The seaside town where life returned to normal once famous TV show left
Alan Titchmarsh questions Martin Clunes about Doc Martin
Confusion may be the first response for visitors to Port Isaac. Nestled on the rugged north Cornwall coast, its picture-perfect harbour is eerily familiar for many.
That’s because back in the early 2000s discerning ITV producers deemed it the perfect setting for their latest television drama, Doc Martin.
Over the course of 18 years between 2004 and 2022, the town became Portwenn, where the titular Martin Ellingham – a former London surgeon portrayed by Martin Clunes – takes over as the local GP in search of of quieter pace of life.
Port Isaac certainly seemed fit for the task, and the 30-plus production crew descended every other summer. Such was the disruption that when the final episode aired last Christmas, many locals were said to be celebrating.
The town itself, however, will never be quite the same again according to CornwallLive.
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Long ago a hub for the trade of corn harvested from the arable South West countryside, the advent of speedy land transport by railway pushed Port Isaac’s railways into fishing. Specifically, pilchards.
In the 20th century it reinvented itself once again. The beauty of the town’s narrow streets of granite and whitewashed cottages – with one, aptly named Squeezy Belly Alley, receiving national acclaim as one of the narrowest in Britain – striking cliffs and turquoise waters facilitated a natural transition into tourism long before the TV crews took notice.
The surrounding coastline is also stunning and easily explored when using Port Isaac as a base.
Boat tours promising dolphins and seals to the lucky depart regularly from the harbour, and the path to Tintagel offers unparalleled views of the Godrevy to Portreath section of the Cornish Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Boasting an average of just over eight million viewers across the show’s 79 episodes, it’s safe to say Doc Martin put Port Isaac on the map.
When the tenth and final season wrapped last July, the cast and crew posed for a picture under a banner reading: “Goodbye and Good Luck”. Many locals, however, were evidently glad to see the back of the city folk.
Solicitor Dugald Sproull had lived in the town his whole life. Speaking to CornwallLive back in 2017, when production was still in full swing, he claimed it had been “totally ruined” by the show.
He said: “It is now overrun by day-trippers who troop down the village to stare at various houses which feature in the series. True, they may buy a pasty or ice cream, but not a lot more.”
Doc Martin was said to be worth millions to the economy of Cornwall – one of the most deprived counties in the UK.
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Local businesses also had to adjust how they operated to “spare locals the chaos”.
Fishmonger John Collins told The Times: “It’s not just about the crowds. Walking back up the hill is a pain and parking isn’t cheap either.”
Those who didn’t have to open shop in the town centre tended to avoid it altogether between the months of March and July. Speaking in September, John Trayhurn, a retired teacher, said he hadn’t been down since the spring.
He explained: “I stay up the top and drive inland to go for a walk.” The gridlock reportedly caused by tourist traffic and film crews closing roads was just too much to bear.
Now a year on from when the cameras were last rolling, the streets are mostly quiet and life is mostly back to normal – with a few consequential exceptions.
The TV show’s popularity, compounding growing demand for coastal getaways across the South West over the past two decades, means property prices in the town have soared.
According to online real estate platform Zoopla, the average sales price over the last 12 months was £839,167 – some 34 times the median wage in Cornwall.
The problem of second-homes pricing out locals is as prevalent here as anywhere else in the county, which counts some 13,000 in total. The town is said to be brimming with Airbnbs and holiday lets, despite having a population of just over 700.
The two-bedroom cottage that doubled as Doc Martin’s Portwenn surgery went on sale last August for £1.25million. It has, however, since been sold.
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