I am sitting in a chair in the waiting room of Doc Martin's surgery, staring at the dreary floral wallpaper. It's in the room next to Mrs. Tishell's pharmacy with its light blue cupboards labeled for latex gloves and gauze pads. Next to it is the Doc's kitchen, although no one is brewing tea today.
There is no filming going on of the popular British television series, "Doc Martin", that's become a cult favorite in the States. But the sets remain at the ready, tucked under the corrugated tin roof of a farm building a mile up the road from Port Isaac, the fictional Port Wenn, where the show's exterior shots are filmed.
For anyone who is a big fan of British television series, this ancient farm is the motherlode. The stone manor house, just across the farmyard from Doc Martin's interior world, stood in for Namparra, the home of the dashing Captain Poldark in another cult favorite, the 1980s "Poldark" series. I can remember Demelza standing at the door, lips trembling, eyes blinking back tears, as her impetuous husband Ross set off or returned from his latest risky adventure. Men.
Do you to have to know someone to get such an inside glimpse? Of course you do. That someone for me was Toby Ashworth, proprietor of The Nare which bills itself as a country house hotel by the sea, and so it is. The first luxury property on the rugged Cornish coast, The Nare offers 38 country-plush rooms and suites (more on The Nare and other attractions in Cornwall in next week's post.)
For visitors to Cornwall who don't want the bother of hiring a car rental, or driving on the opposite side of a road, or squeezing along the twisting one-lane roads edged to within an inch of their lives by hedgerows--not to mention figuring out where to park in villages that can barely squeeze pedestrians along their narrow lanes--Toby can arrange excursions. Having grown up visiting his grandmother who owned The Nare, he seems to know just about everyone in the area.
Like the owners of Roscarrock farm.
The personable Slomans invited me inside Namparra -- I mean, their home -- after I had had my fill fingering Doc Martin's desk and gazing out the windows at Port Wenn -- in reality a 15-foot long scrim of Port Isaac's harbor that is brightly lit during filming to look as if the Doc's office really is in town.
As any good Doc Martin fan knows, the love of the Doc's life, Louisa Glasson, is headmistress at the school overlooking the town's harbor. I learned that the school was in reality an inn, The Old Schoolhouse, and made a reservation to stay. The rooms keep in academic character, with names like "geography" and "physics." Interiors of classrooms in the TV show are in reality shot at the school down the lane in Delabole, while the Old Schoolhouse serves for exteriors. The rooms are extremely spartan--like being in detention, especially after the luxury of The Nare. But the hotel boasts location, location, location. It's a quick stroll down the street to the harbor, the center of town, then up the hill to Fern Cottage, a private home that serves as the exterior of Doc Martin's surgery and apartment. I could view it all without even leaving my room, just by gazing out the window, another advantage of staying at The Old Schoolhouse.
Port Isaac is surprisingly devoid of any of the souvenir hawking that might have attended such a popular series. It is small and sweet, with a whole other world of modern buildings lurking high up on a hill over its head. The tiny harbor holds a hand-full of small fishing boats that bob in the water during high tide and sit on the beach during low. Parking used to be allowed on the beach at low tide until one too many drivers forgot to move their car when the tide came in.
Smack in the center of the tiny town is The Mote, a charming restaurant that stands in for "the pub" on tv. I settle into an outdoor table overlooking the harbor for a pint of local Doombar bitter and wait for Martin Clunes (the actor who plays Doc Martin) or Robyn Ellis (Captain Poldark) to come ambling by, for Port Isaac often stood in as "the village" in the "Poldark" series as well.
I move inside for dinner and sit in a nook that had been a walk-in fireplace in this old stone building and order a Cornish fish pie. It's a seaman's version of a shepherd's pie, rich and creamy and filled with smoked haddock, salmon, mussels, and Atlantic prawns under a mantle of mashed potatoes and melted local Davidstow cheddar.
The next day I set out to explore the town, which takes about 15 minutes. There is really one road in, past the harbor, then you're out. A handful of little lanes branch off from it and I explore, always ending up at the blue-painted door of someone's small whitewashed stone cottage. Some of the homes have what we could call roof shingles as siding, to keep the water away in this often rainy climate. The shingles are slate, from Delabole which I learn is the best, the hardest, and less likely to flake.
I have tea with scones at Victoria House, dinner at The Shipway and felt that even a diehard "Doc Martin" fan like myself would be pleased to leave Port Isaac at that and not stay any longer.
The next day, MJ's Taxi Service arrived to take me the 45 minute ride through rolling Cornish countryside and lovely hamlets to the nearest train station at Bodmin Parkway. As I was chatting with the driver, MJ himself, I learned that his taxi had been used to film the segment where the Doc and Louisa had their first kiss. Right there, in the backseat, where I was sitting. Of course, Louisa ends up throwing the Doc out of the taxi, but that's another story...