I have decided to come clean about what I did during my hiatus in May: I went to Port Isaac where I had a walk-on part. Like Abby and Linda, I journeyed to Cornwall to see the setting and the filming for myself. I haven’t posted any pictures because it looked like so many others were already doing that. My day of filming was Wednesday, May 13th and I want to tell you all about it from a variety of perspectives.
My first post will simply make some observations about England and what I saw of life in that country. These are truly meant to be observations and should not be taken as criticisms in any way. Our daily lives are really not that different from the ones I witnessed in England, and we use many of the same expressions. Although there are many Britishisms and linguistic disparities, I think there are more similarities than differences. They may say “Give Way” when we say “Yield,” or they use “Sat Nav” while we use “GPS,” but I never felt like I was speaking a strange language. In fact, London is such a diverse city with people from all over the world speaking English with accents of all kinds, that my American accent just fit right in.
This was my 4th visit to the UK, but it’s been quite a while between visits now. I have never been to Cornwall before either. I have driven cars on the left side of the road while sitting on the right side of the car; nevertheless, I was not very comfortable driving in London, and getting on the M4 was quite an experience. The lanes are much narrower than I’m used to and I definitely had to pay close attention to my left side. We rented a Mercedes, which by the way, appears to be the most popular brand of car. From what we saw, the British like German brands the most: Mercedes, BMW, VW, Audi. We also saw a lot of Peugeots, some Hyundais and Toyotas, but surprisingly few British made cars and very few Lexuses (Lexi?). This struck me as odd because of the notorious dislike of the Germans in England. However, you have to hand it to the Germans for making good cars! A very difficult thing for us throughout the trip was dealing with the parking rules, if there are any. Unlike in the U.S., drivers can park in any direction in England and they can park on roadsides even if the street is very narrow. Therefore, trying to drive through a town can be like driving through an obstacle course. Delabole was particularly problematic. Every time we drove through that town there were cars parked along the main street on both sides in both directions. It was a challenge to figure out who has the right of way. (Instead of Main St. being their most common street name, I’d say Fore Street is.) Of course, the English love their roundabouts (known here as traffic circles). I got the feeling that they put them in as much as possible even when there was no reason. On the other hand, at least everyone knows how to drive around them!
The other thing that is curious is that they intermingle the metric system with the imperial unit system. (This is true for time, volume, and weight as well as speed.) When you’re driving, the speed limit signs are posted in mph even though the car includes both kmh and mph. Distances are measured in miles too. This was of some help to me since I didn’t have to compute anything. On the other hand, they use Celsius for temps, but I learned quickly how to convert those to Fahrenheit in my head.
The width of the lanes got somewhat better once we reached the outskirts of London, however, they got much worse again once we arrived in Cornwall. Those scenes of Martin Ellingham nervously watching the approaching pickup truck while driving around Port Isaac are something I can easily relate to now! For some reason the Sat Nav in our car loved sending us down narrow back roads rather than staying on the wider main roads. Eventually we became familiar with the area around Port Isaac and knew when to ignore the Sat Nav. It was pretty nerve wracking driving between the tall hedgerows on narrow two way roads, never knowing if there was a car coming from the other direction. If we did encounter a car, one of us either had to back up or hope there was a slightly wider space where we could move over to let the other car pass. Somehow we never had a very close call. I think that was pure luck.
The other thing is that in Cornwall the roads are extremely steep going into most of the towns. This is especially true in a town called Mousehole, although Port Isaac is right up there with some of the steepest. (Yup, the name of the town is Mousehole, but pronounced Mouseull.) Thus, the streets are narrow and steep and then you have the trucks, vans, and full sized cars making their way through the towns. I never stopped being amazed that there seemed to be little hesitation in the drivers. It was tough enough for most people to walk up and down the street not that that stopped anyone. I saw people of all ages and abilities heading down to the harbour area in PI only to later have to climb their way back up. They usually had to take breaks along the way. In addition, there were many more people using walking sticks or canes than we see in the U.S.. Some were hiking with poles, but most needed help with walking in general. This was a pronounced difference from what we see here and may be a sign that they don’t do as many knee and hip replacement surgeries.
PI seems to be a tourist destination for many walkers, even those who have no idea that there is filming going on. In fact, there were many visitors to PI on the weekends when there is no filming planned. Some people would come upon the filming during the week and be thoroughly surprised. Of course, they would often become interested once they saw the crowds, but many just wanted to get through and on with their walks.
The weather was very erratic. One day we could have lovely sunshine and relative warmth (maybe upper 50s to lower 60s), and the next day we might have chilly temps and wind, and a third day might be utterly awful with wind, rain, and cold temps. This situation makes it hard to stay on the filming schedule and makes it hell to figure out what to wear! While I was there, episode 5 was being filmed and there were at least 2 days when the filming schedule was affected by extremely bad weather. Of course, this was disappointing for us, but it also played havoc with their plans. I think they filmed indoors during those days. We found some other things to do which mostly involved driving around to other small towns nearby.
Once they got back to filming, they spent the whole day filming some scenes at the beach at Port Gaverne, which is literally down another narrow, steep street on the opposite side of Port Isaac. Walking there couldn’t have been easier. They also filmed the police station scenes in Port Gaverne because that’s where the mock police station is located. We saw the BBQ scene with Joe, Al, Morwenna, and Janice(?) being filmed there. Although the heavy rain had stopped and the sun was out, the wind was still blustery and the temps were quite cool. I was very happy to wear my coat with scarf and other warm clothes while watching, whereas the cast and extras had to be filmed wearing light clothing and beachwear. The conceit that it’s always sunny and warm in Portwenn can be very demanding on the actors and is definitely NOT the case in Port Isaac!
There are also much nicer beaches elsewhere. St. Ives is particularly nice, for example. Even Newquay has a sandier and wider beach than Port Gaverne. I also felt sorry for the cast and extras watching them lie on very rocky spaces and act like they were having a lovely day at the beach.
Cornwall is known for its fish and seafood, particularly crab and lobster ( as the inn is called). Mussels are great there too. What they don’t have much of is vegetables and fruits. Although salads were offered at times in restaurants, it was often impossible to find any vegetables on the menu. The salads were generally not made with the sorts of lettuce we find plentiful in the U.S., but with mixed greens of mostly what I think is called Looseleaf type. Even the grocery stores in the area did not have the kinds of vegetable selection we have available here. Port Isaac has a Co-op grocery store that is adequate for small purchases, but on the limited side. Wadebridge is close enough to get to quickly and has a much bigger Co-op store. But even there, the selection of veg and fruit was limited and mostly prepackaged. (One shock we had was finding a Whole Foods Store in London. Who would have guessed that Whole Foods based in Austin, Texas has become international?) So the organic produce stand they use in scenes of Portwenn is a fantasy that we would have liked to have had as an option in reality. After driving around on several days while staying in Port Isaac, we realized we didn’t see any crops growing in the surrounding fields. Most of the area was composed of pastures for cows and lots and lots of sheep. Sheep are everywhere.
While I’m on the subject of animals, I want to also say that the British absolutely love dogs. We have our share of dog lovers here too, but I’ve never seen so many people taking their dogs with them wherever they go. They were all very well behaved and hardly ever barked or got into scuffles with each other. We have a sweet dog at home and many neighbors with dogs, some of whom take their dogs on trips, but the numbers pale in comparison to England. You might argue that people brought their dogs to Port Isaac because they know Martin Clunes is a dog lover and pets most dogs he sees, but most of the folks I saw with their dogs were simply there for a walk/hike. I also saw many dogs with their owners in other towns in Cornwall. The English just love their dogs and want to take them along. If Martin Clunes really didn’t like dogs, that would be remarkable.
Although this isn’t necessarily something I need to say, I wanted to mention that in almost every case, the people there were extremely nice and helpful. In general we expect service personnel to treat us well, but I’d say we had only one occasion when the service was poor and the people in the pub were less than friendly. This took place in Bath away from the downtown area.
Because my husband is a doctor and he’s interested in medical practices everywhere, and because this show is about a GP and the functioning of his surgery, we visited the actual surgery building in Port Isaac. It may surprise you to learn that Port Isaac’s surgery is in a large, modern medical building just a short distance away from the center of town. There are four GPs who practice there. They have specific parameters to follow, e.g. you should be seen within 15 minutes of your appointment, the doctor has ten minutes to examine you and determine what to advise, they may have some meds right there, but you may have to go to the pharmacy. (We saw a reality show on TV about doctors practicing medicine and the ten minute limit is strongly imposed. So much so that one of the doctors on TV was watching the time and neglected to ask pertinent questions as a result. When a patient was kept waiting for a significantly long time, he complained to the doctor. The doctor was extremely apologetic. I was hoping to see him tell the patient he was an idiot and throw him out, but was disappointed!) Also, the NHS is very concerned about which meds are prescribed and how often antibiotics are chosen. We are all concerned about antibiotic resistance, but they seem to have a very heightened awareness.
Going to the the pharmacy was interesting too. Of course, it’s not at all like Mrs. Tishell’s store. In fact, we had to go to Wadebridge to find a pharmacy because PI doesn’t have one. Anyone living in PI has to find a way to get their meds out of town or hope the doctor’s office has what they need. The largest chain is called Boots but there are smaller vendors. Still not as small as Mrs. T’s. They sell many of the same brands and types as we have in the U.S., e.g. Sudafed, Benadryl. The difference was in the dosing. We usually have Sudafed in 10 mg tablets. In England the choice is between 3.5 mg and 60 mg. Quite a jump! My impression was that they have more essential oils and vitamins for sale.
I hope I haven’t bored you with all of these facts. I was very interested to learn how closely the show represents the real world in that area and found some of the differences rather impressive. I definitely need more than three weeks of driving on the “wrong” side of the street and car to feel comfortable with it! I plan to write next about my day on the set.
Originally posted 2015-06-13 17:19:51.