MEET THE LOCALS
There are a few people who have the good fortune of being totally content in the work they do and place they live, of leading a life that suits them down to the ground. Whenever Dave Scott rumbles by on his tractor with a few bales of hay and a couple of sheep dogs on board or I see him out on the clifftops herding his flock I’m struck by the feeling that he is one of those lucky people. He is perhaps best known as a sheep farmer but, like many people in Sark, he has many more strings to his bow.
Dave moved to Sark from England at the age of four when his parents bought Petit Champ, the hotel they ran for twenty-four years. Farming was not in his blood but, growing up in Sark, it was soon obvious that Dave was destined for a life outdoors. As a young boy he used to help Ensor Baker on his farm on Saturdays and remembers learning to milk cows by hand. Soon school holidays were spent working for other farmers too like Frank Perchard and Charlie Perrée. Horses also featured in Dave’s childhood and have remained an important part of his life. At the age of seventeen it was decided that some formal training off island might be a good idea so Dave went to work for a beef and sheep farmer on Dartmoor, a period that was meant to be followed by a year at agricultural college. Dave, however, felt that he was learning so much on the job that he stayed on the farm, returning to Sark two years later with nine ewes and a ram, his first flock.
Now Dave has around a hundred ewes and six rams, the largest flock in the Channel Islands, and produces about a hundred and eighty lambs a year. He’s one of four sheep farmers in Sark along with Eugene Baker, Philip Perrée and Rossford de Carteret. Dave’s ewes are Lleyns, a Welsh breed known for their grazing versatility, gentle nature and good maternal instincts, and he crosses them with Suffolk rams. Sark is well suited to sheep and Dave believes that the salt spring from gales and the wild herbs in the pasture add a unique flavour to the lamb. Handled from birth by Dave, the animals are not stressed when the time comes to slaughter them, another factor which add to the flavour of the meat. Like many farmers, he’s also aware of how grazing animals can be used to the environment’s advantage. “When I need to feed hay to the sheep in Happy Valley I scatter it on the slopes so that when the sheep move around to eat it they also trample the young bracken as it grows. It helps to keep it down otherwise bracken can take over and smother the other plants. Sheep also nibble fresh gorse shoots which again helps keep it from taking over.” Dave harvests some bracken to mix in with hay for bedding, a Channel Island tradition now followed by very few farmers. In early spring he moves his flocks from the cliff tops to graze further away from the sea. The inland pastures are better for the lambs when they arrive but it also gives the wildflowers on the cliffs chance to bloom and set their seeds before the sheep return later in the summer.
Lambing begins around mid-February for Dave and during the busiest weeks he relies on other local shepherds for their help. “Eugene lends a hand when he’s finished his own lambing and Ross Henry is a great help. It gets quite sociable in the lambing shed. Some nights there are more people than sheep in there!” Most of Dave’s sheep give birth to twins and some have triplets.
They spend their first day or so penned up with just their mother to help the ewe bond with her lambs. After three or four more days indoors with others ewes and their offspring, the lambs are usually fit enough to go outdoors with their mothers, weather permitting. Some triplets need a boost with a little bottle-feeding but Dave prefers not to hand rear any lambs if he can help it. “The ewes do a much better job.”
Dave does his own butchering and slaughtering, a year round job when the lambs are between five and fourteen months old. Most of the meat is sold locally with the rest going to the farmers’ market in Guernsey. Although he doesn’t get attached to the lambs, Dave does admit to having one of two fairly elderly ewes that he’s rather fond of. In May and June Dave and Ross shear not only all of the sheep in Sark, but also those in Guernsey too.
Local spinners use a few fleeces but sadly there isn’t a commercial market for most of the wool.
Sheep take up much of Dave’s time, especially in spring and early summer, but he has plenty of other work to keep him busy year round. After the Great Storm of 1987 he was amazed how many damaged trees in Sark were cut down that could have been saved with some knowledge of tree surgery. Already interested in arboriculture since spending time planting trees with natural history expert Philip Guille, Dave decided to learn more. A friend in Guernsey taught him the basics of climbing and tree work and over the years he’s become a well-respected tree surgeon here in Sark. Trees led to bees when Dave was asked to work on a leylandii hedge near a row of beehives belonging to Commander Hudson at Ville Rousel. “No-one else would go near the hedge”,”he explains, “for fear of being stung.” Intrigued by the hives he set up a couple at home and was then asked by Commander Hudson to take care of his. Since then Dave has become Sark’s ‘Bee Man’ and still keeps a couple of hives himself for his own supply of honey.
With sheep, bees and trees it’s hard to imagine that Dave has time for anything else, but there’s more. ‘Big Sheep’ is a popular local band fronted by our very own shepherd singing and playing guitar, twelve-string, bass or the violin. Dave, who also writes music, is one of a few core members but the line-up numbers up to eight depending on which musical locals or seasonal workers are on the island. The band meets up once a week and performs in Sark and Guernsey.
On the few occasions when he’s not working, Dave and his wife enjoy getting out in their boat from where Dave does a little fishing and Estelle, a mermaid I’m sure, loves swimming. On the subject of his many talents, Dave is typically modest. “I can’t make enough money from just sheep farming or tree work but by doing a mixture I can make a living. I wouldn’t want to do the same thing everyday anyway. I’d get bored. I like the variety of the different work and the seasons and Sark is such a beautiful island that you need to be outside to make the most of it.” Whether he’s working with sheep, bees or trees it seems that Dave is certainly making the most of life in Sark.
Gavin Nicolle – Farmer, fuel supplier & actor
The ability to wear more than one hat is an essential skill on a small island and one that farmer Gavin Nicolle has down to a fine art. In the latest of our meetings with island producers, we talked to Gavin about his life in Sark. Gavin’s father Stanley came from Guernsey to work for Dave Adams in 1958. As Gavin explains, “He came to help build the NatWest Bank and never left. He met local girl Anita and they married the next year.”
Gavin is the eldest of their three children followed by Lorraine and Vanessa. His grandparents ran the (old) Island Hall and as he grew up Gavin spent as much of his time there as he did at the Rendezvous, the family home on the Avenue. In the late 1960s his grandfather, John Hamon (known as Hero), signed a lease from the Dame of Sark on the Seigneurie Farm and Gavin joined him and Stanley there when he left school at fourteen. Gavin’s agricultural experience has included beef, sheep and rabbit farming but his early years were spent in the dairy business. “From the Seigneurie Farm we ran a dairy herd and a milking parlour. We bottled our milk and delivered it door to door. There were two of us doing milk rounds then.
Richard Dewe ran the other one.” The dairy business eventually gave way to beef farming and about the same time Gavin and Stanley took on another venture. “The power station was the only source of oil then in Sark and when the price went up again my Dad put his foot down. That’s how we started up the oil business, delivering for Total, now CI Fuels. That in turn led to work like boiler maintenance and servicing Agas.”
Meanwhile, there was still plenty to do on the farm but by 2006? working with the beef cattle was taking its strain on Stanley. “They’re big, strong animals. It’s a young man’s game really. The final straw came when we were moving them from one field to another and somehow my Dad got pushed over. I realised then that it was time to move on to something smaller.” Since then pigs have taken the place of cows and Gavin now has one boar and four sows that produce about fifty piglets a year. Once they are weaned at around ten to twelve weeks old the young pigs spend the rest of their lives outside.
The animals are slaughtered and butchered on the farm and most of the pork is sold in Sark.
The slaughterhouse on the farm has long been used by many of the island’s other farmers. The animals are usually delivered by their owners, sometimes herded there on foot, a very different experience from that of many animals these days who often travel hundreds miles to meet their end. “Even the lambs from Little Sark don’t have far to come,” explains Gavin, “and Dave Scott’s sheep for example are used to being moved from one field to another in his link box so when he puts them in there to bring them here they
aren’t stressed. People are much more interested in eating local meat these days and knowing where it’s come from but it’s always been like this here.”
As well as his farm work, Gavin has developed a working knowledge of all sorts of animals assisting the vet who visits from Guernsey on the first Wednesday of every month. For more than twenty years Gavin has met the vet from the early boat and taken him by tractor on his farm and home visits then to the surgery at the Seigneurie Farm for appointments. The vet carries out simple treatments when he’s here in Sark and Gavin’s knowledge means he’s able to provide emergency treatment in between the vet’s visit and is qualified put animals to sleep. He’s unsentimental about animals and doesn’t name any of his farm animals but freely admits that putting down his own horses or pets is upsetting, as is dealing with grieving pet owners. “People get so attached to their pets and, especially for those living alone, making the choice to have them put to sleep is really hard. At least I can do it here for them without the added stress of a boat trip to Guernsey.”
Gavin is a familiar sight about the island on his tractor or working with animals but as a core member of Sark Theatre Group regularly dons the grease paint and treads the boards. “When I was at school our teacher, Mike Thorpe, loved putting on plays. Everyone took part, on stage, painting the scenery, we were all ‘volunteered’ and it’s just carried on since then. And there aren’t many blokes in Theatre Group so I often get to be surrounded by girls. What’s not to like?” Gavin’s favourite plays are comedies and last summer his acting skills were challenged when he was cast as Bottom in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. “For the first few weeks of rehearsal I really wondered what I was doing there. I just didn’t understand the words I was saying but as I worked out what it all meant I really enjoyed it.”
Life in Sark for Gavin, as for many others, means developing skills as and when they are needed. “Living here you have to take opportunities when they come your way. You can’t always make a plan, you’ve got to be willing to try your hand at all sorts of things. That suits me and I like waking up not quite know what the day will bring.” Gavin and his wife Mary have two children. Sixteen-year-old Grace is at Christ’s Hospital School in West Sussex and Martin, aged six, is at Sark School. Does Gavin think that Sark will be the best place for them to make their homes? “I used to want to keep both of them in Sark but now I see the amazing things that Grace is doing at school I’ve changed my mind. Like everywhere else, what you can and can’t do in Sark is constrained more and more by regulation from the outside world and the need for qualifications so they may well not be able to move from one thing to another like I’ve been able to do. I’d also really like both of them to see some of the big wide world before they decide whether or not to settle in Sark.”
When Yorkshire man Chris Nightingale was twelve his father sent him away to boarding school, an expense the family could ill afford. The boy was determined to be a farmer like his father but Mr Nightingale senior was equally determined to change Chris’s mind. As he left for school his mother whispered in his ear, “You’ll be a farmer however much money he spends”, and she was right, as we discover in the latest in our series on Sark residents.
Five years after being sent away to school Chris lost both of his parents. The family farm was sold and Chris went to work on another small farm. He stayed there for around seven years, during which time he met and married Evelyn. With a wife to support and plans for a family, Chris reluctantly gave up his job on the farm to work as a rep for an agricultural sundries company. It wasn’t work he really enjoyed and after a few years he bought a house with some land and began keeping pigs. Evelyn had a secure job in a bank so Chris eventually gave up the work as a rep to concentrate on his animals. The income from pig farming eventually proved too erratic and reluctantly Chris turned to agricultural contracting work.
It was the 1970s and small family farms all over England were going out of business or being absorbed into bigger and bigger farms. Chris had to invest in increasingly large machinery to keep up with the demands of the new super-sized farms that led to his having to borrow more and more money. Although he was making a living, Chris realised that this wasn’t the way he wanted to live. He longed to go back to farming and searched for a job on a small dairy farm. “English herds were becoming ever larger, typically one to two hundred cows in each. They’re even larger now”, he explains. “It’s factory farming, not what I wanted to be involved with at all.”
Chris’s move to the Channel Islands happened in a round about sort of way. He remembers talking to Evelyn about wanting to get back into farming then going out to the local newsagent for a copy of Farmer’s Weekly. He bought the last copy in the shop and spotted an advert for a job in Jersey working with about forty dairy cattle. It sounded perfect.
Chris applied and was given the job but the farmer in Jersey had problems finding accommodation for Chris and his family on the island so had to give the job to a local man, much to Chris’s disappointment. The Jersey farmer though did know Pat Falle in Sark who was also looking for a herdsman and she offered Chris a job. “I’d never heard of Sark before and had to get a map out but Evelyn and I decided to give it a try.” So in April 1980 Chris, his wife and their three children, Mary aged nine, Rob seven and Fiona almost two, moved to Sark.
Pat Falle had around five cows, ten pigs and some goats and Chris was in his element. “It was farming like I’d grown up with, the sort of farming I’d fallen in love with.” Four years later, when working for John Jackson at the Island Stores and Bakery, he was collecting freight from the harbour and was amazed to see crates of milk regularly being imported from Guernsey and he couldn’t understand why. Richard Dewe had just given up one of the island’s two milk rounds but fifteen people still had dairy cows on the island. The answer lay in the younger consumers who preferred pasteurised milk. Chris had an idea and suggested to John that he could supply the shop with locally produced pasteurised milk. John agreed on condition that Chris would deliver a regular supply in proper containers.The Nightingales have never forgotten the opportunity John and Isabel Jackson gave them.
Selling their milk through the Island Stores was fundamental in establishing the small family farm. So in 1984 Chris and Rob established their own herd starting with just three cows. They carried the milk home from the field on their bicycles! In his school lunchtimes Rob used his go-kart to ferry drinking water to Flo, Roslyn and Cilla. Their first three fields were rented from Chris Rang and they are proud that he continues to be one of their landlords. The buildings were established thanks to Colin and Sheila Guille allowing them to rent their land in 1987 and build their sheds on it. They are indebted to all seven of their landlords. Their support is vital as it is very important to the farm economics that they grow as much feed for the cows as possible. As well as grass for grazing they make silage and hay and grow fodder beet. The barley and wheat they grow is dual purpose, the grain is rolled for feed for the cows and the straw beds up the cow yard. The manure created is spread back on the fields and ploughed in. They believe in cultivating crops; true old fashioned farming.
A bottling system was invested in and a small batch pasteuriser. By the early 1990s the trade had built up, Chris invested in a larger continuous flow pasteuriser and imports of milk from Guernsey ceased. No longer did the shop staff have to predict sales of Guernsey milk when ordering two to three days in advance or risk shortages or waste. Now Chris supplies the whole island with milk apart from that produced by Phil Perrée on Little Sark for La Sablonnerie Hotel and a few other customers.
Chris currently has seventeen Guernsey cows producing milk and about a dozen young stock who will calve next year. He also keeps a small number of cross breeds every year, mostly with Herefords, as beef cattle that go to Dave Curtis and other small producers to rear for beef. The farm is very much a family concern. Chris’s daughter Mary works with her father in the dairy and the milking parlour and does the artificial insemination (AI) work for the herd. In the past she has made ice-cream and hopes to start up production again this summer. Rob Nightingale makes silage and hay for the farm as well as helping Chris to milk and his partner Laura works in the dairy and with the young stock and delivers the milk and cream. Both she and Rob also work as carters meeting every cargo boat, unloading it and delivering the goods around the island. In spite of her full time job in one of Sark’s two banks, Chris’ younger daughter, Fiona, can always be relied on to pitch in and help whenever and wherever needed!
The cattle are milked morning and evening, seven days a week. “It’s a constant commitment and not the sort of work you’d do if you didn’t love it. The cows don’t take a day off so we can’t”, Chris explains. “When one of us takes a holiday the rest of the family has to work even harder.” Planning the milk production is also demanding. “The perfect cows calve, are in milk for ten months, dry for two months then calve again but most cows aren’t perfect.” Milk production has to match the local demand which peaks in July and August when around 250 two-pint bottles are needed a day then falls rapidly to a low of 80 bottles in autumn when the visitors stop coming and many islanders take a holiday. There is a small increase over Christmas, another low in January then a gradual increase around Easter into the summer. “We need to plan at least a year ahead but even with AI it’s not an exact science. The aim is to have most of the cows calving in spring and early summer and a couple more in November to help with the Christmas demand.” The weather also affects yields and ironically a wet summer like last year means more milk but less visitors to drink it and the inverse in hot, dry summers.
Chris has always disliked factory farming and his dairy farm here in Sark is as far from a mass production unit as you can get. Each of the cows has a name and is cared for according to her individual needs. Honey always leads the way, whether it is into the milking parlour or up and down the island’s lanes between milking and grazing. The cows have chosen their own order for being milked and each has a favoured stall in the parlour. Chris has his favourites, Energy and Mary, both getting on for fifteen years old. “In larger herds most cows only live to be about five but I’m happy to keep mine for as long as they are happy and productive.”
The Nightingales are very proud that they see the milk right through from cow to customer doing everything possible to ensure that their milk and cream is always high quality produce. Regardless of how busy the island is, Sark is self sufficient in milk and there is never any need for customers to wait for milk to be sent over from Guernsey by boat. Thanks to the islanders’ custom throughout the year local milk and cream is available, whatever the weather.
As with most small businesses on Sark though, balancing the books can be a delicate operation. There are virtually no subsidies for farmers to help with ever-increasing costs but for now though the day-to-day work on the farm carries on and the beautiful, doe-eyed Guernsey cows continue to grace our fields and lanes. Next time you pour milk into your tea or dollop a spoonful of lovely Sark cream onto your pudding think of Honey, Willow, Ginger, Cecile, Pumpkin and the rest of the girls and the year round work that Chris and his family put into supplying Sark with delicious fresh milk and cream.
Within days of winning a gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics, dressage champion Carl Hester was in Sark. We met him and found out how the boy who went shopping in the Avenue on a donkey became an Olympic star.
Carl Hester was just three and half when he moved to Sark and it was here that he discovered his passion for horses. There were none in his family so whenever he wasn’t at school he spent all his time at Hannie Perrée’s farm. While he was too small to ride the carriage horses Hannie let him ride her donkey Jacko to the village to do her shopping. Carl remembers that while Jacko was always keen to go, knowing that there was every chance of a carrot in the village, the donkey often refused to leave for the journey back. Carl soon discovered that flapping the carrier bags would startle his stubborn stead into a gallop for home. For pocket money Carl helped Hannie’s daughter Michelle as she drove a carriage around the island for visitors.
As Carl grew Jacko was traded in for a series of ponies and horses and Carl drove a carriage himself when he was old enough. His fondest memories of Sark are of taking the horses swimming in the old harbour after work and galloping along the cliff tops bare back. “I used to have to forget that to one side was a 260 foot drop down to the sea. We used to gallop all over the place. It was great fun and as a rider it taught me balance”, Carl explains. It sounds like an idyllic childhood but for his Grandmother Pam there were worrying moments. “I remember him aged barely five on a cart horse that he could hardly straddle. There were no reins, there was no saddle and this blooming great horse took off and I’m thinking he’s gonna fall, he’s gonna die. And that child didn’t waver; he just went off at a gallop up the north end. He’s always, always from being very small just loved horses. He has always been able to talk to them, to calm them down.”
Carl left school, Elizabeth College in Guernsey, at 15 with a final report that said, “Carl goes along without a care in the world certain he will obtain a job as a stable lad.” He stayed in Sark for a few more years washing pots at Stocks Hotel and driving carriages but the winter he was 19, with no prospect of work in Sark, he applied for a stable job on the mainland. His first job was with the Fortune Centre in Hampshire that specialises in teaching adults with learning and physical disabilities to ride. This was followed by three and a half happy years at the stable of Jannie Taylor who specialised in schooling difficult horses. During these times Carl had his first taste of competition winning the title of Young Dressage Rider in 1985 and as well as taking part in eventing, a combination of dressage, cross-country and show jumping. Carl’s career really took off when he was asked to join Dr Bechtolsheimer’s yard. “I thought all my birthdays had come at once,” says Carl of the invitation to join one of the finest dressage outfits in the world but he was set on a steep learning curve. “I joined in the October and eight months later was riding in the World Championships.” This was followed by the European Championships in 1991 and the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 where Carl was the youngest rider ever to compete in an Olympic Games. When asked why he chose dressage over other equestrian disciplines Carl explains that to a certain extent the choice was made for him. “When I went to Dr B’s he felt that if he invested the time, training and money in me he wasn’t prepared for me to risk breaking a leg, or my arm or my neck being an event rider.”
Despite taking part in three Olympics and success in National, European and World equestrian competitions, an Olympic medal proved elusive until this year’s Games in London where Carl, Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin took the team gold. Charlotte, Carl’s protégée, also won the individual gold medal for freestyle dressage. These were the first Olympic medals ever for Team GB in dressage and Carl himself holds the record as the Channel Islander who has competed in the most Olympics. Only one other Islander has ever won a gold and that was almost a hundred years ago. Carl’s success is an example of how anyone with talent from an ordinary background can flourish in the world of equestrian sport despite its elitist image. “Charlotte and I both started off with two very normal horses that cost less than £5,000 each. We trained them ourselves, worked their way up, something that anyone with talent can do. I worked as a groom for £10 a week for six years when I first went to England and loved it. I lived in with a family who helped me enormously and this is what I’ve been able to do for Charlotte.”
Carl now runs his own yard in Gloucestershire that he designed himself where he breeds and trains horses and teaches dressage. Four months before the Olympics he promised fellow Team GB members and other friends a quiet break in Sark straight after the Games finished. “I wanted to do something special if things went well. This might be a celebration,” he told everyone, “or it might be a commiseration so get ready with your hankies and we’ll see how it all turns out.” And what a celebration it turned out to be. Carl, Laura, team mate Richard Davison and almost forty others who made up the party were greeted at Maseline Harbour by a giant gold medal complete with purple ribbon hanging above the tunnel entrance. At a Vin d’Honneur at the Island Hall they were congratulated by Seigneur Michael Beaumont and Carl was made an honorary life member of Sark Sports Club. The next day the trio opened the island’s Horse, Dog and Pet show before lunching at La Sablonnerie where former Bailiff Sir Geoffrey Rowland presented Carl with an Olympic Torch. (The torch was on loan from Dr Roger Allsopp, the oldest man to swim the English Channel, who carried the torch in the Guernsey leg of the relay.) Before they left Sark there was even time for a photo call with local school children by the island’s post box that has been painted gold in honour of Carl’s success. Wherever Carl went he was mobbed with fans but he and Charlotte were always happy to chat, hand around their medals and pose for photographs. So much for the quiet break where no one would recognise them! “We’ve had a great reception from the islanders,” enthused Carl and went on to explain how much the others had enjoyed what for most was their first visit to an island they’d heard so much about.
Our final question to Carl was how much of your success can you contribute to being brought up on Sark? The answer was an emphatic one hundred per cent. “Health and safety nowadays does ruin a lot of what I was able to do when I was young and that was being able to get on a horse with a head collar and rope and gallop along the cliffs bare back. I was lucky to be brought up in those times when you could do whatever you like.” He went on to say, “Being heavily involved in sports now I realise just how lucky you are growing up in an environment like this (Sark) where you have to be active.
You have to bike, you have to walk everywhere, you have to go out whether it’s raining or not, you have to get the job done. You take those things for granted but I realise now that it’s part of how young people need to be today.” Wise words indeed from Sark’s golden boy.
George Guille was born in 1937, the eldest of four brothers, Reg, Philip and Peter, with a younger sister, Elsie and an older sister Elizabeth. The family tree has been traced back to 1200 and includes the Elizabethan settlers to Sark in the time of Helier de Carteret, the island’s first Seigneur. George’s life began on Little Sark where his Grandfather, also called George, ran La Sablonnerie Farm but in 1942 the occupying German forces evicted the family and used their home as an ammunition store. The Guilles moved to the main island and George went to school at the Mermaid where the tearoom was used as a classroom for the younger children. The Occupation meant that much of Sark was out of bounds for the residents with access to landing places such as the island’s beaches fenced off and defended with mine fields. George can remember hearing the blast of the mine that killed four-year-old Nanette Hamon. “We used to pinch bullets and flares from the Germans that they left behind after firing practice then throw them in the fire. Plenty of them were still live. It’s a wonder any of us survived!” Just as dangerous was the time when George and one of his sisters stretched a wire across the lane and tipped a German officer off his bike. The officer drew his gun and chased the children but nothing came of the incident. “It was such a stupid thing to do but we were lucky,” explained George, “people were deported to Germany for less.”
After the War the whole island became a playground for George and the other island children. “We were outside all the time. Even the winters were fun, hunting rabbits and woodcock.” It is the coast though that featured most in George’s later childhood and as he skilfully steers Non Pareil around the fretted cliffs of Sark he talks of expeditions with his father, also George, to collect sea gull eggs or debris from ship wrecks from even the sheerest cliff faces and gullies. He knows the coast like the back of his hand, including Sark’s many caves.
On Christmas Eve 1981 George, Lawrence Roberts, Jeremy La Trobe-Bateman and Tom Long began work on Non Pareil. Designed specifically for Sark fishing and round the island trips, the oak and mahagony boat took shape through the winter. “We often worked late into the night but I seem to remember that a certain amount of sloe gin kept us going!” The boat was launched on the 12th of April 1982 and since then the little green boat has been has been as much a part of the coastline as the hundreds of rocks that guard it. “She’s been a lucky boat,” says George, “and rides the seas beautifully. No fumes come over the back and very few of my customers get sea sick.”
Navigating around Sark with its strong tidal streams and masses of reefs, islets and half submerged rocks is not for the feint hearted mariner but George, like the island’s other fisherman, makes it look effortless. He skims past rocks and when the swell allows takes the boat into caves. He points out shapes in the rocks; a cat here, a camel’s head there, a pair of hands held as in prayer and profiles of Queen Victoria or Victor Hugo. Wildlife is a passion for George and spare binoculars are left on board for visitors to admire Sark’s seabirds. Oystercatchers, gannets, shags, gulls and fulmars can be seen all year and in spring and early summer there are puffins, razorbills and guillemots. George’s gentle approach allows him to get quite close to the birds and his sharp eyes often pick out a peregrine falcon or two. Just as fascinating are George’s stories. Near Saignie Bay he tells of a horse that fell down the cliffs in the 1960s and had to be air lifted to safety by a pair of Wessex helicopters. Rounding the Bec and heading south he recalls finding a torpedo in the Boutique Caves with Jeremy and the two spending an hour or so hammering off small parts as mementos. A few weeks later navy divers checked out the torpedo, found it to be live and disposed of it with an almighty explosion. Another near miss!
George estimate that’s he and Non Pariel have been around the island together about twenty thousand times. When the weather allows he does two trips a day. Does he get bored? “No”, says George, “the sea and weather are different every time and it changes through the year. I think we have the most beautiful cliffs in the world and I enjoy meeting the people who come around with me.”
For regular visitors to Sark ‘going around with George’ is an intrinsic part of holidaying on the island, akin with cream teas and a walk to Venus Pool. For first time visitors, this charming and gentle voyage is essential. Not only can you spend the rest of your stay trying to rediscover the myriad secret swimming and bathing spots that George reveals but the circumnavigation offers an intriguing glimpse into the soul of the island itself. The salty cocktail of craggy cliffs and swirling blue-green sea accompanied by the piping call of oystercatchers and George’s tales of island life can only leave you wanting more.
Jim Hodge has travelled the world and tried his hand at all sorts of different careers but it was at home as a teenager that his sister Aileen sparked an interest that has now become a way of life.
Jim was born and brought up in Lanarkshire in the Scottish Central Lowlands on his family’s farm near the village of Libberton. After school he joined the army as a driver and, apart from one tour of Northern Ireland, was based in Germany. Itchy feet struck four years later when he left the army so Jim headed for Australia. During his two years down under work included fruit picking and more driving as well as the adventure of driving across the Nulabore Desert on a road trip from Perth to Melbourne.
By 1994 Jim was back in Scotland and ready for something different. At his local job centre an advert caught his eye for work that couldn’t be more different from his previous employment as a driver: a job in a casino. After two months of training Jim was a qualified croupier. He gained some experience in Glasgow then in 1996 his new career took him to sea as a croupier on board a cruise ship travelling between New York and Bermuda. Other cruises followed with routes through the Panama Canal, along the Pacific coast of Mexico and the United States as well as all around the Caribbean and Europe. It was an exciting time and as Jim’s work only related to the casino there was plenty of time off, as he explains. “International gambling laws mean that the casino had to close when we came within three miles of land so when we were in harbour I could go ashore and explore.”
After a couple of years at sea Jim was ready for a change and following some time back in Scotland he took up a job in Denmark at a school for troubled youngsters. “I did all sorts of things there,” he recalls, “driving the mini bus, helping out on school trips, assisting in the classrooms, working as a handy man, even a bit of cooking.” By 2003 though Jim was ready for another change of scene and back in the job centre in Glasgow applied for two jobs overseas; one was farming in Iceland, the other was driving a tractor on Sark. The people in Iceland didn’t answer so in June 2003 Jim began work on Sark and, with several others already here called Jim, was given the nick-name of ‘Tractor Jim’ that has stuck ever since.
Since his first season Jim’s work on Sark has included a winter ‘on the roads’ as well as driving and labouring for various employers. He is also very keen on darts and a key member of the local club that raises money for charity as the players enjoy their games. It was on Sark that Jim met Sam and they married in 2005. Two years later Jim started work as assistant harbour master and he became senior harbour master in 2011 when Mick Mann retired. It is work that Jim enjoys but it comes with its challenges. “Organising the logistics of unloading the cargo is the hardest part of the job, making sure the right trailers and people are in the right place as everything’s lifted and carried off. It’s tough work, especially on low water, but the harbour’s a cracking place to work. I like being outside and there’s always plenty to do, especially in the summer with all the ferries and private boats coming and going.”
The harbours are much quieter in winter and this gives Jim time to devote to his other work: making wine. It is a passion he caught from his older sister Aileen who used to make wine at home and test her inventions on Jim when he was a teenager. When he moved to Sark Jim began making his own wine and Aileen sent him a copy of her recipe book. His first creation was Earl Grey tea wine, a favourite of his sister and one that has become Jim’s most popular wine. Blackberry, pear, peach and carrot wines followed along with parsnip sherry but Jim’s wine-making would have continued to be a purely domestic affair but for a chance conversation with Alex and Helen Magell about five years ago. They were having supper with Jim and Sam and were impressed with the sparkling Earl Grey tea wine served as an aperitif. The Magell’s were about to begin the major renovation work on Stocks Hotel and were already looking for local producers to work with once the hotel re-opened. Jim was offered room for his wine making in one of the buildings around the courtyard and now creates a whole range of wines and liqueurs for the hotel. He still mostly works to traditional recipes along with a few inventions of his own and uses local ingredients in season whenever he can. To his list of tried and tested tipples he has added elderflower, rhubarb, banana, nettle, beetroot and gooseberry wines along with liqueurs such as lemoncello, marrow rum and strawberry ratafia. One of the best sellers is 44, a liqueur made of 44 coffee beans, vodka, sugar and an orange stabbed 44 times all left to mature for 44 days.
Keen to develop his skills further, Jim is also researching the art of brewing but is cautious about the less predictable nature of fermentation since a foray into ale-making a few years ago. “I made some apple ale,” he explains, “and took a bottle to the Island Hall to test on some mates. It was a lot gassier than I thought and when the cork was released it nearly took someone’s eye out. A couple of the guys ended up soaked and there was only a drop left in the bottle!” It’s back to the drawing board on that one but Jim’s less explosive drinks can be enjoyed by the glass in the bar at Stocks and whole bottles are for sale in the hotel’s shop. Cheers Jim
Ten years at sea, gigs at Ronnie Soctt’s Jazz Club and a part in Star Wars; Sark-based singer songwriter Peter Gabriel Byrne describes his life before Sark, his music and why the island means so much to him.
Like numerous people on Sark Peter Gabriel Byrne is a man of many talents. The softly-spoken Irishman is a builder, sea man and one of the island’s harbour masters but most of all he is a musician. “There was always music at home. My parents were both singers but my sister and I were the first to learn an instrument. We both play the guitar.” Peter is the second youngest of six and was born in Old Trafford, Manchester, where his father worked as an engineering fitter in the shipyard. It was here that Peter gave his first performances. “The man in the local fish and chip shop used to sit me on the counter at and get me to sing Beetles songs for chips.”
When he was four years old the family moved back to the outskirts of Dublin, a rural area of farmland and orchards. “I had to walk two and a half miles across fields to get to school,” Peter remembers, “but I loved being in the countryside.” Peter left school at sixteen to join the merchant navy where his Uncle Jack and brother were working. He began his career at sea as a galley boy but didn’t like being down below in bad weather so as soon as he could he got a job as a deck boy. “I much preferred the work out on deck, were I learned to splice and rig bosun’s chairs and stages. Back then there was a real class structure aboard ship and you really had to work your way up.” This is exactly what Peter did qualifying after a couple of years as an able bodied seaman then as a bosun. “It wasn’t a bad life for a young lad,” he recalls. “You didn’t need to worry about accommodation or food. I had money in my pocket and that meant plenty of spending power when I came home on leave. We were peasants of the sea but kings of the shore!” Peter worked on cargo ships plying the waves around Britain and Europe. In the 1970s, when Guernsey’s tomato trade was thriving, his voyages sometimes brought him down to the Channel Islands and in 1977 he remembers sheltering from a storm in a bay off Sark. Little did the young man know what a significant part the island was to play in his later life. After ten years at sea with virtually no time for his music Peter decided it was time for a change. “I loved the sea, even in bad weather, but felt as if I’d become totally institutionalised and I needed to do something about all the music that was welling up inside me.”
Back in Dublin he ran a café at a rehearsal studio, joined a couple of bands and recorded some of his own songs. In the late 1980’s he moved to London with friends and between jobs in demolition then construction he started to develop his acoustic guitar playing and song writing. The next few years brought gigs in various folks clubs including the Twelve Bar Club in Denmark Street and performances at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London and Birmingham. In 1999 one of Peter’s songs was chosen for an album called Playpen that showcased new acoustic musicians alongside established artists such as Eddi Reader from Fairground Attraction and Billy Bragg. In between gigs Peter worked as a film extra and appeared in Gladiator, Shakespeare in Love, Notting Hill, Star Wars Phantom Menace and Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick’s last film. His music took him on tour around Italy and the British Isles and in 2000 he performed in Sark. The island made quite an impression on him but it was another four years until a gig in Guernsey gave Peter the chance to come back. It was then that he met Sark artist Rosie Guille, an encounter that changed both of their lives forever. “Something happened,” explains Peter, “there was a crack, something moved.” Peter was living back in Dublin by then and in summer 2004 Rosie moved to Ireland to join him. The city proved too noisy for Rosie so the couple returned to Sark early in 2005 and were married a year later.
2006 was a busy year. Rosie and Peter’s first child Esmée was born and Peter released Gentle Land, an album of his own songs. The simple combination of Peter’s soothing voice, his magical skill with an acoustic guitar and his poetic lyrics produced a beautiful collection of songs with a hint of Irish melancholy. When asked where he gets his inspiration from Peter explains, “I write from the heart. The songs aren’t necessarily about things that have happened to me but they’re always about emotions I want to express. I know that songs mean different things to different people and I’m happy with that. Sometimes I’m not even sure what they’re about myself until I’ve played them a few times.” The songs have been written over many years but the title track, Gentle Land, is about Sark. “It’s the most inspirational place I’ve ever lived. It’s so beautiful, perfect for creative people and a great place to bring up kids.”
Between shifts at Maseline Harbour Peter works on his music. This year he has already played at the Alderney Arts Festival and will be on stage at the Sark Folk Festival in July. He has built a recording studio next to his house and already has a list of songs for a new album. “I need to record them to make room for new songs.” Peter also works remotely with musician friends in Ireland, America, and the UK to add more instrumentation to his tracks. “I am able to record live here in Sark but I can also include tracks that other musicians send me using the Internet. At the moment I’m working with some German film-makers on a music video of Cry Cry, one of the songs from Gentle Land album. My friend Jim Kimberly, who’s played with Squeeze and jammed with Sting, has recorded a drum track for me and Alan Doherty, the principle flutist on the Lord of the Rings sound track, has sent me a flute track.” Peter is looking forward to running music workshops in 2014 when he will be inviting mentors such as Alan Doherty, Gerry O Connor, Sean Regan and Gino Lupari to come and teach at La Maison Rouge followed, if all goes to plan, by a performance at the Sark Folk Festival. Peter is hoping that after eight years of living in Sark the music on his next album will reflect his feelings for the island. “When I met Rosie she told me that Sark is the centre of the universe and now I know that to be true. People say that Sark chooses who lives here. I’d be more than happy to think that Sark has chosen me.”
Written by Emma Fawson
In my last few days of living in the UK, I went to see my favourite local band with a heavy heart. For seventeen years I’d enjoyed their gigs, though both the line-up and the name had changed since those early days. Now I faced the prospect of a future devoid of local music. What could Sark possibly offer in that line, with its tiny population? Maybe the Channel Island version of The Wurzels? I didn’t hold out much hope for anything more, though it has to be said, I do quite like The Wurzels).
Well, dear readers, I was wrong. Again. As I got to grips with my new life, the embryo of a band I would come to love was developing in the belly of Sark. Yes, folks, I’m talking about the Recks. This quintet of talented gentlemen burst forth into the world with original songs which don’t seem to fit into any genre. On their Facebook page, they describe themselves as ‘schizophrenic folk’ and there’s definitely a multiple personality disorder in their music. Whatever you call it, the first time I heard them play it got me off my feet. I defy anyone to stay still during a Recks gig, unless there are physical reasons why someone can’t move. Even then, I’m wondering if this could be a cure for paralysis…
I really should have realised that this place wasn’t going to produce the next Boyzone, shouldn’t I? There’s nothing bland or generic about the life here, so why on earth would I have expected anything different from the music created on Sark? So, how did this eclectic aural experience begin? Band member Wez Coombes explains. “Richey (Powers) and I started the Recks as a ‘little winter project’, meaning to write gentle but interesting folk tunes, but it transpired we had a lot of material waiting to be written and decided the constraints of a duo wasn’t working. Ash (Jarman) and Barney (Winter) were old friends (and band mates/music buddies) with Richey from Weymouth and they were on Sark already so it seemed like a natural idea to get them involved. Attila had just bought a bass and had been learning for some time so he joined us too.”
From those humble beginnings, the band has enjoyed an extraordinary level of success. They have been together for less than two years, but already gigged in Weymouth, London, Jersey, Guernsey and France. The Recks have appeared at the Sark Folk Festival, Guernsey’s Vale Earth Fair and Chaos Festival, Morefest (Moreton, England) and Cornwall’s Boardmasters event…I could go on, but I’ve got a word limit. Anyway, you get the picture. That’s a lot for a relatively new band that doesn’t perform any covers at all. That’s one in the eye for all those who think that the only real future for local bands today lies in doing covers at weddings. A closer look at the band members might just provide readers who have yet to hear this band with a clue as to their success so far. So, without further ado, let’s meet the band.
Wez Coombes – lead guitar, banjo and vocals. Wez has a musical brain the size of a grand piano. In the band he plays the guitar and banjo, but he can also play the piano, cello, drums and trumpet, and very probably the vacuum cleaner tube, dustbin and saucepans. He tells me he has always loved music, ever since he can remember. Apparently, he could sing before he could talk, and listening to his mellow tones now, I can believe it. He started to learn the trumpet at the age of six, but as a teenager, inspired by Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and Django Reinhardt, he learnt guitar, bass and drums. He has played in many different bands before the Recks, playing rock, pop, jazz, blues, soul, reggae and folk, thus proving he can turn his hand to just about anything. Irritating, isn’t it?
Ash Jarman – trumpet, melodica, backing vocals. Ash’s stylish suits and hats give him the appearance of one who would not look out of place in the New Orleans jazz scene, and his trumpet playing ensures his musicianship would pass muster there, too. Ash says he has been a “performing monkey” since the age of six, when he was given a cornet and told to “go and make a living out of it”, although according to early school reports, he was a handy percussionist even before then. His favourite music is Motown and Northern Soul, but he says that his “musical philosophy over the last 10 years has been heavily influenced by experimental multi-instrumentalists like Prince, the Beatles, Brian Jones and Jack White.” He is another master of many instruments, including the spoons and the trombone, but wins the award for being the only person I have ever met who can play the melodica.
I’ve never seen anyone play a melodica in a band before, and wouldn’t have believed it could add so much. It is the band’s
Barney Winter – drums. As the drummer of the group, Barney provides the core beat of every song. The importance of a good drummer in a band cannot be over-emphasised, and Barney is incredibly good. At the Sark’s Got Talent event earlier in the year, he blew everyone away with his fantastic drum solo. From an early age he had a good sense of rhythm, often tapping out beats on tables without even thinking about it, until one day a friend at school suggested he might be a good drummer. He was put in front of the school’s drum kit, handed a couple of sticks, and, well, the rest is history. Whilst we only see his considerable drumming skills in the Recks, I happen to know he’s a pretty darn’ good guitar player too, and has a great singing voice. In his home town of Weymouth, he drummed with popular band Paisley, sharing the stage with Recks band mate Richey Powers.
Attila Nagy – Bass Player. The bass-player is another cornerstone of any band, and it is a role Attila is well equipped to fill. For Attila, one touch of a guitar got him hooked! He knew he had to learn to play it, so began with an orchestra-sized acoustic guitar at the age of fifteen. It was a bit big for him then, but as he says, it provided great finger-stretching exercises which proved advantageous for the bass. Bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd have naturally influenced this talented guitarist, but he also cites the Hungarian gypsy music that he was surrounded by in his youth. He talks of the amazing atmosphere at weddings and celebrations created by the dulcimers and double-basses of the folk musicians, music that made everybody want to dance. Traditional folk music can also be heard coming out of pubs late at night in Hungary, and though the genre has now spread from folk to electronic, depending on the mood, Attila doesn’t care as long as the feeling is in it.
Richey Powers – lead guitar and vocals. Richey started playing guitar when he was twelve years old. Inspired by the festival scene, he played his first gig at the tender age of fourteen. He played bass in the aforementioned Paisley on and off since he was sixteen, but didn’t begin singing until he reached twenty-five. It was at this point that he took up the guitar again, and became serious about his songwriting. Recks songs, such as ‘You’re What I Want’, ‘Spanish Relations’ and ‘Lights’ were all written around that time. He played guitar in a rock/grunge band called the New Pollution, and then a surf/psychobilly band called the Surfin’ Birds before moving back to Sark and forming the Recks with Wez. He’s been a fan of bands like the Rolling Stones and the Doors from a young age. He also loves blues musicians like Leadbelly, Son House and more recent bands like Blur, the Black Keys and Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. Syd Barrett is his lifelong hero, Iggy Pop and Marc Bolan are up there too, but Jack White is his favourite musician of modern times, closely followed by Graham Coxon. He also discovered Klezmer just as the band was formed and that has had a massive influence on his writing style. Like Ash, Richey loves the musical freedom in the Recks, and playing festivals alongside bands like Primal Scream and Basement Jaxx.
It’s easy to see how this group of talented individuals with diverse tastes in music have created such a different sound. Although Rich and Wez are the main songwriters, every member has a strong input, so it’s a case of democratic musicianship. There’s probably some heated debate during the creative process that might well resemble a session at the House of Commons with more swearing.
The band has already recorded a single, which is due to be released in early 2014, and are recording an album on Sark this winter. The diary is already filling up with tour dates, which you can check out on the Recks’ Facebook page. This band has got ‘big future’ written all over it. Just think, if you go to a forthcoming gig, in ten years’ time when they’ve gone platinum, thrown numerous televisions out of hotel windows, and dated a whole host of supermodels, you’ll be able to say, ‘I saw them in the early days’.
They’re really not bad, you know, considering that, as Wez put it, ‘in the Recks, there’s a great deal of banter, p**s-taking, competition, idiocy and great fun. We’re like a big dysfunctional family.’ If only every dysfunctional family sounded that good.
David and Hilary Curtis are easy to spot around Sark as they deliver much of their produce by bicycle. With a sack of potatoes on the back, cauliflowers and leeks crammed into panniers on the side, a cheery smile beams out from behind a front basket piled high with cabbages as they whiz past. These are certainly not people who abuse their tractor licence!
David came to live in Sark when he was six. His family managed coalmines in the Midlands but in 1968 David’s father heard that Beauvoir, the guesthouse they stayed in on Sark, was up sale. He jumped at the chance of a complete change of career and a totally different lifestyle for his family. As a child David loved the great outdoors and spent as much time as he could at Richard Dewe’s dairy farm at La Moinerie. He boarded at Elizabeth College in Guernsey but lived for the holidays and getting back to Sark. A talented academic, if the school had had their way he would have studied maths at Cambridge but David had other ideas. He took a four-year course in farm management at Seale-Hayne Agricultural College in Devon and for his sandwich year worked on a dairy farm in Jersey that also produced potatoes, vegetables and flowers. In 1984 he returned to Sark to start farming.
Hilary grew up in East Anglia in a musical household. (Her father played the organ at Westminster Abbey for the Queen’s Coronation.) Living in the countryside, Hilary too loved being outdoors and spent much of her time on farms where she developed a love of horses. In the early 1980s she came to Sark as a carriage driver where she met David and in 1989 they were married.
Farming has always been a family affair for David and Hilary. From an early age their children, Charlie and Pippa, worked on the farm and now as grown-ups still lend a hand when it’s needed. Apart from that David and Hilary do all of the work themselves. They grow wheat for the hens at Molly Bull’s farm and rear their own beef cattle. Sark diary farmers, the Nightingales, breed the calves that have Guernsey mothers crossed with a Hereford beef strain. Six cows are reared a year and the beef is all sold locally. By far the majority of David and Hilary’s time though is taken up with their market gardening. Over the years they have developed an extensive list of over twenty seasonal crops that have proved popular with local buyers including leeks, onions, courgettes, pumpkins, carrots, herbs and several varieties of potatoes and brassicas. All are grown from seed and David is always eager to find the tastiest varieties as well as those that extend the season. In total they farm fifteen acres and rent additional land to graze the beef cattle. Although they don’t farm organically, they are keen that artificial inputs are kept to a minimum. “We know that the soil is our most valuable asset,” David explains, “so taking care of that is a priority. We rotate our crops, particularly the wheat which we use as a cleansing crop, and where we can we tractor hoe to control the weeds rather than using herbicides.” It is labour intensive work with long hours, particularly in the spring and summer at the height of the growing season. Hilary sows the seeds, by their hundred, which are grown in a poly tunnel before being planted out. “We’ve tried to find a machine to do it,” she says, “but there just isn’t anything suitable for our scale of growing.”
Like many people in Sark, Hilary also has several other jobs. She works for Sark Shipping in the office at Maseline Harbour as well as working part time at Petit Beauregard and taking care of Home Farm, a self-catering let. David and Hilary also run part of their own home, Clos de Menage, as a guesthouse and for self-catering groups. Off-season Hilary cooks for her guests and takes pride in serving meals made entirely from Sark-grown produce sometimes trading vegetables for local lamb or pork.
Despite the hard, physical work and long hours, David and Hilary enjoy their lifestyle tremendously and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. “We don’t get the huge direct subsides that the farmers receive in Jersey and Guernsey but then again we don’t have reams of paperwork to do and lots of regulations. The scale of farming in Sark means that jobs that would take weeks or even months on a bigger farm take us days so there’s always a huge amount of variety in what we do. We also like the variety that the changing seasons bring, the looking forward to the next bit in the process even though we often don’t know what the next day holds. We are very lucky to be able to see the whole process right through to getting the feedback from our customers at the end. All very rewarding!”
Martin Remphry’s colourful illustrations of Sark portray an island peopled by cheerful fishermen, mischievous witches and happy children but his own childhood here on Sark was at times far from idyllic. The Remphries came to Sark from Cornwall to work in the silver mines around 1840. When the mining company finally collapsed, one of the 3 brothers, Joseph Remphry, remained and married a local girl, Nancy Drillot. Martin is the only child of Josie Remphry and his young life was far from straightforward, as he explains. “My father, David Martin, came to find seasonal work on Sark in 1968, working for a while at the Aval du Creux Hotel. After a brief ‘romance’ with Josie a ‘shotgun’ marriage was arranged, but he got cold feet and fled back to Belfast. He eventually contacted me after Josie died and we now have a close relationship and my son Leon adores his ‘Irish Granddad. I grew up with mum and gran (Nora Remphry) in Sunny Side, a corrugated iron bungalow that stood on the present site of Le Petit Clos, Clos du Normand. No running water and an outside privy. I was often cared for by my great aunt Mabel Remphry who lived at Sun Bungalow which stood in the grounds of St. Magloire. An eccentric character, her home was a treasure trove of junk and bric-a-brac which provided much material for my fantasies and stories.”
Martin’s mother worked locally in the chemist shop belonging to Mr and Mrs Betty and the Gallery Stores. While Josie was at work Pat and Dorothy Taylor often took care of Martin at the Mermaid where he delighted to ride the big polisher while Pat cleaned the Tea Room floor. He grew up alongside Robert and Zoe Adams and their cousins Kevin and Simon, but always maintained the habits of an only child. Suzette Adams, whose son Robert was born three weeks after Martin, and who had been Josie’s best friend, recalls that Martin was always drawing, mainly dark spooky pictures. He was less boisterous than other children of his age, his home life being spent in the company of two elderly ladies, his grandmother Nora and great aunt Mabel. Later at school, a design for a poster included a cave with a coffin and skeletons chained to the wall! His mother Josie had loved to draw as a child too, but her preference was horses, much less dramatic!
Of his childhood Martin says, “It would be lovely to paint a romantic picture of me eagerly listening to Sark tales at my grandmother’s knee, but the truth is I grew up on a diet of Blue Peter and Scooby Doo like most of my contemporaries. As a child I loved the witches’ seats on Sark farmhouses, and drew many pictures of witches (bearing an odd likeness to auntie May) knitting Guernseys on the rooftops. My interest in Sark Folklore really began when I stumbled across an old book of Guernsey Folklore in Kensington Library in London. The book, c. 1900, contained many stories from Sark which I had never heard of. Inspired by this I published my own collection of Sark Folklore in 2003. I am fascinated by myths and legends and there are many Sark tales which deserved to have a wider audience.”
Martin recalls that he was a slow reader but eventually fell in love with books and quickly began to illustrate the stories I read. “Drawing was my particular skill, paint and colour appealed less. As an only child I had a vivid imagination and lived most of my childhood in my own fantasy world. Mum had a breakdown when I was 3 or 4, and was treated in Guernsey. I have vague memories (most of my memories are vague) of staying for a week or two with Dorothy Taylor in Weymouth while she recovered, enjoying Punch and Judy on the beach and Mr Whippy ice creams. Mum suffered from alcoholism for most of my childhood, eventually joining the AA with Martin Joyner around 1987. She remained sober until she died of cancer in 1992.”
“I have loved drawing for as long as I can remember and was said to have a particular talent from an early age. It was my love of art, and with great encouragement and support from Sark’s head teacher Helen Gibson, which won me a grant to attend Frensham Heights, a boarding school in Surrey with a good reputation for art. There are many people on Sark, who to this day I don’t know of, who contributed to funding my education, and to whom I am eternally grateful.” On leaving Frencham Heights Martin took a Foundation in Arts course at Kingston Polytechnic and in 1992 ganied a BA Hons in Illustration at Camberwell College since when he has earned his living as an illustrator for children’s books.”
“As a boy I loved building scarecrows and finally achieved one of my writing ambitions when I wrote and illustrated my own scarecrow story, The Scary Chef’s Scarecrow. One of its illustrations depicts Sarb, myself and Leon eating Leon’s favourite meal of pizza. I met my darling and beautiful Sarb in 2001 and 2 years later we were exchanging vows over a Gretna Green anvil. Our equally gorgeous son Leon was born in 2004 and our lives have been a whirlwind ever since. We often holidayed in Cornwall and in 2010 we escaped the London rat race for Falmouth.”
To date Martin has illustrated over 100 books and written two, The Dragon and the Pudding (based on a Sussex folktale) and Scary Chef’s Scarecrow, both published by Franklin Watts. He has many more stories and ideas, including one or two based on Sark, which he hopes will one day reach the bookshelves. Whenever he can Martin tries to slip in a reference to Sark into the books he illustrates. Over the years Martin has provided many of his inimitable designs for programmes and posters for the Sark Water Carnivals, Sheep Racing and Carnival events. He has been commissioned to execute cards and paintings for private clients and his cards, prints, and occasionally original watercolours are always on sale at Sark Glass Take Two in The Avenue.
“Growing up on Sark was idyllic in many ways, the cliffs, coves and beaches provided me with the most beautiful playgrounds I could have wished for. I am not sentimental about living on a tiny island which can be like a real life soap opera at times, but I have yet to find a community as close as Sark’s. There are many on the island who helped both myself and my mother during difficult times in ways which I could never repay.”
Very few of us end of up doing something for a living that began as a Saturday job but Sark-born potter Lorraine Nicolle has done exactly that. She was just eleven when she went to work for Michael and Sylvia Thorpe in their pottery at Clos de Vaul Creux. ‘It sounds like child labour but it wasn’t’, Lorraine explains, ‘because really I just played at the wheel for a couple of hours.’ It didn’t take long though for the ‘playing’ to develop into a real feel for the combination of strength and sensitivity that it takes to throw pots and at fourteen Lorraine left school and began working for the Thorpes full time.
Fifteen years later Lorraine had become so proficient at throwing that a considerable backlog of pots had built up. ‘Basically I potted myself out of a job,’ she says. It was time for a change and in 1994 she left the Thorpes and set up her own business in the workshop behind the Avenue where she is today. She is extremely modest about her skills and effortlessly throws an elegant vase then a jug while we chat. (Anyone who has ever tried their hand at the wheel will know that producing anything other than a mound of sludge is a real art!) Lorraine specialises in thrown pieces, mostly tableware, and works with stoneware clay and glazes. She also works to commission and makes the special plates that Sark Sports Club gives out every year as awards. Her favourite commission came from the island in 2001 when she was asked to make a mug for every school child with their name on it to commemorate the Queen’s visit to Sark.
In 2000 Lorraine extended her skills to include working with silver. She had done some basic silversmithing when she worked for the Thorpe’s and, just before they left the island, they gave her a quick lesson in silver soldering. Since then Lorraine has taught herself all she needs to know to produce a stylish range of cast and forged silver jewellery, spoons, candlesticks and other small pieces of tableware. She has her own unique maker’s mark in the shape of an outline of Sark combined with her initials. Recently she’s also added picture framing to her range of talents.
As well as selling her own work, Lorraine also teaches pottery. Adults can take evening classes in the winter and she runs a children’s class on Saturday mornings. In the summer visitors can try their hand at throwing. ‘I give them three balls of clay to throw then they choose their favourite from the results which I fire, glaze and then post home for them.’
Making a living out of any form of creative work is notoriously difficult and Lorraine admits her pottery and silver work is never going to make her rich. ‘I’m doing just what I want for a living though and don’t have to answer to anyone else. If the weather’s nice I can go out and enjoy it and work in the evening if I need to.’ That sounds like the perfect job description.
Lorraine’s work is available from her workshop and she also has pieces for sale at the Island Stores and Stocks Old Stable Shop.
All the above articles and pictures are from previous issues of local magazine Sark Life; a quarterly issued publication. If you would like any more information, to order a current or back issue copy or subscribe to their mailing list please visit their website at http://www.smallislandpublishing.sark.gg/sarklife.html
Sark lies six miles east of Guernsey (eight miles harbour to harbour), 14 miles north west of Jersey, and some 20 miles from France, in the Bay of St Malo.
The climate is equable, similar to Devon and Cornwall and Brittany, and frosts are infrequent. The average annual rainfall is about 32 inches.
Rather grey days with drizzle are fairly common in winter. The Island is exposed to winter gales from all quarters but we also get bright sunny days with very little wind.
Summer weather is often very pleasant with light winds and temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius.
Visit www.metoffice.gov.gg for further information on climate.
Regular communications are with Guernsey. The passenger boats run a frequent service during the season (April to mid October) every day, with one boat on Sundays. In winter (weather permitting) there is a daily return boat from Guernsey, and one or two trips weekly from Sark to Guernsey and back to enable residents to go shopping etc. There are also round trips on some Saturdays to allow sports fixtures.
There is a boat from Jersey 3-4 times a week between the beginning of April and the end of September.
Personal transport on the Island is limited to foot, bicycle or horse drawn carriage. The use of tractors is limited by licence to carriage of goods or for agriculture. There are unmade roads and paths.
There are excellent modern telecommunication and postal systems.
The residential population of Sark is around 600. In summer this rises to over 1000.
There is a surgery with a resident doctor in private practice, but for all other medical services patients must travel to Guernsey. A dentist visits Sark regularly during the season to carry out inspections and most work.
A tractor drawn ambulance is available to take stretcher cases to the harbour, where it will be met by the St John ambulance launch (the “Flying Christine”) from Guernsey.
There is no reciprocal agreement with the U.K. National Health Service.
Neither residents nor temporary workers or visitors are covered by the U.K. National Health Service or the Guernsey Health Service, so private health insurance is essential.
Schooling is available for island children from aged five to fifteen. Many children go to Guernsey or the U.K.for secondary education but, with the advance of new technology and improved facilities in school children are now able to study a modest range of GCSE courses. If secondary education is followed off-island, fees and other costs are the responsibility of parents.
The Church of St Peter on Sark is within the Anglican Deanery of Guernsey (in the Diocese of Winchester). There are regular services (led by the resident priest in charge) throughout the year.
Visiting Roman Catholic priests take mass once a month in St Peter’s Church.
There is a Methodist Church on the Island, with a resident Minister (under the authority of the Guernsey Methodist Church).
There is no mains water supply on Sark. Houses depend on wells, bore holes or roof-catchment.
There is no mains drainage on Sark. Dwellings drain into cesspits and septic tanks – householders are responsible for their adequate maintenance. Clearance of these is available through the island public works for which there is a charge.
Electricity is generated on the Island at 240v AC, but it is expensive, as is oil and bottled gas.
Digital TV reception is good in most areas. There are no terrestrial channels available.
Tenure of property is complex. There is no true freehold; all land being held in perpetual fief from the Seigneur. Each of the forty properties (tenements) into which the Island is divided (as well as a few other holdings in perpetual fief) can only pass as intact blocks of land by inheritance to one heir, unless sold outside of the family.
Log on to www.gov.sark.gg for information on the Constitution of Sark.
The relationship between Landlord and Tenant is different from that in the United Kingdom, and any prospective purchaser or lessee is strongly advised to consult a Guernsey Advocate familiar with Sark Law.
Only persons owing allegiance to the English Crown may hold land in fief.
Smaller houses and bungalows can sometimes be had on leased land, but personal enquiry is essential. New building is limited to residents of at least 15 years standing.
Furnished accommodation in summer bungalows and chalets is sometimes available for the winter but personal inspection is strongly recommended as what is suitable for the Sark summer may not be sufficient for the winter.
Tenements and leaseholds are generally handled by Estate Agents in Sark and on Guernsey.
There is one estate agent on the island – contact them on www.sarkestateagents.com for further details.
BANKING AND TAXATION
The Island is within the UK currency area (BPS – sterling), with UK, Guernsey and Jersey currencies being used.
There are two banks (the NatWest and the HSBC) on the Island, situated at the Collenette (the entrance to the Avenue), open Monday to Friday. There is no automated cash distributor (ATM.)
The Island is financially independent of the UK and Guernsey. There is no income tax, but there is a tax on world wide assets and a property tax. Prospective residents are advised to consult “The Sark Tax Assessor” at the Committee Offices, Sark or Tel: 01481 832268.
There are no Death Duties or Capital Gains Tax, but the inheritance laws, both for Real Estate and Personalty, are peculiar to Sark.
SHOPPING FACILITIES etc.
There are a number of small shops selling a range of foodstuffs. Some Guernsey shops will ship to Sark.
Servicing for electrical and other equipment is available.
There are several local building firms but building costs can be expensive as they reflect the cost of freighting materials from Guernsey.
Cost of living comparisons are difficult – spirits and tobacco are cheaper than in the UK but foodstuffs and other goods are inclined to be more expensive.
Seasonal work is usually available and some long term employment for skilled workers, generally in the building trade.
There is no employment agency, no unemployment benefit, no national insurance and no old age pension.
For more information please contact Sark Tourism, Sark, Channel Islands GY10 1SB – or telephone 00 44 (0)1481 832345/fax 832483, or visit the website www.sark.co.uk for up to date news, events, travel information etc.