- 6 June 2010
Sark

"TO THE LIGHTHOUSE."

By: Julia Gasper.
The first thing you see as you approach Sark on the boat - the first building or landmark of any kind - is the Pont Robert lighthouse, white with an octagonal tower, halfway up the green craggy slope, looking like one of those chapels or monasteries the Greeks usually build in the most inaccessible spots on remote islands and mountains. The tower looks a bit like a belfry and a little balcony runs all the way round it to give access to the light itself. Everybody snaps it with their cameras. A few minutes later, the boat docks at the Maseline Harbour, a tractor with a trailer arrives to carry you to the top of the hill and all the sensible people go to stay in comfortable hotels like the Harbour Inn or a rented cottage.



For a few intrepid individuals, however, it is not enough to see the lighthouse from out at sea. Having worked out, by studying a map, that it must have the most wonderful view of any habitation on the island, they actually go to stay in it. Needless to say, the only way down there is on foot. “The view, the view,” they mutter as they struggle down 137 steps to the entrance. There are no cars on Sark, only a few tractors and one of these will drop your luggage at the top of the hill. From there, you have to carry it. My advice is to travel light.

Sure enough, the view from Point Robert is stupendous. In the sudden hot weather of early June, a blue sky and sea lend beauty to the vicious and jagged rocks which are of course the reason why a lighthouse was built in the first place. In the distance you can see the coast of France. Sark is a place of cliff walks and farm lanes, a dramatic Mediterranean coastline and a cosy interior of cottages and cream teas. Only a couple of miles from one end to the other, with a population of 600, it is the smallest of the Channel Islands, yet it is sturdily independent and has its own parliament. Neither the UK government nor the EU can make its laws. In its one and only pub, the Mermaid Tavern, the customers can smoke, because the landlord permits it. They take English money and give you Guernsey notes and coin in change. If you want to, you can hire a bicycle or travel by horse and cart, but we chose the pleasure of walking. From Point Robert it is only a twenty minute walk into the tiny village, and a comparable distance to the nearby Greve de la Ville, the yacht harbour. Or you can walk from the village to the Hogs Back to look at the sea in a westward direction. Sark is not the place to swim, as the beaches are small and rocky, but if you love scenic walks, bird-watching and wild flowers, it is a wonderful holiday with no need to go anywhere near an airport.

One of the best walks is to the Seigneurie, the home of the hereditary feudal lords of Sark. It is a fairly modest mediaeval style house, whose glory is its walled garden. Here the warm southerly climate encourages vines and exotic flowers like the tall spiked echium, alongside a wonderful array of clematis, roses and wisteria.

A longer walk to the other end of the island, where the northern peninsula is called Little Sark, makes a splendid excursion. As you cross the isthmus, you can look far down on either side to the cliffs and the sea, while far ahead a small island rises like a green pyramid. All along the way, temptation is provided by tea-rooms, and there is a particularly good one when you arrive, with a garden restaurant and home-made ice-cream.

Sark is outstanding for its seafood. To taste the scallops there is to have something to boast about for the rest of your life. This was the apotheosis of the scallop, celestial and sumptuous. Bought for our first night’s dinner from a local fisherman, they had everything to recommend them - freshness, flavour and gigantic, indecent size. We bought two dozen, allowing six per person, which was rather too much and the fisherman had thrown in a couple of extra ones too. I cooked them in butter, cream and fresh tomato with a spoonful of oil just to stop the butter from burning, and some finely chopped garlic. Surely they were unsurpassable. We had bought a couple of bottles of rosé Pino Grigio on the boat coming over, (duty-free) and it was the ideal accompaniment. It went pretty well with the two lobsters we cooked the following night, supplied by the same fisherman. Luckily the lighthouse kitchen is supplied with a cauldron the size of a bucket.

On the third evening, greed unabated, we ate three crabs bought live from another fisherman: so live indeed that when we arrived at his house, he had to walk down to the sea and get them out of their cage! After clobbering the shells with huge stones to crack them and coaxing out the delicate flesh with knives, forks and a marrow-spoon, we served it inside pancakes, with a squeeze of lemon, and a dry white wine. There was masses left over, and on the fourth night we made a giant lobster and crab bisque with the combined shells, the left-overs, some white wine, brandy, parsley, half an onion and a lot of the thick, delicious Sark cream. It took ages to cook but in the end it was superb. Curiously, when you have simmered the shells for long enough, the stock gets a faint flavour of saffron, without containing any. We had not planned a gastronomic holiday but that is just the way it turned out.

The weather was getting hotter and hotter, and our week seemed very short, but the journey home was a pleasure in itself. The brisk trip over to Guernsey in the launch got us there with hours to spare before the ferry, so we enjoyed lunch on the shady terrace of the Moores Hotel, (famed as the headquarters of the Germans during their occupation) and after loitering a bit on the sea front indulged in one last ice-cream before we had to embark.

To rent the Lighthouse at Sark, telephone 01223.861507.


by Julia Gasper. - 6 June 2010



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