For Cathay Pacific's in-flight magazine "Discovery" May 2000
A woman on the bluebell-bordered path had a large lamb on a string. Apparently Bonny would not reach her woolly teens. "I've already made the mint sauce to go with her," the woman explained, as Bonny looked at her sadly. The Sarkese are a practical people.
During the Second World War, when Sark was occupied by the Germans, the islanders listened to the outside world on hidden radios. They used improvised batteries made from zinc strips, old glass Shiphams Paste jars and sea-water. These days the Island Stores, one of Sark's few shops, still sells Shiphams Paste - along with ciabatta bread, olives and smoked salmon for the tourists.
Sark, a tiny tilted hourglass of an island, lies 6 miles east of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, and 20 miles west of Normandy in France.
In the 16C Elizabeth 1 granted the island to Helier de Carteret, who vowed allegience to the British crown. Sark has its own parliament, one Constable and a Seigneur whose perks include the sole rights to minerals and flotsam and jetsam.
Every year 65,000 visitors join the 600 Sarkese inhabitants, travelling by boat from St. Peter Port in Guernsey, and I wanted to know why. One of Sark's most famous visitors, the eccentric artist Mervyn Peake, was so captivated by the island on his first visit in the 1930s that he came back to live here with his young family after the Second World War. Sark was a source of inspiration for him, and during my five days' stay I began to see why. Whilst on the island he wrote his gothic novel "Gormanghast" - shown on BBC2 this year.
I disembarked from the small ferry 'Bon Marin de Serk' on a gloriously sunny evening. Ignoring the rather phony but picturesque horse and barouche at the top of a steep climb to tiny Sark village, I hired a bicycle. There are no cars on Sark. Little buzzing tractors and trailors transport visitors' luggage and general supplies. Paths, unmade roads and tracks criss-cross the island's three square miles, making it seem much larger than it is.
I rattled down lanes on a sturdy Raleigh bicycle with Sturmey Archer gears, underneath tunnels of blackthorn, past twisted trees shaped by the prevailing winds, and golden cows posing for photo opportunities by clumps of primroses and violets. Hiring a bike is a must - even if it's wild and wet, which it was for a couple of days - you can still have fun exploring the unfolding island.
The windowsill of my bedroom at the Dixcart (one of Sark's 6 hotels) was thick with mauve and yellow blossom. Youthful hotel staff from Normandy dressed in mob caps and long gingham frocks darted round , piling logs into yawning fireplaces.
After an unfortunate experience with a large pink breakfast egg (which surely no hen had laid ) I was soothed by a walk through the spectacular bluebell valley below the hotel.
I visited La Coupee, a narrow vertiginous waist of land which divides Sark into two.
328 steep steps below lay Grand Greve beach, strewn with cuttlefish bones and sea-wigs of weed. Mervyn Peake came here for picnics, and to swim with his family. He drew them here, by the rockpools and caves, using them as models for his "Treasure Island" illustrations. South of La Coupee is Little Sark, where you can eat cream tea or green lip mussels in the charming gardens of La Sablonnerie Hotel.
Cycling towards the old lighthouse on the eastern side I passed an ancient vicar's wife, whom I had met that morning at breakfast feebly aiming cereal at her bowl. The invigorating island air had obviously had an effect because she was gaily riding a tricycle and wearing a crash-helmet with aplomb.
I asked at a little gift-shop whether anyone would remember meeting Mervyn Peake, and the owner suggested I contact Mrs. Carre. Later, I met her in her dimly-lit sitting-room nearby, whose walls were covered with thousands of thimbles. Mrs. Carre is an articulate and gracious Sarkese in her 80s, a descendent of the first Seigneur of Sark. She told me she had seen Peake painting tree stumps outside her house in the 1930s. She liked his earlier work, but after the war, she said darkly, "He drew those little spidery things".
During his first stay in Sark, Peake was a flamboyant character with an earring and a scarlet-lined cloak, sometimes spotted on the rocky cliffs wearing nothing but his sombrero or his pet cormorant on his shoulder. He painted in the Gallery, now the Post Office which sells cards and kettles. He played the ukelele and could divine water, which impressed the Sarkese who had no mains water supply.
In the late 40s Peake lived with his family in a large ugly house which had been the German H.Q. during Sark's occupation. I peered round its large empty garden, whose bamboo hedge was rattling in the wind.
In brilliant sunshine the next day George, a handsome man with a fine moustache, took a group of us round the island in his boat. He seemed to be related to most people including the postman.
The beady eyes of razorbills, fulmars, shags and guillimots watched while we bobbed round grotesque rocks called Camel's Head, Butterfly and Queen Victoria. The marine bouncing and whooshing increased below Sark's steep cliffs as Peter, a holidaying vitamin salesman from Leicester, showed me how to send a fax on his mobile phone, and two Gortexed birdwatchers turned green. We sailed past the islet of Brecqhou off the west coast of Sark owned by trillionaire twins who guard their domain with surveillence cameras and a fortress complete with helipad.
The high spot of the week on Sark is Meat Draw night. This carnivorous raffle is held in the Bel Air, one of Sark's three pubs. At the bar Sarkese men flexed their muscles and flashed their shiny teeth as they downed their pints. An old man whispered hotly in my ear a complicated story about a barmaid as I drew a ticket from a hat, hoping my vegetarianism wasn't showing. Someone played sea shanties on a Hohner melodeon, the barmaid story was reaching a climax, and I wondered about Bonny's fate as luckily I didn't win the leg of lamb.
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