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Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 11/Sark

SARK.

If you want to be quiet, take the necessaries of life with you and go to Sark. It is one of the few places where a traveller desirous of retirement may safely count upon it, save and except when some excursion "raid" is made in very favourable weather from Jersey or Guernsey; then visitors are in a hurry to get back, for fear the wind should change, and they be obliged to remain in the tight little island for a week; for talk as you will of the glorious uncertainty of “cricket,” or the law, the uncertainty of getting back from Sark is far greater.

Approaching Sark for the first time by steamer, it seems hopeless to try to land. The sea is deep, clear, and green, close up to the foot of rocks, which, like the fiords of Norway, of precipitous granite, rise before us; their height is grand to a degree; their form grander still. A heavy sea dashing against them, as it wrings and twists the seaweed clinging to their bases—the water itself effervescent, foaming, and boiling—seems to defy us; at length, on the south-west side of the island, we found the boats were being lowered from the out-turned davits, and a certain bustle on deck suggested landing,—but where? At last a small heap of stones was pointed out at the foot of some of the rocks, called the harbour. And how puny man’s handywork seemed in the midst of such natural grandeur! What a contrast to the majesty of the unhewn rock! But getting into the boats and landing, we find ourselves on a very small piece of shingle; and then, how to get out or up? Through a small natural arch, called the Creux, is the way up to the Heights. The tail-piece to this article is a sketch taken from inside, looking towards the shingle landing place. This is the only entrance to the island. Happily for human nature, no human voice, recommending tea-gardens, shrimps, or hot water at twopence per head, “salutes the ear:” not even the simple luxury of a sanded floor at a little road-side public-house is there to welcome the stranger. This is indeed a treat, a place to be taken note of. One thing in going you must do, take your own lunch. Having obtained some information previously about the place, we immediately started for that part of the island called the “Coupée.” A ground plan of Sark would be somewhat like an hour-glass in shape, with the western lobe smaller than the eastern. The road in the narrow neck connecting the peninsulas is about 434 feet high, width at base 300 feet, top 20 feet or 30 feet; and certainly when it blows fresh—really fresh—it takes one’s best sea-legs, with cricket spikes or Tyrolese “crampons,” to keep up against it. And it then takes, I should say, the nerves of a member of the Alpine Club to walk across it It was once crossed under the most remarkable circumstances. A young lady stopping in the island, was out for a ride, when something frightened the horse, which, starting off, ran away with her, and made for the Coupée. The marvel was that they were not both dashed to pieces; but the horse kept his feet, the girl her seat, and the moment they arrived on the opposite side, she swooned and fell off. Knowing the difficulty of the passage, I should not have mentioned this, but as it is known to be a fact, and one which can be quoted with good authority, I thought it would add interest; besides, every place of this sort has some tradition or tale, or legend attached to it. The Rocher Bayard on the Meuse, for instance, affords a good instance.

Whilst gazing at the Coupée, one cannot but wonder that the sea has not undermined this thin-waisted natural wall-way, producing a huge freshwater-gate as a bridge between the two parts of Sark. Down on the left hand of the Coupée is an ocean cauldron, generally known as the “Pot,” which Neptune seems to keep boiling; to judge from the spoon-drift and spray which come up when the sea rushes madly into concave rocks, and swells round and round, lashing itself into foam and froth till it makes itself heard as one of the roaring lions of the place. Great and majestic as this scene was, the subtlety of its beauty and grandeur was unfortunately far beyond the reach of art: although it fills the spectator with admiration, delight, and a certain awe, yet it convinces him of the very finite power he has of representing to others phases of nature which he perhaps most deeply feels himself. Working round the island to the Guernsey Bide we come to more fantastic forms of rocks—some, like the Needles at the Isle of Wight, but larger, are very striking; and then passing on still more to the eastward we arrive at Les Boutiques. What a horrible name for caverns. Surely they must have been christened by some ironical Frenchman, who thought it the best name for a series of caverns which belong to a nation of shopkeepers. The rock scenery, or rockscapes, as our Transatlantic friends would call it, is certainly most varied and grand, but the great difficulty is in getting down to the shore, and if once there to get back again.

The island of Sark lies about midway between Guernsey, Jersey, and Cape Rose on the Coast of Normandy, but rather nearer to the islands than to the mainland; and though small in size, it is far from being inconsiderable. In its shape it is nearly oval, and it has another and smaller island attached to it by a narrow isthmus; but the two together are not above three miles in breadth. Sark rises high above the sea, and may be said to be regularly fortified by a rampart of steep impenetrable cliffs, so that it has but one access, which, though in itself easy and commodious, might be rendered impervious to invasion, let the enemy’s force be what it will.

In point of climate this island is equal to any of the group, and the soil is so fertile that it produces more corn than sufficient for its consumption, as also grass enough for the support of the black cattle, sheep, and horses, with which it is extremely well stocked.

Though this island was peopled so early as the sixth century, when St. Magloire, or, as he is commonly called, St. Manlier, built a convent here, yet it was afterwards deserted, and in that state was seized by the French in the reign of Edward the Sixth, and recovered by surprise (for by force it could not have been taken) in that of Queen Mary. The surprise was effected in this manner:—Leave being obtained to bury a person, a coffin full of arms was sent on shore, which served to arm the attendants, who had been carefully searched on their landing. Part of the small garrison was allured on ship-board, and detained there under pretence of sending some provisions on shore, till those who had landed recovered the island. In the succeeding reign, to prevent any future accident of this kind, it was granted to Hellier de Carteret, seigneur de St. Ouen, in the island of Jersey, by whom it was settled, but has passed since into other hands, and is now in a state of gradual improvement.

P. T. R.