On our final day we awoke to sea fret. We hadn’t seen fog since our journey down through the highlands and it’s amazing how, on an island, when its foggy everything suddenly changes. All becomes quieter and what sounds there are: horse’s hooves, tractors, fog horns consequently seem that much louder. We took time over breakfast to speak with our fellow guest, also co-incidentally from Somerset. Charles had lived on Sark for many years and now continues to return regularly. Sark is the kind of place that people come back to because they have fallen under the spell of the place and people. On our travels we also met visitors from many different places: France of course, it makes a nice sailing holiday to come across put in at Sark and enjoy a hearty supper, but also from Germany and from as far afield as Australia.
As the mist began to clear we made our way up to the Seigneurie gardens. In his book on A Christian Theology of place John Inge writes about the sense of peace and of God’s presence that many people encounter in gardens. The English poet and hymn writer Dorothy Frances Guerney [1858-1932] in her poem God’s Garden wrote:
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s Heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on Earth
If this sounds a little sentimental to our 21st century taste I find it still strikes a chord with many people and may account for the popularity of visits to many stately homes and gardens. On our travels we spoke to a family visiting from Germany who were happily visiting gardens in Wales. My teenage son loves trees explained the mum of the family, he finds them fascinating. Theologians will say that this sense of fascination/inspiration may hark back to the Creation in Genesis and the timeless story of God lovingly created a garden paradise filling it with trees, plants, animals and human life and and pronouncing everything ‘good’. And, at least for a while, creation, God and humankind lived together peaceably. Is our fascination with gardens perhaps a reflection of a deep rooted desire to return to this harmonious situation? A point worth pondering!
From our point of view the Seigneurie gardens were quite stunning and slightly mysterious on a misty day. Unlike some of the pristine well-manicured gardens we come across in stately homes on the mainland, there is a lovely balance here of nature, which is obviously lovingly tended, but also spontaneity in the profusion of flowers, herbs and colours, which we felt were given the space to speak for themselves.
The Seigneurie was originally the home of the Seigneur, [the title literally means Lord]. The role traces its roots back to Hellier de Carteret (1563–1578) who we met in an earlier blog and Queen Elizabeth I’s determination to rid the island of those pesky pirates.
The list of Seigneurs is a fascinating one containing, as with any family, several colourful characters. One Seigneur was a clergyman William Thomas Collings (1853–1882) His maternal grandfather, the Guernsey privateer John Allaire, was mortgaged the fief of Sark by the island’s Seigneur, Ernest le Pelley.
As Seigneur the Revd Collings was keen on improving the welfare of the community. He improved schooling and encouraged the construction of small hotels, seeking to encourage the newly developed industry of tourism. His priority was to provide for the defence of the island, whose militia he was very proud of. Collings was determined to make up for the years of his predecessors’ seigneurial neglect, and he used his personal resources for that end. In 1855, in keeping with his ecclesiastical background, Collings gave land to the church for a new cemetery and, striving to discourage vice, had a prison constructed on the island. In 1864, he offered a house for the use of Sark’s schoolmaster on the condition that he was an Anglican, and in doing so greatly offended the numerous Methodists in the Chief Pleas. Relationships between the Seigneurs, it seems, were not always historically harmonious, one accusing the Methodists of stirring up revolution among the islanders.
Over the centuries there have been 2 Dames of Sark, the Dame being the female equivalent of the Seigneur. The first was Marie Collings, mother of the Revd William Thomas Collings, who died a year after she became ruler of Sark, more recently Sibyl Hathaway (1927–1974) had the challenging role of being Dame of Sark during the 2nd World War.
Sibyl Hathaway believed that Germans would either never come to the island or at least if they did that their stay would be brief. Most of her tenants bitterly resented her for the decision to remain on Sark during the ensuing five years of occupation, but thanked her after the war when they saw how total evacuation destroyed the neighbouring island of Alderney. Hathaway was much respected by the islanders as well as the Germans, whose language she spoke perfectly, for the leadership she gave during this period. The British Home Secretary Herbert Morrison observed that she remained “almost wholly mistress of the situation” throughout the occupation. Many German officers in charge of the Channel Islands were also of noble extraction, and Hathaway exploited their German formality by making it clear that she expected to be treated with the same formal etiquette to which they were accustomed in their own country. She insisted that officers come to her rather than the other way around, and expected them to bow, kiss her hand, and bow again before she allowed them to take a seat. Using her influence she was able to get the German army physician stationed in Sark to treat her sick tenants. When Germans ordered that all the Sarkese be instructed in German, the Dame offered a room in her residence as a classroom for the children of the island. When Islanders struggled with food shortage in the last months of the occupation, Hathaway organised a raid on German grain stocks and saved many families from starvation with her secret potato hoard.
Around the time of our visit to the island we discovered that there is now a new Seigneur. On his father’s death the great grandson of Sibyl Hathaway Major Christopher Beaumont inherited the title. I understand that Major Christopher and his family currently live on the mainland but already have plans to visit and stay on the island regularly in order get to know the people of Sark and to understand how the island works and we wish them and the people of Sark every blessing in this new chapter in the island’s history. More can be discovered about the gardens of the Seigneurie on their website
And so to the hunt for chocolate. We had heard that Sark had its own Chocolatier and tea garden, Caragh Chocolates near the causeway at La Coupée leading to Little Sark. Thinking a good walk would be in order before succumbing to temptation we set out on our travels only once again for the mist to come down. We had planned to walk across the causeway to explore Little Sark but as the mist got thicker we paused instead to take a few atmospheric photos. Then we headed back to the chocolatier and their delights of Sark after dark, praline crunch and salted caramel. Take a look at their website.