Living in Cornwall, UK, I'm sharing some of the fabulous well-known spots around the county, as well as hidden, magical and secret spots.
What You Need to Know About Port Isaac
Port Isaac is best known, internationally, as the place where Doc Martin was filmed, but there's more to Port Isaac than one television programme, so let's take a peek inside this fabulous little Cornish fishing village.
Port Isaac is on the North Cornwall coast of England, nestled in a valley that leads to a picturesque harbour and small beach. The access roads are narrow; although it's possible to drive through in a regular sized car, it's still a feat of nerve to do so, especially when you add in the randomness of meandering tourists' routes.
Most of the land around this part of the coast is owned by the National Trust and the South West Coast Path can be enjoyed all around the area.
The beach and harbour at Port Isaac often feature in the Doc Martin series - and it's where the famous Fishermen's Friends, a sea shanty group, were first heard by a holidaying music mogul and signed up for a £1million record deal.
Until 2010, Port Isaac beach used to double up as a town car park - although several times a year car owners were caught out as the tide came in before they'd removed their car from the car park, which is tidal.
There are large car parks at the top of the hill which are safer if you plan to park and do a long coastal walk. A large new car park was built in Port Isaac, on the main approach road, to cope with the increased visitors.
The Old Schoolhouse, Port Isaac
The Old Schoolhouse at Port Isaac sits perched on the cliff above the cove and is now a restaurant; in Doc Martin this is the location of the school. The schoolhouse at Port Isaac was Built in 1875 and designed by award-winning architect Sylvanus Trevail. It operated as a school until 1977, becoming a hotel and restaurant in 1984. It is part of the hotel which is transformed into the school in Doc Martin.
Port Isaac Harbour, Beach and Pier
If you're standing at the head of the beach at Port Isaac, you'll notice that you're also on the slipway of the lifeboat and the pier is ahead of you. The pier was first constructed as long ago as when King Henry VIII was on the throne, in the mid 1500s - making this a Tudor pier. Since then, a sea wall was constructed, on the other side of the cove, making the town more protected during fierce winter storms and surges.
During its past, this was a very busy port, with ships arriving and departing carrying coal, wood, stone, ores, limestone, salt, pottery and other heavy goods. Everything had to be transported to and from the harbour via the narrow village roads.
Fishing and Pilchards
As with most of Cornwall's coastal regions, Port Isaac relied heavily on fishing and the pilchard industry - you'll still see fishermen today landing their catch of fish, crabs and lobsters. The pilchard industry began before the 1500s and in 1850 there were 49 registered fishing boats and four fish cellars.
Port Isaac Lifeboat
At the heart of the village is the lifeboat station - there's been a formal lifeboat at Port Isaac since 1869.
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If you watch Doc Martin you'll probably recognise this building as a lot of the action takes place outside or in the street near to the lifeboat station.
You will often see the front doors of the lifeboat station open and you're welcome to visit, but remember that the lifeboat service is manned by volunteers, so it's good if you can dig deep and make a contribution. The Port Isaac lifeboat's saved over 140 lives to date, having been called out over 550 times.
In 2012 three of Port Isaac's lifeboat crew were awarded a special Gallantry Medal. Matt Main, Nichola-Jane Bradbury, Damien Bolton. The crew tried to rescue two people swept into the sea from the cliffs off the North Cornwall coast in April 2012. They managed to pull one of the men to safety. The other was recovered to the lifeboat, but, tragically, did not survive.
Fraud News at The Bay Hotel, Port Isaac
In 2013 a new story broke about The Bay Hotel, which is often seen in Doc Martin. Police were called in to investigate an alleged vendetta against the owner of The Bay Hotel , Paul Williams, as a sneaky person penned anonymous letters exposing an allegedly criminal past involving fraud.
Somebody took their time to put up posters alerting people to an alleged past. Mr Paul Williams, now owner of The Bay Hotel, in the past posed as a clairvoyant, telling a widow he had contacted her dead husband who told him that his will – which turned out to be a forgery – was hidden in a grandfather clock. A few months later, he defrauded a blind 82-year-old man.
The Bay Hotel is seen in the TV series, known as Wenn House, where cast and crew often socialise.
The Bay Hotel is set at the top of the hill from the main ttown of Port Isaac, on the road to Port Gaverne and overlookng the Ocean.
Scandals aren't limited to TV scripts!
Doc Martin: The Last Series
Filming up to July 2013, it is rumoured that this will be the last ever series of Doc Martin.
Where is Doc Martin's House?
In the TV series, the village is called Port Wenn.
The house used in the series as Doc Martin's surgery and house is just up from the centre of the village and is easy to find. Looking out to sea, from the centre of the village, follow the road to the left that climbs out of the village, this road is a dead end so is definitely something to be walked and not driven. You're only going 100 yards.
Address: Fern Cottage, 4 Roscarrock Hill, Port Isaac, Cornwall, PL29 3RG
Who Owns Doc Martin's House?
It is privately owned and can be rented out - Fern Cottage is a 2-bed holiday let. http://www.docmartinhouse.co.uk
Also Filmed at Port Isaac
It's not just Doc Martin that's been filmed at Port Isaac, other films and series have been filmed there too - probably too numerous to list, but here's a short list of some you might have watched:
- The ShellSeekers: Rosamund Pilcher's The Shellseekers was partially filmed at Port Isaac in 2005.
- Tarry-Dan Tarry-Dan Scarey Old Spooky Man: This little-known, supernatural, film made in 1978 was filmed at Port Isaac. It is a ghost story, where a local Cornish tramp has a frightening message for Jonah, who is the school's toughest tearaway. This is a horror/fantasy film.
- Poldark, BBC Series Poldark (1975-1977) filmed in the area.
- The Nightmare Man, a BBC series (1981) used the village for filming; in this it was presented as an island.
- Oscar and Lucinda, film, 1997.
- DIY SOS, this TV decorating show decorated the Village Hall in 2001
- Amy Foster, period drama filmed in Port Isaac
- Saving Grace, 2001, starring Martin Clunes and Brenda Blethyn
Celeb Spotting in Port Isaac
For general celeb spotting, Port Isaac's quite a good spot, but you've a better chance of spotting people who "live there" than taking chances on which celebs might happen to visit on the day you're there.
- Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, flamboyant interior designer and TV presenter, has a holiday home in Port Isaac.
- Julie Peasgood (actress: Brookside, Hollyoaks) has a holiday home in Port Isaac.
- Fishermen's Friends, the sea-shanty group, are Port Isaac locals and can often be found on the slipway to the beach singing.
Where Else to Go Near Port Isaac
If you're visiting Port Isaac, then no trip would be complete without having a look at the small Port Gaverne, just to the east - and Port Quin to the west. It's best to walk to Port Gaverne along the coastal footpath, but (unless you're a hiker) Port Quin is a little drive away, approximately 2.8 miles. Although the walking route looks like it's about a mile, by the time you've followed the wending path up and down the cliffs, you'll find it's close to 3 miles too.
Port Quin has a fascinating history as this tiny hamlet was allegedly abandoned after all the men went to sea and were lost in a storm, so the womenfolk moved away.
Smugglers Tunnel at Port Quin
There is, allegedly, a smugglers' tunnel at Port Quin. It's definitely on my to do list next time I'm there. Although blow holes are commonplace along this part of the coast, so it probably started off as a natural feature. To see this tunnel and make your own judgement, at low tide, find the cave on the beach, walk in about 75ft and you'll see the hole and daylight above you. Whether smugglers used this tunnel at all we'll never know, but it would be possible to offload goods directly from a boat in the cave up to the top of the cliff.
Doyden Castle at Port Quin: Pentire Castle in Doc Martin
On the west side of the cove you'll see a small castle, this is Doyden Castle and was built as a party house many years ago, so it's not a castle. It's available to be rented.
Doyden Castle was used in Season 5, Episode 8, in 2011, when it became Pentire Castle.
Nearest Towns to Port Isaac:
Port Isaac is out on a limb, along country lanes to the coast. The two nearest towns to Port Isaac are:
- Wadebridge: 9 miles
- Bodmin: 15 miles
Beyond these, it's 25-30 miles to find a town, rather than a village.
Nearest station: The nearest station is Bodmin Parkway station.
Nearest airport: The nearest airport is Newquay airport, 20 miles away