Last year I went on a trip to Padstow in late September, expecting it to be freezing and grey. It was one of the warmest weeks of the year, and we had a really surprising 'summer holiday' in autumn. My family and I decided to try our luck again, but couldn't get away until the first week of October this time. We thought surely, this must be cold Cornwall time now, but were blessed with another seven days of brilliant, non-stop sunshine. I came back with a tan – and I never tan! I don't watch BBC schmaltz-fest drama Doc Martin, but I soon got acquainted with it – you can't avoid it in Port Isaac as this is where it's filmed. We stayed next to the house that's used as Doc Martin's home in the show, and all day everyday there were people outside taking selfies in front of it. Hilarious! The big white building front row, left (below) used to the only school in Port Isaac, and is now a cafe, but in the TV show it's still a school. Pretty much every shop in the village has a photo of Martin Clunes beaming next to the shop owner and there's Doc Martin merch for sale everywhere too.
It's a great place to stay though, but only drive if you can stomach the terrifyingly small streets. Our house didn't have enough parking spaces for everyone, so we were almost relieved to leave our car in the public car park each night. This would be the kind of thing that only an idiot would do in London, but here the car park is busy 24/7, as there are literally less parking spaces than there are houses in Port Isaac. I did get to experience driving through Port Issac one time though in one our group's cars, and it was horrendous – like when Cameron Diaz tries to breath in when she drives through tiny village streets in The Holiday – only much narrower. The locals love watching tourists give it a go, and many fall at the hurdle of manoeuvring through teeny tiny lanes. One of our party drove my rental car through the streets up to our house on the last day so we could load the car, and he said it was the perfect size for Port Isaac.
As a Londoner, I don't own a car, and have never felt the need to learn to drive. It's bus and tube all the way for this city gal. However, I definitely didn't want to repeat the train trauma of last year's trip to Cornwall. The train was rammed and there's no direct link from London. The furthest station we could get to was still a two-hour bus ride from Padstow. Hiring a car (and getting someone in my family to drive me) seemed like the best possible solution. I had no idea how to go about hiring, and when I asked several of my friends I found that female ones were warning me off renting as it's too scary, that the train would be easier, whilst male friends were like – just go online book it, fill it with petrol, return it. The online booking system at Hertz is so easy, just choose the size and type of car you want, select your dates and pick up point, and pay. There really is no hassle, and when we went to collect it all we had to was show some ID, proof that there's no points on the driver's licence, and check the car for any scratches or damage with the Hertz rep. Then we were off! I don't know what I was worried about, and no one should be put off hiring, because it's easy, your car is explained to you, and you can choose the one for your needs. We didn't realise our Toyota would be quite so small, but for two people it's comfy and for Port Isaac it turned out to be just the thing! It had air con, a great sound system, and adjustable seating. The one small criticism I'd have of the process is that they gave us a car with half a tank of petrol and told us to return it with half a tank. Obviously, it's harder to measure out half a tank than it is a full one, so that's how they pretty much got it back from us – with some free petrol. It's better to ask your local Hertz rep for a full tank that you can return full. I had a great time, and having a car made the trip all the better – we were free to explore, and slave to no timetables or delays!
Non-Doc Martin related things to do in Port Isaac
Go to Port Isaac's Beach at all tides
The beach is more of a patch of sand in the bay really. But it doesn't make Port Isaac any less beautiful (and if you want a proper beach there's several in neighbouring areas). The fun thing about Port Isaac is the tide is very busy, going in and out a lot, and you get to try it as a very long stretch of sand, a medium one (above) or practically non-existent (below). There's a great atmosphere; a real mixture of dog walkers, kids, and beer drinkers from the nearby pubs sitting out in the bay and enjoying the scenery.
Have a Cornish Cream Tea
Apparently the Cornish put jam on their scones first and then add clotted cream, whereas Devonshire folk go for cream, then jam. I tend to favour the Devon method, but whilst in Cornwall it's rude not to try a cream tea, whatever your jam and cream order preferences. The Chapel Cafe used to be Port Isaac's only church, and now, like the Old School, it's an eatery. You can sit where the pews used to be and have amazing scones in this very tall ceilinged cafe. They also sell clothes and jewellery, if you fancy a browse whilst the tea brews.
Drive to the Carruan Shop & Cafe
This was such a find, I think we stumbled upon it whilst driving back from Polzeath one day. Carruan Cafe is literally in the middle of nowhere, and it's one of those places that you wonder how it keeps going. I'm guessing word of mouth because it's so amazing. The owner told us it used to be a farm, which explains the now empty out buildings and barns. One of them has been used to brilliant effect to be turned into the biggest soft-play area I've ever seen. It's huge! My niece was in heaven. There's also a large wooden pirate ship, and lots of outdoor space to let kids run round. I'd say Carruan is also aimed at friends and lovers wanting to get away from it all for a quiet lunch or dinner. The decor is just an Instagram/Pinterest dream – gorgeous design in both the indoor area and outside terrace. If you're staying at Polzeath or Port Isaac, Carruan is literally ten minutes drive away, and well worth it for delicious food and a dive in the ball pool.
Drive to Polzeath Beach
Less than a twenty minute drive away from Port Isaac is the huge and splendid beach at Polzeath. You park right on the beach and if I recall correctly, a half day ticket was about £4? We went here on two mornings and it's just lovely. A huge expanse of beach that doesn't fill up, even with several sunbathers and dog walkers there. There's a couple of pubs and cafes, but not much to do so we literally only came here for the relaxation and fresh air that only the beach can provide.
Try a Cornish Pasty
The food that Cornwall is most known for is the traditional Cornish Pasty. But seeing as I avoid meat at all costs, I did some extensive research into cheese and onion pasties in Port Isaac. I can conclude from this study that Nicki B's pasties are okay, a five out of ten, but head to May Contain Nuts, a small bakery that has pasties from Padstow's renowned Chough Bakery (below). My co-holidayers that eat meat concurred the same with traditional pasties.
Enjoy the Cafe Culture
Port Isaac is such a small place, you can walk the length of it in fifteen minutes. Whilst a week here is enough to do and see everything, as well as journeying further afield, I can see why people would choose to come and live here. There's such a chilled pace of life, with people sitting outside pubs and cafes (well, when it's sunny of course – I'm guessing the winters here are a bit nippy), and there's none of the rushing and bustling of London. Of course we had to try out all the cafes, and although the aforementioned Old School was fun, the tea and cakes were nothing to write home about. I did, however, come across the best orange cake I've ever had at Ruby Tuesdays Cafe (below). I'm a vegetarian, so I can't recommend the best seafood places, though those should be easy enough to research; its all about fresh crab here. For ice-cream recommendations I can advise you to avoid the Krab Pot, where it's very bland, and head to either The Ice Cream Parlour or Buttermilk.
Drive to Devon
We had to drive through Devon to get to Port Isaac, and realised how close it is. On one of our seven days we decided to drive back over the border and Devon it up. The ancient town of Launceston was just fifty minutes away, during which we drove through some very pretty countryside (below). We didn't stay long, and carried on another ten minutes in to Tavistock. This is a lovely market town, lots of shops, a huge river running through it, and I'd recommend checking out the stalls in the ancient Pannier Market which has stood on the same spot for centuries.
It looks like we are going to make September/October Cornwall getaways an annual thing in my family, and I can't think of a nicer location to unwind, catch up with everyone, get some sea air, and eat all the pasties and ice-creams in the land. Huge thanks to Hertz for this road trip, and the chance to see that hiring a car is much quicker and easier than long distance train travel (with UK trains anyway!) and for around the same cost of two return train tickets as well (plus you can sing loudly to all your fave songs as you go – they won't let you do that on a train, I don't think). It made our trip all the more fun, and gave us the chance to be free to explore country lanes in our sweet little Toyota. Check out Hertz' website for deals and offers, and see where a hire car can take you.