The Doc Martin effect

PUBLISHED: 14:42 13 September 2013 | UPDATED: 13:13 19 September 2013

Port Isaac from the air

Port Isaac from the air

Simon Burke

Thirty years ago Port Isaac was just another picturesque village on the North Cornwall coast exuding an air of innocence. Along Fore Street pretty colour-washed cottages leaned against each other facing out across the harbour. The Grade 11 listed Old School House was a place to enjoy a cream tea and the original Life Boat Station building housed the Post Office and served as general store. In the 1980s Port Isaac had its own chemist, The Drugstore, with a connecting door to the adjoining miniscule Fish Shop, which served the best fish and chips and Cornish pasties for miles around to a steady stream of visitors.

BBE62A british actor Martin Clunes chats during a break in filming at port isaac in cornwall of the television series "Doc Martin"BBE62A british actor Martin Clunes chats during a break in filming at port isaac in cornwall of the television series "Doc Martin"

Further down the road, a delightful couple, who had ‘emigrated’ from Surrey years before, ran a charming old fashioned clothes shop and jovial Eric was the village’s unofficial poet laureate writing poems for Trio, the local magazine.

A few yards down the gently sloping main road, was Rose Hill, where the corner cottage and gift shop, ‘Demelza’, was named for the much loved heroine of the ‘Poldark’ series filmed locally. Close by on the bend was Squeezy Belly Alley, a tiny lane measuring eighteen inches at its most narrow. It enticed folk to peer through the shadows, to the entrance to the inner village - still crammed with former fishermen’s cottages of all shapes and sizes, built upon hills and down tiny lanes, bearing names like The Birdcage and The Pump.

The harbour has always been the heart of the village and on summer evenings men’s choirs entertained with traditional songs. More recently the local shanty singers, ‘The Fishermen’s Friends’, perform there on Friday nights. Despite their newfound fame, they all live in Port Isaac and can be seen at the ‘day job’ when not on tour.

Appropriately, the new Life Boat Station is opposite the harbour, providing full 24/7 coverage of the North Cornwall coastline. In 2012, the crew received medals for a dangerous rescue - the first time the Port Isaac crew has been honoured since 1870!

Paul Ainsworth  at Boscastle Food FestivalPaul Ainsworth at Boscastle Food Festival

But Port Isaac has changed – and who has changed it? A grumpy, fictional character called Doc Martin, who arrived in 2004.

Today instead of Barclays Bank which opened once a week, there is a shop selling Doc Martin merchandise and memorabilia.

During filming of the series Port Isaac transforms into Port Wenn, where the surly doctor can be seen striding back and forth, insulting everyone.

When filming was halted on Fore Street because of rain, a couple, sheltering beneath an umbrella, explained how they had travelled from New Zealand to see ‘Port Wenn’, never dreaming they would be watching the filming of a new episode. ‘Oh look’ squealed the woman ‘There’s the Doc!’ Actor Martin Clune, beneath a massive umbrella, was yawning widely, unaware that he was being watched, videoed and photographed by awe-struck fans.

Despite not all being happy about the filming, mostly they agree the popular Doc Martin series has cheered up the appearance of the ancient village. Cottages have been refreshed – and prices quadrupled. The small house used as Doc Martin’s surgery recently sold for more than £600.000! Now a signpost directs tourists who wish to photograph the house! Doc Martin has introduced the world to one of the most beautiful Cornish locales, convincing tourists to spend their money there.

The Wave 7 Gallery celebrates its 10th anniversary this month with an exhibition of work by Saul Cathcart. Owned by Victoria Mead, the gallery opened before the series began in 2004. The gallery includes work from established and well known artists as well as up and coming talent.almost all of the artists live and work in Cornwall and many are exhibiting CCA members.

With the new-found fame as Port Wenn comes the inconvenience of enormous trucks parking on your doorstep for three months of the year, miles of cables crisscrossing the small roads and other technical equipment necessary to the filming of a tv series, destroying the natural beauty and quiet of this once secret haven.

Then is it worth it? ‘You bet!’ giggles Lizzie from Glasgow, clutching an iPhone. She is waiting for a photo opportunity, ‘not every day you chat with a famous star’.

So how else has the village changed? Outside the village, a red van is parked on an elevated mound. You cannot miss it. It is a prop used in the series by plumber-turned-restaurateur, Bert Large, and printed on the van’s side: LARGE RESTAURANT.

But thought the Large restaurant doesn’t exist, Port Isaac has a new name in town: Two-Michelin starred Nathan Outlaw is opening Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen where the Harbour Restaurant used to be. n

Standing on windswept cliffs in North Cornwall on one of England’s most dramatic coastlines, the castle is believed to be the birthplace of King Arthur who created the legend of Camelot and owned the magical sword Excaliber.

Explore the ruined castle, hear about its owners through the ages, hear the magical story of King Arthur retold and enjoy some of the best views in Cornwall.

english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/tintagel-castle

Camelford Carnival

The market town’s annual carnival takes place this year on 26 October when the town is tranformed with a prade of floats and performances and activities.

camelford.org

Most Read

Latest from the Cornwall Life