Nestled in a little bay along the jagged Atlantic coast of north Cornwall, the small village of Port Isaac is a postcard perfect Cornish fishing village ang Home to the fictional village of Portwenn in the much-loved Doc martin TV series. Parts of the village date back to the 14th century.
Port Isaac was a hub for pilchard fishing. From Tudor times until the early 20th Century, Cornish pilchard fisheries were of national importance, with the bulk of the catch being exported almost exclusively to Spain and Italy, (Cornish pilchards were a staple ingredient of spaghetti alla puttanesca). The oil of the pilchard was extracted and sold as a somewhat aromatic lamp oil.
By the middle ages Port Isaac had developed into a busy port handling various imports and exports: cargoes of stone, limestone, salt, coal, timber, pottery and local Delabole slate- all loaded and unloaded in Port Isaac’s little harbour. In fact the name Port Isaac is derived from the Cornish Porth Izzick meaning the ‘corn port.
In the 1880s, Victorian England’s rapidly growing population created an insatiable market for building materials. Local quarries, including the 400ft deep pit at Delabole, and smaller workings on the cliffs at Dannon chapel, produced more than 1,000 tons of slate daily.
At the start of the 20th century the railway and the motor lorry finally ended coastal trade, and Port Isaac became principally a fishing port.
The old village of Port Isaac consists of narrow, winding streets lined with traditional 18th and 19th century white- washed cottages built from local granite and slate. The village has around 90 listed buildings many of which are of architectural or historic importance.
Port Isaac, is renowned for having one of the tiniest thoroughfares in Britain, the aptly named, Squeezy Belly Alley; named in the 1950s reportedly after this advice was given to a plump lady trying to ‘squeeze’ through the alley- the narrowest point being only 18 inches wide. It was recorded in the 1978 Guinness Book of Records as the world’s narrowest thoroughfare.
Since September 2004, Port Isaac has served as the backdrop to the ITV series Doc Martin, as the fictional village of Portwenn.
Ferne Cottage on Roscarrock Hill, acts as Doc Martin’s house and surgery in the series. Martin Clunes who plays Doc Martin is particularly fond of its garden.
Doctor Martin’s house actually has two gardens,” says Clunes, “one that we use and one just up the cliff a little. When filming gets hectic and I need a bit of peace, I can go up to the secret garden, look out to sea, and get some space.
Martin Clunes has confirmed that Doc Martin will end in 2018, with its ninth and final series.