A client packed me off to Port Isaac in North Cornwall to paint the view across the harbour from Rosearrock Hill. I love Port Isaac so I was looking forward to it, marking out a day or two to get down there and complete the job. I would also paint a few other scenes too to make a fuller trip of it.
By unhappy coincidence I arrived in Cornwall around the same time as Storm Dennis. I can work in rain if I need to, and wind too, although rain and wind combined is very difficult. The first day I was rattling around a bit taking snatched drawings in biblical weather around Bodmin Moor.
It was a lunatic affair – sit in car, dash out with sketch book, mad drawing of church until the pencil wouldn’t make a mark on the ‘papier mache’, dash back to car, breath, repeat…
The second day I had a break in the weather, it was still windy though the sun was shining. Off to Port Issac.
About Port Isaac
Port Isaac is an ancient fishing village, and port on the North Coast of Cornwall, not far from Tintagel where King Arthur was supposed to have lived, if you accept the fact that in the UK, the legendary King Arthur seemed to have a greater property portfolio that Donald Trump.
Most of the centre of the village consists of 18th and 19th century buildings. These appear to have been built randomly across the landscape linked by a series of winding lanes and paths. As the village grew these dwellings slowly climbed the surrounding hills. It’s all rather beautiful. Today almost all the houses in this painting would be second homes or holiday rentals.
Port Isaac and me
In the early 90’s a friend of mine bought a small cottage in port Isaac. Just three rooms on top of each other right near ‘Squeeze Belly Alley’, one of the narrowest alleyways in Britain. He was a 27-year-old graphic designer in a modest agency though still he managed to stretch to the mortgage in Port Isaac, and a house rental share in London. Can you Imagine that today?
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
In those days there were certainly more permanent residents in the part of the village around the harbour. I can say this for certain because, in the 90’s, the place seemed to be running alive with pet cats.
They’d be on the walls in the mornings, lining up to beg for breakfast scraps. Most were lovely creatures though the loveliest looking was a vicious monster who’d tear you up the moment the bacon was gone.
There was no mobile phone coverage for miles and the internet didn’t even exist. With these ‘restrictions’ all you could do was visit the local sights or visit the Golden Lion pub. You were wonderfully cut off from the world. I’m glad I caught it just before we all got connected.
Port Isaac today
Of course it all looks the same as I remember it although all the cats are gone, and with house prices being what they are Port Isaac would now be classed as ‘exclusive’.
The majority of the original residents of the village have either moved on or live in the new builds at the top of the hill. There is still a modest fishing fleet though I’d say most of the locals work in the tourist industry.
Many of today’s tourists visit to see the location shots of the hit TV series Doc Martin as it was filmed in Port Isaac as the fictional village of Port Wenn
It is also used for location shots for Poldark and of course the 2019 film ‘Fisherman’s Friends’ based on the local men’s sea shanty choir.
Painting Port Isaac
I clambered up the blustery path to where I needed to do my painting. As it was cold and windy, I decided to do a small visual on site then paint a larger painting in my lovely, warm, Pilton studio.
To fortify myself I dropped into the Port Isaac Pottery and Coffee Shop and grabbed a large cup of tea to takeaway.
The ideal location seemed to be right outside Doc Martins ‘surgery’. I don’t know who lives there but as I worked, I noticed that every few minutes visitors were peering through the window looking for Martin Clunes. Must’ve been a bit irritating for the residents.
Getting to work
I set up my small easel. A man strolled up, ‘Are you here to paint Doc Martins House?’
‘Erm… no not today’.
I was pleased for the sunshine and for the thin warmth is gave, although it was still chilly, so I got to work quickly. I was trying to ensure that even at this rough stage, I could still place individual structures. It would help enormously later.
A woman tapped me on my shoulder. ‘Are you going to paint Doc Martins House? Its right here behind you.’
‘No… just the view across the bay.’
She clearly thought I was an idiot.
As I worked this exchange was repeated another four or five times until I had done all I could do without my fingers snapping off. I was very cold now and hungry too. I investigated the Golden Lion for a bite to eat. The old pub was just as I remember it, although with more tables. Must be more visitors now I suppose. Sadly it wasn’t serving food but there was probably nowhere to sit anyway.
On the way back to the hotel my sat nav went mad and took me to a place I had never heard of, St Kew. There is discovered The St Kew Inn. The food was so wonderful. I had Whole plaice, brown shrimp butter, herby potatoes. Splendid. I did a small painting of the place to celebrate.