“All Creatures Big and Small” charmed viewers with its pastoral setting in the Yorkshire Dales in Britain. Here, the show’s chief decorator explains the eternal appeal of the region’s landscapes.
“All creatures, great and small,” said new adaptation of the Books by James Herriot, follows the sweet adventures of a veterinarian in Yorkshire, in the north of England. Filmed in the same region, the first season – which ended on Sunday and is available to stream at PBS.org and Amazon – was struck in the era of the pandemic thanks in part to the pastoral escape it offered to closed viewers. Here, Jacqueline Smith, the decorator, evokes the landscape and what it brings to the series. (As told to Jennifer Vineyard.)
Parts of Britain 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 still call it “God’s own country”. I grew up here and the people of Yorkshire often think they would like to be independent from the rest of the country because they see it as a separate country in itself.
The town where James Herriot lived is called Thirsk; it’s a little further east of where our production is based. To the east of Thirsk are the North Yorkshire Moors and to the west the Yorkshire Dales. Both are national parks. We chose to shoot in the Dales because we found it looked more photogenic and less dark than the Moors.
Because Britain is a small island, essentially the weather is so unpredictable. The clouds will break over the hills and you will have some rain. The winds will whistle through the valleys, which we call the valleys, and although the temperature is reasonable enough, it will be much cooler.
These extremes of time and landscape are reflected in the stories of James Herriot. Sometimes they are very sad, in the face of death, grief, extreme poverty and hardships, but also in the face of new life, love and all the things that could make life worthy of being. lived. It can be quite harsh on the moors, but also it can be absolutely magical when the sun is shining through. You cannot have one without the other.
In the show, Helen Alderson (played by Rachel Shenton) is ambitious. In the 1930s, agriculture was a predominantly male world. The farmer’s wife cooked in the kitchen and looked after the poultry or small animals but was not very involved in the running of the farm. Today, women farmers are more common.
Raising sheep is hard work; you can’t just leave them and hope for the best. You will see the sheepdogs moving them around or perched on the back of the quad bikes with the shepherds. How these dogs don’t fall, I have no idea!
Because sheep are often left to graze on common land, one farmer’s sheep can mix with another farmer’s flock, so they dye them with brightly colored pieces so they can see a at a glance which sheep belongs to which farmer. I wonder how they do when they mow them? Does he come out with detergent or something?
We use a special breed of sheep for the show called Dalesbred; they are very resistant and do not have to be brought in extreme weather. The wool, however, is not of such high quality. In our small herd, six are pregnant. I’m trying to get a documentary crew to come and film the births so that we can interconnect that with the cast of the show.
If you take the steam train on the Settle-Carlisle railway line, you can see the 24-arched Ribblehead Viaduct, 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 isolated farms, Herriot had to travel miles and miles on these narrow roads. A lot of the roads follow rivers, so they’ll kind of take a winding, twisting path. You have to be very careful not to drive too fast, otherwise you may run into someone coming from the other side.
You also have to be careful because of the dry stone walls along the side of the road. Sometimes they have very narrow canals to lead the sheep from the top of the moors into the valley. Dry stone walls are a real profession because they do not use mortar or cement. It’s just rocks. The walls are simply built in such a way that the rocks stay put and last for hundreds of years.
These landscapes look pretty dark 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 winding, while others rage against the cliff walls. But they are magnificent. You can take a skinny dive or swim wild because the water is clean. In many places you can jump off rocks into deep pools or waterfalls. If it was about 20 degrees warmer now, that would be amazing.
Malham Cove is an incredible rock structure, a large cliff with stones in the shape of giant molars, with deep cracks. They filmed “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” at the top where there is a limestone pavement, a natural geological phenomenon. We filmed at the waterfall, Janet’s Foss and the nearby junction. Foss is an Old English word for stunt, and we shot where Herriot is supposed to be skinny. It was actually freezing cold, so Nicholas Ralph the poor guy did an amazing job making it feel like it was just the most refreshing thing.
The junction is where Herriot gets off the Glasgow bus, and he’s in the middle of a vast nowhere. It’s at the top of Malham Cove. It looks pretty flat, but it’s actually on top of a big cliff. It is very beautiful and it attracts a lot of tourists looking for places used in “Harry Potter”. Maybe “All Creatures” will attract them too.
Produced by Laura O’Neill.