Welcome to Portwenn – Home of Doc Martin

For those unfamiliar with it, Doc Martin is a British TV comedy-drama series starring Martin Clunes and shown in the U.S. on PBS. The Doc’s character is a former London surgeon super-star who develops a blood phobia and flees to the fictional seaside village of Portwenn to become the town’s new GP. His Mercedes, expensive suits, typical surgeon’s arrogance, and low tolerance for idiots don’t sit well with his new small-village patients and good comedy ensues.

The show has aired for seven seasons (the eighth has been filmed) starting in 2004 and is shot every other year on location in the village of Port Isaac, Cornwall, with most interior scenes shot nearby in a converted barn. I’m a fan of the show and that’s why I traveled across England to Port Isaac for the weekend. The Poldark series is also shot nearby, a little further south.

Port Issac looks like this on a beautiful sunny day… Mine was an overcast weekend but that was OK. That large body of water where the boat is floating is very tidal and half the day the boats are sitting right on the exposed bottom. Here’s a shot of that from the other side of the harbor:

Yes, that’s the same body of water.  Fishing is a primary profession here – mostly crab and lobster.

I stayed at the Slipway Hotel, right down at the water on the “main drag”, Fore Street. It’s a nice place, a bit worn and funky, only 12 rooms, but its pub was good, the bathroom was modern, and the staff was friendly and helpful. My room had a balcony and I enjoyed people-watching from it. The old village is tiny and many of the houses are vacation homes.

I do mean “tiny” – as I said earlier, there are places where the clearance between buildings for cars to get through is just 6 feet.

Because of the TV show, the town is something of a tourist destination. When the show is filming, I was told the crowds are huge and they can be in the way. I purposely scheduled my visit for when they were not filming, but even on a cloudy, cool weekend right after the  big end-of-summer holiday weekend, there were still a lot of people there and most appeared to be fans of the show.

I took a group walking tour with a local fellow who’s been an extra in quite a few episodes of the show. I’m embarrassed to say I failed to write down his name and can’t remember it. He was a charming older man who retired to the town after 23 years as a London cop, finishing up as a Detective Sergeant. He was an excellent guide and related lots of interesting information about the show. I was amused that the rally point for the start of the walking tour was a shop called “May Contain Nuts”.

The photo above, taken from my balcony, is the store the show uses as “Mrs. Tishell’s pharmacy”. In reality, it’s a confectionery shop and they re-do it as a pharmacy for filming. Zoom in on the bust of Lord Nelson over the door. The Mrs. Tishell character always wears a neck brace and, when the show is not being filmed, Lord Nelson wears one, too.

Here’s a rare selfie of me in front of Doc Martin’s house in the show. It’s also a summer rental home and renters have to put up with fans, unaware that the interior is shot on a set in a barn a few miles away, peeping in the windows to see “the surgery”.

It was great to see all of the locations I’ve become so familiar with, and I’m looking forward to seeing the show again more than ever now.

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