In a world saturated with light pollution, it can be challenging to find a starry night sky that doesn't require a trek into the wilderness. That is, unless you live in a Dark Sky Community!
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) defines Dark Sky Communities as "legally organized cities and towns that adopt quality outdoor lighting ordinances and undertake efforts to educate residents about the importance of dark skies."
There are only a few of these specially designated places around the world so far, but one that makes the grade is Channel Island of Sark, which is showcased in the video above.
Sark, which lies in the middle of the English Channel, lays claim to being the world's first dark sky island. (Photo: Ben Salter/flickr)
While Sark is not the first formally established Dark Sky Community (that honor goes to Flagstaff, Arizona, which was designated in 2001), the small hunk of land in the middle of the English Channel lays claim to being the world's first dark sky island. If you get a chance to visit, it won't take long for you to understand why everyone is so enamored with its star power. On clear nights, it's remarkably easy to spot the cosmic luminance of the Milky Way — and residents are doing everything in their power to keep it that way.
"You get spectacular views from lots of places in the U.K., but there are few very special sites that are world-class in terms of how dark they are," said Steve Owens, an astronomer who encouraged and helped pave the way for Sark's IDA application.
This commitment to preserving the island's top-notch stargazing isn't the only manifestation of the residents' mindset of responsible and sustainable stewardship. For decades, Sark has been on the radar of many ecologically minded travelers due to its long-held status as a car-free haven. As a tiny island that boasts an area that is little more than 2 square miles and a population of around 600, motorized vehicles are simply unnecessary. Instead of cars, island residents and tourists rely on horse-drawn carriages, bicycles and their own two feet to get around. The only exceptions to the ban on motorized vehicles are tractors and battery-powered buggies for people with disabilities.
Because of this car ban and the town's lack of streetlights, Sark was naturally in a good starting position to be honored as a Dark Sky Community, but that doesn't mean applying for it wasn't a painstaking task. The IDA takes the title seriously. To prepare an application for Dark Sky status, night time illumination levels must be recorded, high-resolution digital photographs of constellations must be captured and towns undergo an extensive artificial lighting audit.
All of these stipulations meant that the residents of Sark were tasked with evaluating every single exterior light source on the island and coming up with ways to reduce the amount of light pollution present.
Thankfully, all the hard work paid off, and Sark was awarded a Dark Sky Community designation in 2011 — fueling a flurry of international interest in this otherwise modest Channel Island.
The novelty of a car-free, stargazing-focused community is reason enough to plan a visit to Sark, but there are numerous other daylight-friendly attractions on the island that shouldn't be overlooked! Here are just a few highlights:
One of the most well-known Sark attractions is La Coupée — a narrow, 300-foot-long isthmus that connects Greater Sark with the peninsula of Little Sark. Rising up 260 feet from the sea below, this heavily eroded sliver of a causeway was once only traversable by a precarious dirt path that posed a serious challenge.
Even though it was paved in the early 20th century, traversing this sliver of land today is a serious test of bravery for anyone with acrophobia.
Touted as one of the smallest harbors in the world, Creux Harbor is a favorite among small fishing boats and private yachts visiting Sark. It's also famous for it storied history as one of the earliest developments on the island. The first incarnation of Creux Harbor was built by settlers in 1588, though after strong winter storms destroyed it in 1865-1866, it wasn't until 1868 that it was rebuilt in its current form.
The remnants of Sark's silving mining industry
Sark was the site of a short-lived silver and lead mining operation between 1833 and 1845. While up to 80 workers were employed at the height of the mine's tenure, the realities of a costly overhead and low yield eventually caused it go under. Since those days, the island has turned to tourism as the primary industry, and much of the mine's abandoned infrastructure, like these flues, have become points of interest.
Want to learn more about the history of Sark's speculative silver mining operations and see more photos of the ruins that remain? British industrial archaeologist Phil Jenkins has a website dedicated to Sark's fascinating mining history.
This cheerful garden is found on the grounds of a 17th century feudal manor, and it's managed by the island's long-held line of Seigneurs (a feudal title similar to "lord" that is granted by the British monarchy). The area features a formal rose garden, a hedge maze, bee hives, a Victorian glasshouse, a vegetable garden and an array of buildings that reflect architectural styles spanning several centuries.
Situated on the western coast of the island, Havre Gosselin is one of the most scenic mooring spots for boats visiting the island. The island provides yellow buoys for public use, free of charge, which makes this a popular destination for private sailboats and yachts.
The Window in the Rock
This man-made passage was carved through solid granite, and while it looks lovely from afar, it's also one of the most dangerous tourist attractions in Sark due to the abrupt, unprotected 300-foot drop at the opposite end of the tunnel.
Perched on the northeastern cliffs of Point Roberts, the octagonal-shaped Sark Lighthouse was built in 1913 and remains an important guide for sea vessels making their way through the Channel Islands. Although the lighthouse became automated in 1994 and is now monitored remotely from Essex, the building remains one of the island's most well-known architectural icons.