So there I was, perched precariously on an uncomfortable narrow seat in the tractor-hauled cart as it bumped its way up the hill heading for the main street ‘The Avenue.’ A few minutes earlier I had alighted from a rocky, one hour crossing on the boat from Guernsey. The rain had stopped, which renewed my enthusiasm for exploring tiny Sark, an island which is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. It is unique in that it is a fiefdom granted to the Seigneurie of St Ouen in Jersey back in 1565, with the proviso that he kept the island free from pirates.
click on any image to enlarge words/images (c) Gilly Pickup
The ride in the tractor-hauled buggy, nicknamed the ‘toastrack’ due to its design, is one of three ways visitors can get to the village after alighting from the boat – the other two involve walking up a steep hill or hiring a horse and cart (£10 pp per hour when I was there). Even the ambulance and fire engine operate on the towed-by-tractor basis. There are no roads, just dusty, stony tracks and rural pathways, so for walkers, good footwear is essential. Those who prefer to cycle can hire one from a shop on The Avenue. Although most people visiting the island are day trippers like me, there is accommodation available for those seeking a chill out break including a couple of hotels, guest houses, self-catering properties and a few campsites.
Alighting thankfully from the buggy, I walked passed the prison, possibly the world’s smallest with only two cells – a local told me that it is still used for rare, overnight stays. I was heading for historic manor house, ‘La Seigneurie’ built around 1675. Though the house, permanent residence of the present Seigneur – the head of Sark, is not open to the public, the grounds are open daily and it is one of Sark's most popular attractions. There is a café in the gardens where I had coffee and cake then suitably refreshed, set off again past deep winding valleys bursting with wild flowers, white washed cottages and berry-laden hedgerows to the Hog's Back headland, a favourite spot with picnickers. Dixcart Wood is worth a visit too, in spring it is carpeted in bluebells and it remains a blaze of year round colour thanks to the profusion of celandines, primroses, three-cornered garlic, red campion and ferns which grow here. Those seeking more adrenaline fuelled pastimes can try coasteering, geocaching or kayaking while at low tide, there are coastal caves to explore.
Sark has no street lights so if locals go out at night they have to carry a torch to see where they are going. Since there is no light pollution, the night sky can be viewed in all its glory and Sark was designated the world’s dark sky first island in 2011. No special equipment is needed to enjoy the starry display but there is a powerful telescope in a small observatory – well, a shed really - primarily designed to keep star-gazers warm at night. If you go, you’ll be bound to see the creamy rich Milky Way, a display of shooting stars is almost guaranteed and you will be mesmerised by the twinkling lights of Guernsey far across the sea.
Read about Guernsey's wildlife here
The rest of my brief visit to the Channel Islands was spent in Guernsey, famed for its flowers and fabulous seafood and one of the few places in the world where Santa Claus arrives by lifeboat, rendering Rudolf redundant. It’s a small island, only 25sq miles, but has a variety of landscapes from rocky inlets to high-sided woodland and curving pastures. It’s easy to get whisked back in time as almost everywhere you look here there is evidence of a fascinating past, from medieval castles, forts and watchtowers to landmarks providing memories of the years when Hitler’s forces invaded the islands, particularly La Valette German Underground Museum and the Occupation Museum with its hoard of war relics. No modern fast food outlets are allowed on Guernsey either, it has stuck to its guns. No MacDonalds, Pizza Hut or Starbucks. Well maybe that’s no bad thing.
Victor Hugo was so enamoured with the island that he was inspired to write most of Les Miserables there during his 15 year stay. He described his new homeland as ‘the rock of hospitality, this corner of old Norman land where the noble people of the sea reside.’ I wanted to visit his house but it was closed so had to make do with standing outside and imagining what it might look like from the inside. I did get inside Castle Cornet though, last remaining royalist stronghold during the last throes of the English Civil War. Unfortunately for the governor’s wife, an explosion in 1672 in the gunpowder store blew off the top of the tower and she was killed. Today, it contains several museums, including one devoted to all things seafaring while its gardens are great for wafting round on a pleasant day.
Foodies should know that everywhere you go in Guernsey you’ll enjoy fantastic fare. Personally I like 'gache’, the local finger-licking fruit loaf traditionally eaten smothered with rich golden Guernsey butter. Fish fans must savour a bumper bowl of seriously fabulous ‘moules’, probably the freshest you’re likely to find. Add to that friendly locals, interesting scenery and inexpensive car rental and you’ll wonder, as I did, why it took you so long to visit.
images (c) Gilly Pickup
Sark Visitor Centre Guernsey Tourism
Condor Ferries operates year round services from Poole to Guernsey
Isle of Sark Shipping Company operate regular sailings from Guernsey to Sark
Suffering from lack-of- holiday blues? Give yourself a treat by taking to the water by ferry ....
Easy check-in processes, relaxing onboard passenger lounges and refreshment areas mean a chilled-out ambience from start to finish. Spacious public decks lend themselves to social distancing and give ferry passengers room to relax or stretch their legs, collect their thoughts and experience a more
mindful method of travel. Holidaymakers travelling by vehicle also avoid packing stresses, no baggage restrictions and bike racks, sports gear and camping equipment are transported fuss-free.
Abby Penlington, Director at Discover Ferries, says: “To inspire holidaymakers looking to enhance their wellbeing we have compiled a guide to escapes by ferry that stimulate the mind, body and spirit.”
Active trips to strengthen the body
To build core strength, flexibility and calm your mind, Isle of Wight visitors can attend sessions combining traditional Asana yoga with stand-up paddle boarding (SUP).
Travel from Portsmouth or Lymington with Wightlink; Southampton with Red Funnel; via Hovertravel from Southsea.
Operating with extra capacity for bicycles, Uber Boat by Thames Clippers means city dwellers and visitors can take in London's sights from the river, before continuing their commute or exploration of parks, piers and pathways on two wheels.
The Scilly Isles sandy beaches are perfect for open water swimming and kayaking, on a sunny day you’ll find it hard to believe you are in Britain. Embrace your adventurous spirit and take social distancing to the extreme by chartering a boat to an uninhabited island for a solitary stroll.
Isles of Scilly Travel offers services on The Scillonian departing from Penzance to St Mary’s Harbour.
For those who have taken up walking during lockdown and want to do this during holidays, the Isle of Man’s Raad ny Foillan Coastal Path is ideal. Covering nearly 100 miles, ambitious walkers can complete the route in four days or opt to walk the course in 10 days. Walkers are rewarded with spectacular views, fantastic picnicking spots and restaurants to suit all budgets.
Travel with Isle of Man Steam Packet Company from Heysham to Douglas year-round or seasonally from Liverpool, Dublin and Belfast.
Holidays to reset the mind
Retreat to the Holy Isle, a remote Buddhist island off Scotland's Isle of Arran, to indulge in Tai Chi, yoga and meditation. With relaxing activities that focus the mind in tranquil surroundings, it’s easy to see why visitors return to Re-Vitalise Retreats.
Travel to Arran with CalMac ferries from Ardrossan or Kintyre, departing from Clanoig in summer and Tarbert in winter months.
The Netherlands has a culture of indoor wellness centres that offer the ultimate in hot and
cold pools, steam rooms and saunas.
Travel with DFDS via its Newcastle to Amsterdam route; P&O Ferries departing from Hull to Rotterdam; Stena Line’s services between Harwich and the Hook of Holland.
Practise the Japanese art of forest bathing at St Brelade in Jersey, it reduces stress and improves concentration. Visitors are encouraged to take in the forest's fresh air under the guidance of local herbalists and if they wish they can forage for ingredients for a relaxing tea.
Condor Ferries operate links to Jersey from Poole.
Nourishing breaks that will heighten your senses
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, so why not visit France’s apple region? Apple desserts, apple juice, cider and Calvados apple brandy mean no shortage of sampling opportunities across the region. From May to December, visitors can participate in harvesting the fruit.
Sail to Normandy from Portsmouth or Poole with Brittany Ferries; from Newhaven to Dieppe with DFDS; P&O Ferries and DFDS operate from Dover.
The Irish coastline is home to a variety of edible plant life making it a haven for foragers. Besides mushrooms, herbs, mosses and wild blackberries, there are more than 600 types of
nutrient-packed seaweed. Foragers can sustainably harvest by cutting the tips – never the root
– with a knife, it adds flavour to soups, bakes and infused oils. The food trail in Waterford is a great introduction to Ireland’s native plant life and local producers.
Travel to Ireland from the UK with Irish Ferries via Pembroke-Rosslare and Holyhead-Dublin routes; P&O Ferries from Liverpool to Dublin; Stena Line on Holyhead-Dublin and Fishguard-Rosslare services.
The Buddhist Samye Ling and Centre on Holy Isle are closed until the end of 2020 due to COVID-19, however, in line with Scottish Government advice, visitors can kayak, walk and enjoy nature on the island.
The UK government currently advises against all but essential travel to France and The Netherlands. Please monitor the FCO advise to check when it’s safe to travel.
Although the Isle of Man’s borders are currently closed to nonresidents, they look forward to welcoming visitors again soon.
Further information on how the ferry industry is responding to COVID-19 at
Discover Ferries represents 13 ferry operators in the UK, the British Islands and Ireland operating more than 80 routes. Its role is to promote ferry travel and holidays. The carriage of freight vehicles is also an important part of the business. Discover Ferries members are Brittany Ferries, Caledonian MacBrayne, Condor Ferries, DFDS, Hovertravel, Irish Ferries, Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, Isles of Scilly Travel, Uber Boat by Thames Clippers, P&O Ferries, Red Funnel, Stena Line and Wightlink.
Four of the greatest golf courses in Scotland's Kingdom of Fife
Crail Golfing Sociey
The clubhouse and two 18-hole courses occupy the easternmost tip of the East Neuk of Fife. The postition is fabulous, overlooking the Firth of Forth, Firth of Tay and the often grumpy North Sea. This, the world's seventh oldest golf club, was formed in 1786. Balcomie Links was first used in 1895 by Tom Morris who decided that 'there is not a better course in Scotland'. High praise indeed.
Scotscraig Golf Club
Situated ten miles north of St Andrews in the village of Tayport and established in 1817 at a time when there were only twelve other golf courses in existence. The present course was laid out by James Braid in the 1920s and is an interesting mix of links and parkland. Some say the 4th is one of Fife's most testing holes.
Lundin Golf Club
Founded in 1868 playing over land described then as 'benty, tussocky and ripe with whin'. Originally the links from Lundin to Leven between the old railway line and the Firth of Forth were shared between the golfers from the Leven Clubs and Lundin Golf Club. Each of the clubs started from their respective ends until 1908 when James Braid came to plan a new course. Lundin Golf Club is a participant in the final qualifying stages of the Open prior to its staging at St Andrews.
Ladybank Golf Club
In the sheltered Howe of Fife with the Lomond Hills to the south west, the course is one of Sotland's inland tracts consisting of heathland avenues delineated by Scots Pine, Silver Birch and heather. The standard of presentation is exceptional. Red squirrels live in the trees and golfers find it a peaceful place to play without distraction. Ladybank is another venue for final qualifying rounds before the Open.
More at Links with history
Here are some animals in Austria to cheer you up!
Huskies in Vorarlberg
In Vorarlberg’s Brandnertal, Anton Kutter raises, trains and cares for 18 huskies. He hosts workshops where visitors can meet the energetic, devoted dogs, learning about their breed and training, then they can take snow-shoe and sledding tours through the alpine countryside. Programmes are available for small groups and children, exclusive excursions designed for two people and ‘Husky Workshops Extreme’ featuring three touring sleds and an overnight stay in a mountain camp.
Llamas & Alpacas in SalzburgerLand and Tirol
Hiking on holiday is fun. For children, however, the appeal isn’t always so obvious. Bringing along an animal is a sure-fire way to get kids on board with nature walks. Alpaca and llama treks invite hikers to lead their animal companions through summer forests and winter wonderlands. In SalzburgerLand, head to Zell am See-Kaprun’s high mountain reservoirs for fortnightly alpaca and llama walks, or the Abenteuer Lama Farm in Saalbach Hinterglemm to meet Loriot, Simon and Ronaldo. Trek with the animals through an autumnal paradise in Kitzbüheler Alpen in Tirol, or below wintry night skies in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena.
Marmots on the Grossglockner
The Grossglockner High Alpine Road leading to Austria’s tallest mountain, provides some of Austria's most panoramic views. In surrounding meadows, mountains and rocky terrain live some of Austria’s cutest animals, alpine marmots. You might see these fluffy creatures on the ascent to the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe, where they have become accustomed to and curious about their human visitors. To see more mountain residents, look through the Swarovski-Beobachtungswarte binoculars, visit the Murmi-Schau at the Haus Alpine, or stop by the Mankei-Wirt, at which the inn keeper raises tame marmots.
image copyrights: Innsbruck Tourismus, Christhof Lackner, Vorarlberg Tourismus, Markus Gmeiner, Tiroler Zugspitz Arena (de). Husky Toni
Once upon a time, storytellers roamed the earth. These fantastic beings had a mission: to discover magical places and tell people about them. Join the storyteller and let this island beguile you. From the vast seas, step onto the island. Feel bottomless gorges and see impenetrable pine forests. Vibrate with exploding surf, swim through gigantic waves of sand and stand with the entire island at your feet.
I'm Gilly, award winning journalist, travel/ cruise writer & author of 12 books. Credits incl: Telegraph, CNN, Daily Mail, Independent, BBC mags, Country & Town House, The Scotsman, Best, My Weekly, trade titles etc