Port Isaac: Doc Martin’s fishing village next door
North Cornwall’s answer to Mousehole and the south coast’s teeny tiny harbour towns, the traditional fishing village of Port Isaac is one of the main draws in this beautiful area. Founded as a harbour in 1340, in recent years its fame has gone international as the fictional village Port Wenn in Doc Martin, which is filmed in and around Port Isaac. This summer, we have met visitors from as far away as San Francisco and Australia making Doc Martin pilgrimages.
Port Isaac is also the home of Fisherman’s Friends – a group of men from the village who’ve released three albums of sea shanties and played Glastonbury (they sometimes perform by the harbour on Friday nights in high season – ask us for details when you get here). Poldark and the films Saving Grace and Amy Foster (with Rachel Weisz and Ian McKellan) were also filmed in the village.
A traditional Cornish fishing village with chocolate box cottages and steeply raked lanes tumbling down the cliffside towards the pint-sized harbour below, Port Isaac is only three miles from Little Trentinney. In the morning, you can buy fish that was caught just a few hours before direct from the harbour, or have it for lunch at one of the beachside restaurants (be aware that the “beach” is more pebbly than sandy, and doubles as a carpark for the fishermen, and not really somewhere to set down the towels for the day). The Fish Cellars, to the left of the harbour, house various stalls selling crab and lobster, and the wonderful Fresh From the Sea, in the modern part of Port Isaac (above the old village, near the carpark) is a family-run, sustainable fish shop which does a mean line in crab sandwiches and lobster salads, using the daily catch from their own boat. (If you don’t want to park, call in your order in advance and they’ll let you hover by the shop to pick up.)
There is a myriad of places serving traditional Cornish cream teas in Port Isaac; our favourite, though, lies near Fresh from the Sea, just above the picture-postcard part of town. Angelique’s is a retro-style tearoom run by the fabulously friendly Angela; as well as Cornwall’s Tregothnan tea and homemade scones on vintage bone china, her cream teas include Cornish splits – a delicious cross between a sweet white roll and a brioche, which used to be served at teatime in Cornish households.
Fish and chips is (obviously) big here – the posh version at The Harbour was named one of the five best in Cornwall by the Cornish Guardian in 2013 (chef Emily Scott was named Best Chef in the South West by Food magazine earlier in the year). The Takeaway (the imaginatively named chippie on Fore Street, the main drag) does fabulous fish and chips at decent prices – the reviews on TripAdvisor speak for themselves. If you go this route, make sure you eat it on the cliff path from the top of Fore Street to the car park leading down to Port Gaverne – the views are spectacular and there are benches dotted along the path.
You’ll recognise plenty of places as Doc Martin locations in Port Isaac; the doctor’s surgery is the stone house with brick-bordered windows on Roscarrock Hill, and Louisa’s houses (old and new) are both towards the top of Fore Street. There’s a map here, and there are regular Doc Martin-themed tours of Port Isaac bookable at the Pasty Shop on Fore Street, while the Stowaway Café (again on Fore Street) usually has a list of shooting dates. The series filmed around April-June this year (2013), but you may always get lucky – the location signs were still up in midsummer!
There are two routes to Port Isaac from Little Trentinney. The shortest way, 2.5 miles, takes you past St Endellion, towards Port Quin, and runs down Church Hill towards the harbour. This route isn’t for the fainthearted, though – Church Hill is steep and extremely narrow (cars over 6’ wide are banned), and there are few passing places and fewer parking spaces.
The easiest way adds a mile to the journey – turning right at St Endellion towards Pendoggett, and turning left about a mile later, past Poltreworgy farm and Trewetha. This way takes you in past Port Isaac’s real doctor’s (sadly not as pretty as Doc Martin’s surgery) and the overflow carpark – though the best place to park is at the New Road carpark, right on the cliffs.
Of course, the advantage of a holiday cottage near Port Isaac rather than in Port Isaac is that you can drop in whenever you want but when the crowds get too much – and they can be a bit overwhelming in summer – you can retreat to the privacy and calm of your own hideaway. From Little Trentinney, you can pop over for a morning walk along the cliff path, a crab lunch at the harbour or a fish and chip supper with the seagulls in the evening, but then go home and recharge in your glorious garden, with only the neighbouring sheep for company. With your own private lane to the cottage and driveway right outside, access and parking (for at least three cars) is a doddle at Little Trentinney. One trip to Port Isaac in high season, and you’ll see how precious that is!