Ravi is a traveler and foodie who loves to visit off-the-beaten-track places and understand the culture, history and customs behind them.
The World’s Cutest Prison?
Sark is a small island that belongs to no nation. In fact, it was the smallest feudal state in Europe until 2006 when democracy was formally introduced.
Sandwiched between Guernsey and Jersey, the tiny island is one of the four major islands that make up the Channel Islands of the English Channel. Sark is the second smallest of the Channel Islands; it is less than three miles long and just one and a half miles wide. Currently, around 550 people stay on Sark.
Despite its small size, Sark has a long and colorful history. It was first mentioned in 1040 when William of Normandy (also called William the Conqueror) gave it as a gift to the Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey.
It was captured by the French in 1549 but taken over by the English later. Later during World War II, the island was captured by the Germans due to its strategic importance. After the war, however, it settled down into an uneventful life of rustic old-world charm where time comes to a standstill.
And besides the colorful history, there are some peculiarities also. On Sark, there are no cars and no streetlights. That means the only ways to get around are your feet, a tractor, a horse, a cart, or a bicycle. In fact, it is the only place in the world where even the fire engines and ambulances are pulled by tractors or horses.
And the biggest peculiarity is the prison. Yes, Sark also has the distinction of being home to what is probably the smallest prison still in use in the world.
The Story of Sark Prison
The prison was originally built in 1588 and later moved to an 18th-century maisonette-styled building that was initially built as a girls’ school in 1856.
The decision to build the prison in Sark was probably made after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 after which it was felt that Sark’s defenses need to be strengthened against invasions and there needs to be a small, safe place where the enemy can be locked away for good.
Coming to the prison itself, it is one of the cutest (yes, cute is the word) prisons in the world.
The tiny, barrel-roofed jail just comprises of two windowless cells, measuring six feet by six and six feet by eight, and a three-foot-wide corridor that runs in front of them. The ‘comforts’ of the cells include wood-slatted beds and thin mattresses.
The prison, as per judicial powers granted to the island in the 16th century can only hold prisoners for a maximum of two days. If the crime is more severe or the punishment needs to last for a longer time, the offender is shipped off to the neighboring Channel Island Guernsey.
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One of the earliest occupants of the prison was a young girl who was accused of stealing her mistress’s handkerchief. As the story goes, the girl of so terrified of the dark cell that two local ladies decided to sit along with her knitting and talking until her time was finished. She was also allowed to keep her cell door open owing to her fear of the dark.
The Prison’s Most Infamous Prisoner
These days however the prison is managed by two policemen, who have the titles of Constable and Vingtenier (the Constable’s assistant). The last serious crime happened way back in 1990 when an unemployed French nuclear physicist named André Gardes tried to invade the island, armed with a semi-automatic weapon. He claimed to be the rightful Seigneur (or Lord) of Sark as he rowed across to the island, putting on two posters explaining his ‘noble’ intent.
André was punched in the nose by the Constable, arrested, and had to spend two days languishing in Sark’s prison before being unceremoniously driven out of the island.
Since Gardes’s invasion, there have been several other residents of the prison but most of them were either intoxicated tourists or drunk residents who were ordered by the Constable and Vingtenier to spend the night in one of the dark cells until they sobered up in the morning.
And it might surprise you, but the Constable and Vingtenier are kept quite busy by these temporary visitors!
How to Reach Sark
Sark does not have its own airport so you need to fly to nearby islands, Guernsey or Jersey, and take a ferry ride from there to Sark.
- By Air: Fly from London Gatwick airport to Guernsey or Jersey and take a ferry from these islands.
- By Ferry: The Isle of Sark Shipping Company Ltd runs ferry services from Guernsey to Sark throughout the year. The journey takes about one hour. There are also private ferries available for the same.
- Best Time to Visit: May to October
You can get more information by visiting the official website.
Things to Do in Sark
There is always something for everybody to do in Sark. Here are a few things to get you started.
- Island Walks: Sark is a walker’s paradise with scenic beauty everywhere.
- Sark Museum: contains interesting facts about the island’s history including the German occupation during World War II.
- Go Cycling, Coasteering, and Kayaking: Sark is one of the safest places to cycle in the world as there are literally no other forms of transport except tractors and horse carriages
- Sark Henge: This is a fabulous stone cycle built in 2015 to commemorate the 450th anniversary since Queen Elizabeth granted the fiefdom of Sark to Hellier de Cartaret in 1565.
- Sark Carriages: Visit the island in horse-driven carriages and soak in the extraordinary sites of Sark in a unique way.
- The World’s Smallest Prison Still Operates on this Tiny English Island
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- Inside The World’s Strangest Prisons
© 2021 Ravi Rajan