When TV location scouts were on the lookout for somewhere to film Doc Martin, they chose Port Isaac – and who can blame them? Find out how they fell in love with this idyllic Cornish fishing village.
Port Isaac is a contender for the prettiest village in Britain, but don’t just take my word (or photographs) for it. When film and TV producers want a stunning seaside setting, lights, camera and action come here.
The village has played host to the 1970’s TV show Poldark, Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers and more recently ITV1’s comedy–drama series Doc Martin, featuring Martin Clunes, where it stars as the fictional village Portwenn.
It attracts its fair share of tourists, but Port Isaac is not yet over-run or reliant on tourism, although its shops do a roaring trade in “Welcome to Portwenn” memorabilia.
It is still a working fishing village, and chances are you will come across fishermen unloading their catch on the seafront, known as The Platt. As well as being one of Britain’s prettiest villages, it is also one of its more remote – the nearest town, Wadebridge, is ten miles away or a half-hour drive on windy rural roads. Be sure to enter the postcode PL29 3RD in your satellite navigation system before setting off.
For those not staying the night and enjoying the luxury of a free car-park, parking in Port Isaac can be a pain. There are two small pay-and-display car parks just past Port Isaac on the Port Gaverne side, from where it’s a ten minute walk to the heart of the village.
Until recently, the best place to park was on the beach for those willing to brave the unbelievably narrow lanes of Port Isaac to get there. But the beach car park has now been permanently closed to the public – a wise decision as cars left there were at the mercy of the tides, and there would be frequent stories of vehicles being swept out to sea.
There is a new car park next to the playing fields opposite the school on the main road into Port Isaac from Wadebridge, although it can be a twenty-minute walk to Port Isaac from here.
So what is there to see and do in Port Isaac?
You will soon pass yellow-flowering gorse bushes, with their coconutty aroma and spot rare birds. The hike can be fairly strenuous with some steep inclines, but it is worth it for the views back across Port Isaac and of the rugged cliffs along this stretch of the north Cornish coast.
Port Quin was once a fishing village of the same size and scale as Port Isaac, but a great storm in 1698 killed all its fishermen and put paid to the fishing industry. Now more of a hamlet than a village, there is nothing to keep you in Port Quin for long. Rather than backtracking around the coast, there is a shorter, gentler walk inland through fields to Port Isaac.
If you’re lucky, you might get to enjoy a performance from The Port Isaac Fisherman’s Friends – a group of fishermen (and a few of their friends) who sing sea shanties. They hold regular summertime concerts on Friday evenings outdoors on The Platt – read the noticeboard by the harbour for times. They’ve recently found fame, and have signed a major label recording contract – if you can’t see them live, buy their CD here.
Food and drink
The Golden Lion (Fore Street; 01208 880336) is a great little boozer with an enviable location facing the harbour – its balcony and beer garden are great places from which to sit and drink in the views with a nice pint of Cornish ale.
The Golden Lion is Portwenn’s village pub in Doc Martin, referred to as The Crab and Lobster, although when the series is being filmed tourists are kept well away.
Just down the hill from The Golden Lion is The Mote Restaurant (The Platt; 01208 880226; www.the-mote.co.uk) – its terrace is a favourite with Doc Martin’s characters. The locally sourced menu is of a high standard, but remember to book a table in advance.
There is an excellent confectionary shop directly behind the harbour on Fore Street selling Cornish fudge and ice-cream as well as souvenirs of Port Isaac (and Portwenn).
Back to basics
But the real draw of spending time in Port Isaac is to go back to basics and make the most of its quaint, laid back charm. Watching the fishermen in action, with a delicious Kelly’s ice-cream in hand, crabbing in the rock-pools left at low-tide, wandering through the narrow lanes with their ancient cottages or even going on a fishing trip to catch your own supper can easily fill a day.
Where to stay
Port Isaac makes a great day-trip from one of Cornwall’s more established resorts – Newquay is 25 miles to the south down the Atlantic Highway (A39).
For those who wish to stay the night and experience the beauty of the village once the day-trippers have gone home, The Old School Hotel (Fore Street) is a superb base. The 15 bedrooms are named after school subjects – we stayed in the Geography room, although ask for English for the best views of the harbour below. The hotel stars in Doc Martin as the village school, while there is free parking for guests in the “playground”.