Wandering through the streets of Port Isaac harbour, it’s easy to understand why it was chosen as a filming location for Doc Martin and Poldark, too. Many of the cottages were built in the 18th and 19th century, with most registered as listed buildings for their historical or architectural significance – so when visiting make sure you stroll through the narrow streets and take it all in. The heart of the village is the harbour; with a large breakwater and headlands either side, the waters of Port Isaac are sheltered from the wind and the big, rolling waves that the coast of North Cornwall is so famous for. When the tide retreats, a sandy beach with many a rock pool to explore is unveiled – although as this is a working harbour, beachgoers will have to share the beach with the colourful fishing boats when the tide’s out.
Next-door Port Gaverne came to being in the nineteenth century, as a working port where slate from the nearby quarry was loaded onto boats for export. The narrow streets used to be filled with carts going backwards and forwards, and soon it welcomed a roaring sardine and pilchard trade too, making it one of the busiest and most prosperous ports in North Cornwall. In 1893, a railway was built that was far more efficient for the transportation of slate, and Port Gaverne started to slow down. With Port Isaac’s large harbour and breakwater, most fisherman preferred it to Port Gaverne, and the hamlet returned to being a sleepy seaside spot that feels as though it’s just you and the sea. In the summer, while the streets of Port Isaac are flooded with coach trips and summer holiday traffic, Port Gaverne basks in peace and quiet. Its residents and visitors are left to enjoy the beach, coastal footpaths and the two eateries – the Port Gaverne Hotel and Pilchard’s. The beach here, although not large, is dog-friendly all year (unusual) — wait for the tide to go out and you’ll be rewarded with sand between your toes, rockpools to search through and caves to discover. For those with a taste for adrenalin, this sheltered cove offers some excellent guided coasteering too – get hold of Cornish Rock Tors who will guide you along cliffs and through the water. They also offer wild swimming sessions, kayaking, and stand up paddle-boarding, as well as plenty other land-based activities.
Both villages are graced with an array of stunning restaurants. Celebrity chef, Nathan Outlaw has not one but two restaurants in Port Isaac – both of which exceed expectations! For a real treat, book well in advance at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw. Situated at the top of the village and easily walked to from Port Gaverne in a few minutes, this chic eatery serves a stunning seafood sample menu for lunch and dinner, and offers a matching wine flight to accompany it! If you’re not in the mood for fine dining, then head back down into the village and discover Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, situated in a 15th century fisherman’s cottage right opposite the harbour. Offering tapas-style small plates of locally sourced seafood. Aside from Outlaw’s establishments, there are a whole host of other places that will tantalise your tastebuds – try Chapel Cafe, Fresh From The Sea and The Mote for delicious evening meals or super tasty light bites or the Port Gaverne Hotel which boasts a 2019 Michelin Plate, and is the National Pub & Bar Awards 2018 County Winner.
The area offers visitors spectacular walking along the dramatic coastal footpaths. Head west up and over the cliffs to Port Quin, where you can see for miles on a clear sunny day or have your breath taken away watching the waves crash below during the winter months. Continue further and you’ll find one of Cornwall’s best surfing beaches, Polzeath. With a brilliant surf school, lifeguards during summer and a vast expanse of sand for sunbathing, Polzeath is a great place for a beach day. Head east for iconic Tintagel and picturesque Boscastle.
Whether you’re after an active holiday with kids, a foodie break, a walking holiday or a cosy couples wintery getaway, the twin Ports Isaac and Gaverne cover all bases.