MEET THE LOCALS
Please click on any of the names below to find out more about our Sark residents!
Alex Williams – local boy and Skipper for Sark Shipping Company
Susan Synnott – botanist and member of La Societe Sercquaise
Dave Scott – Farmer, Tree Surgeon & Rock Star
Gavin Nicolle – Farmer, fuel supplier & actor
The Nightingale’s Dairy
Carl Hester, Sark’s Golden Boy
Going around with George
Jim Hodge – Harbour Master and wine maker extraordinaire
Peter Gabriel Byrne, harbour master and singer songwriter
David & Hilary Curtis
Lorraine Nicolle, potter and silversmith
Alex Williams – local boy and Skipper for Sark Shipping Company
Written by Alex.
The responsibility lies firmly on our shoulders! The GPS indicates 10.00am, we have the all clear from both office and port control. Crew, vessel and passengers pull away from the inter island quay in St. Peter Port Guernsey, a 45min crossing to the wonderful island I grew up on follows. As we pass through the pier heads heading east, hopes are high. The dolphins are around, somewhere?! Maybe we will only be lucky enough to see the nesting Puffins, marauding seals or even a solitary Sunfish?
I feel fortunate having been raised in Sark. Maybe a selective memory hinders recollection of dull, overcast or rainy days, a preference to recall summers lasting from April through September inclusive! My first summer experience of the island, as a new born, certainly gave the data banks a healthy start of the sunny bias!!
Any number of excursions to the diverse beaches, walking the dog or simply heading out on the bikes unaccompanied, all seemed possible without consultation of forecast. During these numerous activities my interest in the sea took hold. Building sand castles, exploring caves, shrimping, snorkelling and belly boarding soon played second fiddle against the desire to be afloat. What was it like to be on the plane, skimming around the rugged towering headlands into the next mesmerising bay? Being on a boat was the only way ahead!
Yearning to leave the Creux harbour pier heads astern, landed me in trouble on more than one occasion, mother seeming to have a very restricted few she was prepared to let me out in a boat with! Experience and hindsight most certainly placed Mum’s hammer on the head of the nail, as now I scowl at youngsters doing all the moves we loved! I recall my imagination regarding the open sea being heavily fuelled by stories of North Atlantic convoys, swinging hammocks and action damage,(torpedo or mine) relayed engagingly by my Grandad who spent time in the senior service during WW2.
So much intrigue partly led to a career of my own in the Royal Navy, spending the best part of four and a half years as a marine engineer mechanic and ships diver, working and playing hard on Her Majesty’s grey funnel liners! Deployments took me far enough south to check out Grytviken whaling station in South Georgia, whilst also catching a few rays en-route alongside in Rio, the next young Ronaldinho running rings around us with ball on Copacabana beach!
My relatively short stint in the Navy was followed by another fascinating marine based occupation. The Offshore industry beckoned with an R.O.V. Pilot/technician term of employment. Contracts included spells in the North Sea and most interestingly, a six week period on a jack up rig of the west coast of Angola! The time above the wellhead felt endless, however I doubt I will ever forget as I watched, jaw a gape I am sure, as a Humpback supported her calf in a moment of rest right alongside the rig.
Whilst being fully occupied in the Offshore sector, a further marine based position became advertised in the Channel Islands. Becoming trained as an engineer and then skipper and commercial diver in local waters, including the adjacent French coast, was too much of a draw to refuse! Fortunately one of the two positions became mine and another steep learning curve was embarked upon.
In amongst all of these positions there was a fair amount of coming and going, to a variety of global destinations. The most important thing I learnt during this period was an appreciation of the beauty the islands hold. Making a final approach into Guernsey airport with a flight path over the north end of Sark, passing over the Fourquais bouy on a spring low tide with shallow turquoise waters and golden sands beneath, will remain a tough act to follow wherever you may visit.
A number of exams mainly focusing on local pilotage were undertaken. These enabled me to hold the current position I have as skipper at Isle Of Sark Shipping Company where I have been for the past Six years. Some occasionally ask if I miss Sark now that I live in Guernsey but I don’t see how I can, when I return home more than most!
As we cruise through Greve de La Ville bay and pass under Point Robert Lighthouse, Maseline jetty nears. The engine revs are reduced as we manoeuvre alongside the jetty. The mail, papers and passengers depart the vessel as a familiar banter with the usual suspects unfolds. Time is of the essence as we endeavour to maintain our schedule.
The saloon is clear, everyone seems happy and its almost eleven o’clock.
“Anyone for Guernsey?”
Susan Synnott was born, educated and lived until her late twenties in Ireland, working for a few years in Paris, with Madrid and New York for several months in between, then moved to South Africa with her husband, David, for thirteen years before arriving in Sark in 2002. She first lived at the very south of the island in Little Sark where she became fascinated by the variety of wild flowers growing along the hedgerows as she cycled or walked around the island. She longed to learn the names as her knowledge of plants, garden or otherwise, was extremely limited.
Fortunately in spring 2004 the first Wild Flower Fortnight took place, led by the late Penny Prevel with expert advice on the more difficult plants by Dr. Roger Veall who had been visiting with his wife Psyche for over twenty years, making records of what they had found. With expert mentoring by Roger on his annual visits and with regular strolls around the island searching for plants with Drs. Richard and Marie Axton, who were much more knowledgeable than Susan, she began to learn about what she was seeing around her. Taking photographs helped her in identification and she enjoyed cataloguing them all and adding to the collection by degrees. It was Caroline Langford at the Gallery Stores and Post Office who suggested to her that a book on the wild flowers might fill a gap, particularly one with plenty of photographs of the plants. That led to her book the Wild Flowers of Sark being published in 2011.
The wild flower walks in spring have become a yearly event, usually in late April. She and Shan Bache have been leading them in the last few years.
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.
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