‘All Creatures Nice and Small’ and the Yorkshire Dales
“All Creatures Great and Small” wowed audiences with its pastoral setting in the Yorkshire Dales, UK. Here the show’s production designer explains the eternal attraction of the region’s landscapes.
February 26, 2021
All Creatures Great and Small, a new adaptation of the James Herriot books, follows the gentle adventures of a veterinarian in Yorkshire, Northern England. Filmed in the same area, the first season, which ended on Sunday and is available to stream on PBS.org and Amazon, was a hit in the pandemic, partly due to the pastoral escape it offered viewers. Here, Jacqueline Smith, the production designer, discusses the landscape and what it brings to the series. (As Jennifer Vineyard relates.)
Parts of the UK are extremely old, and some buildings and cottages look the same as they did hundreds of years ago. sometimes it’s a bit like living in a museum. It has retained that charm, especially in the Yorkshire Dales. Yorkshiremen always call this “God’s own country”. I grew up here and Yorkshire people often think they want independence from the rest of the country because they see it as a separate country.
The city where James Herriot lived is called Thirsk; It is a little further east of our production site. To the east of Thirsk are the North Yorkshire Moors and to the west the Yorkshire Dales. Both are national parks. We chose the Dales because we thought they looked more photogenic and less bleak than the Moors.
Since Britain is essentially a small island, the weather is just so unpredictable. The clouds will break over the hills and it will rain a little. The winds will whistle through the valleys we call the valleys and even if the temperature is appropriate it will feel a lot colder.
These extremes of weather and landscape are reflected in James Herriot’s stories. Sometimes they are very sad and deal with death, grief, extreme poverty and need, but also with new life, love and all the things that could make life worth living. It can be pretty tough in the moors, but it can also be absolutely magical when the sun breaks through. You can’t have one without the other.
On the show, Helen Alderson (played by Rachel Shenton) is ambitious. In the 1930s, agriculture was a masculine world. The farmer’s wife cooked in the kitchen and looked after the poultry or the small animals, but wasn’t very involved in the farm’s work. Now women farmers can be found more often.
Keeping sheep is hard work; You can’t just leave them and hope for the best. You will see the sheepdogs move them or sit on the backs of the quads with the shepherds. How these dogs don’t fall off, I don’t know!
Because sheep often graze on common land, one farmer’s sheep can mix with another farmer’s flock so they color them with bright colors so that they can see at a glance which sheep belong to which farmer. I wonder how they get this out of it when they shear them? Does it come out with detergent or something?
We use a special breed of sheep for the show called the Dalesbred; They are very hard and do not need to be brought along in extreme weather. The wool isn’t that great though. In our small herd, six are pregnant. I’m trying to get a documentary crew to film the births so we can break up with the actors on the show.
If you take the steam train on the Settle-Carlisle railway line, you can see the 24-arch viaduct at Ribblehead, which is quite impressive. It’s on a different line than the one we’re filming our train on, but it’s relatively close. To get to the remote farms, Herriot had to drive miles on these narrow roads. Many of the roads follow rivers so they take a kind of winding path. You have to be very careful not to go too fast or you may run into someone coming the other way.
You also need to be careful because of the roadside dry stone walls. Sometimes they have very narrow channels to drive the sheep from the moors into the valley. Drywall is a real craft as it doesn’t use mortar or cement. It’s just rocks. The walls are only built to keep the rocks in place and last for hundreds of years.
These landscapes look pretty bleak due to the time of year, but if you follow the valleys there are some really pretty rivers. Some of them are wide, slow and meandering, others romp against cliffs. But they are beautiful. You could take a thin dive or go wild swimming because the water is clean. In many places you can jump off rocks into deep pools or waterfalls. If it were about 20 degrees warmer now it would be amazing.
Malham Cove is an amazing rock structure, a large rock wall with stones shaped like giant molars with deep cracks. They filmed “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” upstairs where there is a limestone pavement, a natural geological phenomenon. We filmed at Janet’s Foss waterfall and the intersection nearby. Foss is an old English word for waterfall, and we shot where Herriot is supposed to dip thinly. It was really freezing so poor guy Nicholas Ralph did a great job like it was just the most refreshing.
At the intersection, Herriot from Glasgow gets off the bus and finds himself in the middle of a huge nowhere. That’s up in Malham Cove. It looks pretty flat but is actually on top of a large cliff. It is very beautiful and attracts a lot of tourists looking for places that are used in “Harry Potter”. Perhaps it also attracts “All Creatures”.
Produced by Laura O’Neill.