Almost ten years ago my husband and I started watching Doc Martin, the British television series about a London surgeon who develops a fear of blood and is forced to retire from surgery and become a country doctor in a small fishing village in Cornwall called Port Wenn. We were immediately taken not only by the story and the eccentric characters and humor, but also by the gorgeous scenery—the rocky cliffs surrounded everywhere by deep blue water.
We decided that someday we would have to visit Cornwall and specifically Port Isaac, the real name for the village where Doc Martin is filmed. Since then I have watched and re-watched Doc Martin enough times that I know most of the dialogue by heart. It has been a wonderful way to escape and have a laugh and enjoy a good love story and a great diversion while riding my exercise bike. So my interest in visiting Port Isaac only intensified over the years, and last year we started making plans for our visit.
We arrived on Tuesday, May 21, after landing at Heathrow that morning. We took a bus to Reading, a bustling small city where we had a quick breakfast and a short walk before boarding the Great Western Railway train to Bodmin Parkway.
I had made arrangements with Lyn, a taxi driver, to meet us at the station, and she was there waiting for us when we arrived. She gave me a warm hug when we met—a wonderful welcome to England. On our half-hour drive to our hotel, she entertained us with stories of her family, her dog, and life in Cornwall as we tried to adjust to being on the left side of the increasingly narrow roads she maneuvered. It was quite an adventure.
I cannot say enough good things about our hotel, the Longcross, a small hotel about a mile outside of Port Isaac. It is an elegant older building with lots of Victorian details but with all the modern amenities—wifi, flat screen tvs, and comfortable and spacious rooms. From our room we could see miles of open farmland, the bright blue sea in the distance, and magnificent sunsets.
Outside the hotel was a lovely English garden with arched walkways and a pond and an array of flowers and trees.
But what really made the Longcross my favorite hotel of all time was the service and the food. When we arrived, we met with Jamie, the general manager, and with Julia, who runs the dining room and whose husband Andy is the chef and runs the kitchen. We explained our long list of dietary restrictions (especially mine)—no meat, no shellfish, no dairy, no onions. Julia quickly said that there was no problem—she would create a menu just for us for each night that we were there using a different fresh fish each night depending on what was available in the market. And she and Andy created dinners for us that were just incredible—beautifully presented and made from all fresh ingredients. I still cannot believe how accommodating and gracious the staff at the Longcross was.
I didn’t take pictures of the food, but here are some of the menus Julia typed up for us.
Of course, we didn’t go to Cornwall just to eat! We went for the scenery and for the opportunity to see some filming of the next season of Doc Martin. Each morning we walked the mile or so into the village, passing cows and fields and those iconic Cornish hedges while trying not to get killed as cars sped by, passing each other on the narrow and winding one-land roads.
We were fortunate to see two days of filming while we were in Port Isaac and to see many of the places in the village that were familiar locations from the series. Here are just some of the Doc Martin-related photographs we took while in Port Isaac.
Of course, being such a big fan, I was excited to see some of the stars and to watch the filming process itself. It was quite interesting to see how much time and how many people it takes to film what may end up as just a few seconds of a scene in the finished program. Being an introvert, I wasn’t one of those who could run up to get selfies with the actors or to get an autograph, but I did enjoy seeing how Martin Clunes and Caroline Catz went in and out of character as they waited for the crew to set up each shot for the scenes being filmed.
We did have a chance to shake hands with Ian McNeice, who was collecting for the local lifeboat station on the afternoon we arrived, and we also met and spoke at length with a woman who was an extra during the first day of filming. She also gave us some insights into how the program is created.
But most of our time was spent walking—doing a walking tour of the village, walking on the coastal path to neighboring Port Gaverne, walking up and down the very steep hills, and walking to Port Quin, another neighboring harbor. We were told that at one time Port Quin was a place where fishermen lived, but after all the men were killed at sea, their families left, and now all that is left are some cottages that are available to rent.
All the photographs below were taken in Port Isaac or walking along the coast to Port Gaverne.
I loved every minute we spent in and near Port Isaac. But we also wanted to see more of Cornwall, so one day we took a driving tour with Kez of Cornwall Tours. He was a delightful young man who was a native of Cornwall and very proud of the region. He took us to Truro, the largest city in Cornwall that we wanted to see in honor of Truro, Massachusetts, where I had been coming since I was a young girl many years ago. England’s Truro is nothing like the one on Cape Cod (which is more like Port Isaac than England’s Truro), but it is a nice little city with a beautiful cathedral and some lovely winding streets and the Cornwall history museum, where we learned about the mining history of Cornwall from ancient times into the 20th century.
Kez then drove us to St. Agnes, an old tin mining community, and on to several beautiful beaches in Perranporth, Newquay, Saint Eval, and Booby’s Bay. As a surfer, Kez was an expert on the Cornwall beaches. It was a three-day weekend in England, so the beach areas were fairly crowded and people were surfing even though the temperature was at best in the low sixties.
After seeing several beaches and having a quick lunch in the picturesque town of Padstow, we headed to Bodmin Moor. I’d never seen a moor before and was curious after reading about them in English novels such as Wuthering Heights. Kez took us there, where we saw the wide open highlands, a stone circle from pre-historic times, cows and calves, and Temple Church, a medieval church that was so well hidden that it may be the only one that has stained glass windows that survived Henry VIII’s orders to destroy all the decorative elements in the Catholic churches as part of the English Reformation in the 16th century.
Our last stop with Kez was Tintagel where legend says King Arthur’s castle once stood. Work is now being done on the bridge that connects the small island where there was once a castle to the mainland, so you cannot get to the ruins, but the views were nevertheless well worth the drive to this location.
Thus ended our last day in Cornwall. With one last excellent meal at the Longcross, one last sunset, one last breakfast the next morning, and lots of goodbye hugs, we were off to the Cotswolds on May 26.