Cornwall & The South: Pt 8 – Port Isaac

Moving on from the picturesque village of Boscastle, we arrived in Port Isaac, the famous fictional home of Doc Martin…

Port Isaac:

Status: Cornwall Unitary Authority & County, Village, England

Date: 03/08/2015

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Harbour, Doc Martin’s House, Harbour Walls, The Golden Lion, Doc Martin’s House, Old Schoolhouse, Port Isaac Beach, Fern Cottage etc

Isaac 1

Finding a small car park high above the cliffs, gazing out to the Atlantic, we set out to explore the village. Following a small path along the cliff, we eventually came out here, high above the vast, stone walls (or piers) that protect the Harbour from rough seas and bad weather.

The original Wall dates back to Tudor times, around the 16th Century, an impressive feat of engineering considering the strength of the waves at various times of year. It allowed what was a small settlement to grow into an important fishing village, now that the boats could safely take shelter in the harbour. Aside from fishing, freight began to arrive in the bustling Harbour, with important commodities such as Coal, Limestone and Wood all passing through towards other areas of the UK.

The local defenses were improved by the 1930’s, with a new sea wall, and a second Wall built opposite it’s Tudor counterpart.

It wasn’t until the 18th/19th Centuries that many of the buildings that constitute the village centre were built, and as we made our way down towards the beach, we came across a number of notable additions.

Wandering down the steep path from the top of the cliff towards the village centre, the first building of note we came across was the “Old Schoolhouse”, a beautiful Victorian building completed in 1875. It was designed by noted architect Sylvanus Trevail (1851 – 1903, Cornish Architect) whose work we had already encountered earlier in the week, in the form of the stunning Headland Hotel in Newquay. The School closed in 1977, however it was later converted for use as a Hotel/Restaurant in the 1980’s, remaining so today. The main entrance to the School, and now Restaurant, is located behind the main building, underneath a small Clock Tower.

Doc Martin Filming Reference: Part of the building was redressed for the series to appear as the local School, a function it fulfilled perfectly given it’s history.

The school lies on Fore Street, and directly across it on the far side of the road is an Art Gallery, called “Secrets. Billings Row Gallery”. The building itself was completed in 1911, and a statement on their official website which reads “Welcome to the oldest gallery in the historic fishing village of Port Isaac”, suggests the Gallery itself may well have opened the same year.

Isaac 4

Moving on, the road opened out a little, and afforded us a stunning view across Port Isaac Beach, looking towards the village centre, nestled between rolling green hills. Much of the original character of the village has been retained, and the buildings all fit in perfectly together. At the back of the picture in the centre is a large stone building with a small, white painted circular window just below the roofline. We passed this later on, and the date on it is given as 1836, probably an old storage warehouse.

Doc Martin Filming Reference: In the TV series, Port Isaac itself doubles as a fictional village called Portwenn, although still portrayed as being in Cornwall. The series begins as Dr Martin Ellingham, played by Martin Clunes, moved to the village to become the new GP, after a condition called Haemophobia (the fear of blood) unfortunately ended his surgical career in London.

Also, if you look at the white buildings to the far right of the picture, the one on the lowest level, beneath the other two buildings was used as the setting for a Restaurant run by series regular Bert Large, played by Ian McNeice.

Isaac 6

Continuing down into the centre, we began to explore the closely knit streets, laid out centuries ago, long before the notion of motorised transport was even conceived.

There are some fantastic looking buildings here, including “The Golden Lion” public house, the first building shown on the right. This charming 18th century pub is the centre of a legend that it was used by smugglers to hide their goods just after it was built.

At the back of the picture is a local restaurant called “The Krab Pot”, housed in a lovely looking townhouse. Much of the rest of the village centre looks very similar to these two examples, although some stood out thanks to the addition of certain other features…

Doc Martin Filming Reference: The Golden Lion was prominently featured in the show, and was used as a fictional pub called “The Crab & Lobster”.

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The beach pretty much separates one half of the village from the other, so we inevitably walked past it on our way to what is probably now Port Isaac’s most famous building.

The tide was mostly in when we visited, so instead of being stranded the boats were bobbing up and down, eager to set out once more through the towering harbour walls, leaving the safety and security of the village to brave the vast Atlantic waters beyond.

Isaac 10

Moving on, we came across the “Buttermilk Shop”, a small shop nestled between larger stone houses. It is immediately striking thanks to the large figurehead (a replica I presume) which protrudes from the front of the building. The figure appears to be wearing the uniform of the Admiralty, although of course it may just be based on general designs rather than a specific person. It is nice little touches like this that make places such as Port Isaac unique, and it’s a good nod towards the villages heritage.

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Doc Martin Filming Reference: So here we were at last, the home of none other than Doc Martin himself. Situated on the same side of the bay as Bert’s Restaurant, it has some fantastic views out across the harbour, and the entire village. The building in question is called “Fern Cottage” in real life, however in the show it is both the Docs home, as well as his surgery.

We were just another of many tourists posing for photo’s outside, although that’s as far as you can go unfortunately as it is a private residence.

Isaac 8

We finished off our memorable trip to the village by enjoying the same view that Martin Clunes would wake up to every morning in Doc Martin, gazing out across the Beach, the Village and the Atlantic, and perhaps, it is one to add to our list of truly perfect scenes.

Port Isaac is a beautiful little place, on Cornwall’s northern coast. Nearby major towns include Padstow 16 miles to the South West (via the town of Wadebridge), and the historic villages of Tintagel/Boscastle just a few miles to the North. With no major roads (the nearest being the A39 a few miles East) and no train line, Port Isaac enjoys a quiet setting away from the hustle and bustle of the main county. There are of course local buses, and plenty of local roads to get you to the village, a popular destination for tourists throughout summer.

Our third day of Cornish exploration was at an end, however we set off bright and early the next morning, bound for the town of Wadebridge…

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