with a big splash into the darker depths. Refreshed and feeling slightly recharged, we walked back up the secret paths, homewards to our hotel.
Although this is all achievable during a brisk one-day walk, you’ll certainly be exhausted at the end of it all.
Finishing off the right way
Back at the hotel, we refueled the tanks with an epic four-course meal that started with an obligatory amuse-bouche, to cleanse the palate and prepare us for the culinary artfulness to come. An incredible selection of food; professionally balanced flavors; perfectly weighed out portions; culminating in an immensely satisfactory fill.
Another stroll was needed to digest the feast before going to bed. Venturing out into an enchanting twilight of pastel colors, we walked 10-minutes to the southeast facing cliff, marveling at how truly majestic this very special little island is.
Retiring to our room, a smile was brought to our faces by one final finishing touch – a simple turn-down service that made the room homely with a lit lamp and local chocolate left on the folded corners of our sheets.
A nightcap of sloe gin sent me straight into the land of slumber – the quickest and soundest sleep since arriving home in the Bailiwick.
Helpful links for planning your ultimate island adventure
Sark Shipping’s ferry service – https://www.sarkshippingcompany.com/
Stocks Hotel – https://www.stockshotel.com/
Sark Tourism – http://www.sark.co.uk/
Window in the Rock – https://goo.gl/maps/zCLCGCDvgju
The Venus Pool – https://goo.gl/maps/sFgPJxFjCtA2