This summer my family & I spent an afternoon in the Cornish harbour village of Port Isaac. Its current claim to fame being that it’s the main filming location for Doc Martin, though before that it has been used by other film makers and DIY SOS took on renovating the village Hall in 2001. Plus most of the 1970’s version of Poldark was filmed here too. But aside from this its a typical Cornish fishing village with much to offer, for those interested is history, foodies, geologists and rock pool enthusiasts. As this harbour is sheltered on this otherwise inhospitable part of the British coastline it has been used since the 14th century. Many ship wreaks and debris have been washed up on its beach, especially during the wars, with locals often taking in rescued seamen offering them much needed food and warmth.
The local lifeboat station was established in 1869 and is on call 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Having taken part in many rescues, saving many lives, the crew were awarded medals for gallantry following a very dangerous rescue in 2012.
Of course a Cornish harbour wouldn’t be complete without stories of smuggling or caves (picture of a cave above) I haven’t found anything out about this cave yet, if anyone knows anything I’d love to know. The local pub has a secret (not so secret now) smuggling tunnel leading down to the causeway. Again I would like to find out more about the smuggling stories but haven’t yet.
Port Isaac dates back to the reign of King Henry VIII so once had a Tudor style sea wall and pier, which must have been pretty impressive. It was a very busy freight and fishing harbour handling cargoes of coal, wood, stone, ores, limestone, salt and pottery as well as many fishing boats (there were 49 registered in 1850) requiring four fish cellars. Due to the remarkably narrow streets the goods were transported through its narrow streets and on to their destinations. You should see the old picture I came across of the lifeboat being pulled along its streets back in October 1926 (please Google as I don’t want to break any copyright laws!) it really was tight and has to be seen to be believed. To this day the streets haven’t been widened, that would be impossible, as they are lined with grade two listed buildings with no footpaths there’s literally no room. Therefore, much like the 14th century, access the centre of the village is limited.
The fact that there are around 90 quaint Grade Two listed buildings in Port Isaac means it’s likely to remain untouched by modern times and the port itself is listed as a designated conservation area and of historic and geographic importance. Even though it’s not a cargo port anymore there’s still plenty of boats working with hauls of fish, crab and lobster.
We were able to walk on the beach with washed up debris of whole crabs, parts of crabs and other random crustacean body parts as we arrived during low tide. Much to the delight of visiting children there were several rock pools with live crabs for them to catch and many came away with lobster and crab legs and big smiles on their faces. Me…well I came away with lots of rocks and stones which I am planning on doing something crafty with!
A Little History
As with all places there’s a lot of interesting anecdotes and history to be discovered, here’s a little of what I found;
- During the war the village welcomed many evacuees who had many happy times away from the ravages of the war, playing in the rock pools, witnessing rescues and rummaging amongst the washed up debris of warships from the Battle of the Atlantic. Once the beach even served as a landing strip for a search and rescue wartime seaplane after it suffered engine failure. Stranded on the beach awaiting engineers from the nearest RAF base it was kept under armed guard and most of the village turned out to wave it off once it was repaired. Imagine all of this as a child, it must have been great fun!
- One of the houses ‘The White House’ dates back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and was the home of a Customs Officer. The Folly, built in Victorian times, was constructed of quarry stone with the wires serving it going underground so as not to spoil the view. This was very unusual as most couldn’t afford this luxury and the family who lived there in the 1930’s ‘didn’t mix with the locals’.
- The Old School, dating from 1875 this building was designed by Cornwall’s most famous architect, Silvanus Trevail who also designed 50 other schools. It was commissioned after the grand sum of £2400 was raised locally and it served the surrounding area with many children having quite a walk each day. Trevail won an award for this design but reportedly shot himself on a train near Bodmin, I haven’t discovered what was behind this sad end or when.
- At one time the local doctor was one of ten siblings, three of which had also become doctors lived in Trevan House.
- It is rumoured that one of the founders of Methodism, John Wesley, once visited and preached in Port Isaac. He is known to have travelled around the country and often preached outdoors so this is certainly feasible as he did describe preaching from a balcony at the back of the village. At The Manor House there is evidence of this the balcony and there’s also one dwelling named Wesley House after he reportedly stayed there.
PLEASE NOTE; if you plan to visit Post Isaac make sure you take the route to the car park (at the top of Fore Street) on the outskirts/top of the village AVOIDING the route through the village. We found out first hand just how narrow, by accident, as we hadn’t done our research before visiting and were following Google Maps! We got stuck a couple of times, due to two way traffic and had to reverse up an extremely steep hill causing our clutch to burn and I’ll never forget having to guide a lady past our car and a wall. It was that close that just a slight movement by her would leave a massive scrape down our cars! This is easy to avoid and then you can enjoy a pleasant, stress free walk down the hill into the village. But after our misadventure trying to navigate the narrowest streets you could possibly imagine we had a lovely afternoon here though even now even thinking about it makes me sweat! (My pictures below give you some idea of how little space there is for one car).
More of my photos of Port Isaac’s quaint streets below;
Doc Martin’s Portwenn
We couldn’t leave without taking a look at Doc Martin’s Surgery (pic below) which you can actually stay in as its a privately owned holiday cottage. Some lucky guests have been staying in ‘Fern Cottage’, its real name, during filming and have been able to chat to the cast and crew. Martin Clunes has commented on how nice the place is though while he’s filming he stays in another village nearby.
Below – my pictures showing some of the buildings used for the TV show
Other Doc Martin Film locations below;
The Old School (pic above) is a lovely Hotel and Restaurant when not doubling as the school in Doc Martin. Once the school for Port Isaac and the surrounding area it’s now licensed for civil weddings and being situated at the top of the cliff overlooking the harbour means the views are spectacular. The Old School Website . The Golden Lion pub, dating from the 18th century, with many of its original features remaining, doubles as the interior the Crab and Lobster. This pub has a rich history and a bar named ‘The Bloody Bones Bar’. The Golden Lion website For filming the entrance to the Crab and Lobster is actually just an alleyway between two buildings one of which is a holiday home. My fourth picture above shows this alleyway, on the right of the photo where the green nets are. Bert Large’s restaurant is a private home which was originally a shipyard, the outside of it is ‘dressed’ for filming so it looks quite different.
Area of geographical interest
There are some great examples of rock formations from the carboniferous (meaning coal bearing) period here. You can clearly see evidence of where, due to the major movements of continents, earlier rock formations were crushed and folded together. This happened between 358 million and 298 million years ago so its fascinating to see.
As Cornwall in on the tip of the South West peninsula of Great Britain it gets the full impact of the prevailing winds and sea water from the Atlantic Ocean. Because this part of the coast is mainly compiled of very tough, resistant rocks it has resulted in the many dramatic and stunning cliffs it’s famous for. I’m planning to do more research on the geology of Cornwall as I did get more pictures from other places I visited and would like to know more about them!
Below are my pictures of the rock formations at Port Isaac.
Shopping, eating and walking
And of course to satisfy my collecting obsession below is my Port Isaac tea towel purchased from a lovely shop where I also picked up a lovely fish themed accessory for my bathroom. I always like to bring something back for my home when I’ve been away don’t you?
There are plenty of places to eat and drink with, restaurants (two run by Michelin star chef), cafe’s, a Pasty shop with delicious pasties (Nicki B’s Pasty’s). Also a Cornish Fudge shop, Port Isaac Pottery and Chapel Cafe, The Boathouse, Post Office and the Port Isaac Trading Co shops for souvenirs and beautiful curiosities, The Old School (mentioned previously)
For walkers there are coastal walks starting here, one takes to neighbouring Port Quin and along this route is Doyden Castle (used as a location for Poldark) the folly built in 1830 is now part of the hotel there.
Tidal information correct of 13/10/2017 (www.TideTimes.org.uk)
- Low – 05.40
- High – 11.56
- Low – 18.37
If you are interested in seeing more pictures of Port Isaac and the filming of Doc Martin there are plenty to find if you use Google, I haven’t included them due to copyright (If anyone would like a link to their website or pictures including please contact me and I would be happy to).
(sources – Wikipedia, Visit Cornwall, Cornwall Guide, the Port Issac Heritage website & A Mamwell)