The thing with eating your ice cream on the sly is that you gotta pay for it later when your wife goes into an artisan fudge confectionery and arms herself with a big waffle cone. Topped up by gigantic dollops studded with moreish caramel bits.
We had reached the village of Port Isaac (which is an easy drive from Padstow, Boscastle or Tintagel in Cornwall) when I needed to use the loo at the carpark facing the sea, the water guzzling cow that I am. FYI Cows can drink up to and over 90 litres of water on hot days. I came out of the loo and why there stood my husband quietly tucking into a mint chocolate chip ice cream. A sheepish look surfacing when he spotted me. His supplier was the ubiquitous Mr. Whippy.
Then he offered me a lick. A Lick. It was your veritable “Just you wait, ‘enry ‘iggins!” moment.
Providence is a sweet woman. She took me by the hand and led me to a fudge shop. Behind the till stood Mr Meakins, the owner who had played a part in Doc Martin, the British medical comedy TV series that was shot in Port Isaac. In the show, the village is called Port Wenn.
Martin. There you have the first name in the title of the post come into play. The show is delightful, I promise. You shall not and will not egg me. I would rather you make me an omelette.
At the fudge shop charmingly called Buttermilk – which made me instantly want to tuck into anything I laid eyes on inside its old interiors – I was urged by Mr Meakins to lay my hands on a few fudges but my eyes sparkled at the thought of the half-eaten beauty you see below.
That rusty old anchor, which could easily challenge a gang of 40 beefy men to lift it, is your introduction to Port Isaac. For this is a fishing village, aye, that traces its fishing roots back to the 13th century. Till the 19th century, men would have also been dragging carts of stone, ores, salt and limestone from the many ships that would have arrived at the small but busy harbour of Port Isaac because it was one of the few sheltered ones along the inhospitable Cornish coastline.
But here I get ahead of myself. Let me pause and retrace my steps to when we entered the village.
From the car park you might just walk take the steps down to the beach below and think this is it, but wait, get out of that carpark onto the main road and then it is crucial that you walk past The Angry Anchovy, make sure not to get ensnared by pizzas and make your way down a steep narrow road. A walk past weathered houses, ivy-caked stone walls and a parish church, and at the bottom of the street, an old school house pops up with its brooding slate exterior. You know you have hit pay dirt.
You are in Port Isaac, dear darling.
The home of British crabs and lobsters.
The main street winding into the town is flanked by 18th and 19th century cottages, some whitewashed with bright blue window panes and doors and others clad in dark slate fronts. A stone owl looked down imperiously at us from its perch upon dry stone walls as we we walked in the footsteps of the grumpy London doctor, Martin Ellingham, who arrives in the village to be greeted by the likes of characters such as Bert Large and two grimy fishermen – who almost drive him off the narrow country lanes after declaring him ‘Bodmin’. You would pounce upon that word if you are a Daphne du Maurier fan. The moors of Bodmin is where Jamaica Inn was (and still is) famously situated. If you were deemed Bodmin by a local it would basically mean you are barmy (also that you could be a repository of murder and madness).
Opes, Cornish for narrow alleys between houses, issued warnings on signposts about big vehicles trying to barge their way in. Seriously, if you even thought of wedging yourself in a big car between those houses, I would say you deserve to sit inside while the rest of the world (like me) passes you by with ice cream cones held aloft as beacons of goodness.
Now if you gave me a house in Port Isaac, I would shut my eyes, and just take it off your hands. It is bustling and chirpy but there is an astonishing level of quiet that comes over the village as soon as you leave behind the harbour and start climbing up the opes where brooks gurgle by stone houses. There is a lifeboat shed in the village and a fisherman merchant’s smelly quarters where seafood is sold during the day but the real deal is as you climb up the hill. The village is spread out below you just beyond the two breakwaters, pale turquoise waters and the coastline.
On our way up, we passed Grumpy Martin’s cottage on the left, a little below which stood Bert Large’s whitewashed restaurant. Too many Doc Martin things in this post, you say? I would agree but that is because I am goading you into watching at least the first episode.
To come to the second part of this post’s title. We heard these baritone barks as we trudged up the hill. These were not your average one or two barks. This was a remarkable volley that refused to stop. We peeked down through the gap between one of the houses and espied a podgy basset hound who was bent on playing Elvis for the day. Now people from Elvis country, hear me out. You had to meet Mr. Personality before you cast disapproving looks at me. After we had spent some time sitting on the hill, and Adi had fooled around on the edges singing away so badly that I had to turn and run, we met this basset hound down at the harbour. He had a brother who was as quiet as he was mouthy. There were a few labradors running around, but your guess is good enough about who stole the show.
To agitate him, his amused master made a few faces and stooped to say a few things. Of course, our basset boy had his say all throughout. Our ears ringing with his deep, deep barks, the sight of his astoundingly droopy face, podgy personality and pendulous ears carved into our minds, we left the village of Port Isaac with deep sighs. But wait, I can still hear his baritone woofs, can you?
Before I leave you for the day, here’s Episode 1 of Doc Martin. Humour me. Maybe you will be rewarded with a few laughs.