Millions tuned in to the Christmas episode of All Creatures Great and Small to watch the next chapter unfold in the love story between James (Nicholas Ralph) and Helen (Rachel Shenton) but for many of us the real stars of the show are the stunning Yorkshire Dales locations.
The scenery and backdrops have been a treat throughout the first series of the Channel 5 drama based on the books by Yorkshire vet Alf Wight, and the Christmas special was no exception. But where is the church that features so prominently in the Christmas Eve carol service and the Christmas Day wedding scenes? And where is the remote hilltop farmhouse where James and Helen find themselves stranded on Christmas Eve - the night before Helen’s wedding? And what about the crossroads where James stops Siegfried's beautiful car and ponders his romantic dilemma?
All Creatures Great and Small production designer Jacqueline Smith, who is based in Ripon, and locations manager Gary Barnes were responsible for choosing these locations.
The church, says Gary, is St Wilfrid's at Burnsall, about four miles from Grassington, which is used as Darrowby in the series. “As always, we were looking for something that was aesthetically pleasing, nestled in the countryside. It was as close to the correct period as possible, although there is always something that needs doing,” he said, adding that it was just the right size for their purposes, neither too big to fill nor too small to film in.
Jackie said the church’s beautiful situation on a country lane overlooking the river was also perfect, as were its clock, graveyard and gateway, which provided interesting shapes. “The interior had some aspects which we had to cover as they weren’t right for the period but we did this using simple deep red velvet drapes,” she said. “We filled the church with wedding flowers and candles so that it looked like every bride's dream of a magical winter wedding.”
The episode opens as James makes his way to a remote hilltop farm where the Chapmans’ dog is expecting puppies. He has to return there later when the mum-to-be gets into difficulty. Helen goes with him and then the weather conspires to prevent them from leaving.
Gary said: “The remote farm was in Airton between Malham and Skipton. We were very lucky that the inside of the farmhouse gave a good basis of the correct period for Jackie to work with. We couldn’t believe it when we walked in and saw it. It still needed a lot of work but looked fantastic when it was done. The challenge as always was to find a spot that looked remote but is accessible for the practicalities of filming.”
"We added careworn furniture, some simple Christmas decorations and oil lamps to create a tiny home with a big heart. Our director, Andy Hay, was particularly interested in creating a direct connection to elements outside the door, the stunning winter landscapes and then the thick fog which traps all the characters in the house on Christmas Eve.”
But what of the crossroads where James stops to ponder his dilemma on Christmas Day - whether to drive back home to see his parents in Scotland or stay to face his love for Helen?
“The crossroads are on the roads above Pateley Bridge,” said Gary. “Myself and Jackie had spotted them early in the shoot and thought of them as soon as we read the scene. They are very dramatic and the council were very accommodating in letting us get a closure and take control of them for a short period. There are a whole network of roads up there that are amazing.”
Jackie added: “Gary and I found this particular stretch of road early on and it made us think of the scene where James’s brakes don’t work and he flies down the hill at high speed. I did wonder whether this was an old Roman road as it was pin straight but didn’t ever get that confirmed.”
The Christmas scenes in Darrowby square were filmed in Grassington, like in the rest of the first series, but it was quite a challenge to turn the village into a festive 1930s village.
Jackie said: “We used Grassington's marketplace for the Christmas market and nativity set. All of the shop's windows around the square were dressed to fit into our All Creatures world, signage changed, colours softened and muted, windows filled with period-appropriate dressing and produce.
“We had several markets to set up across the series but the Christmas market was the most fun. Donkeys, carts of holly and mistletoe, geese and turkeys, chickens, dogs and horses all together in a delightful tableau of Yorkshire village life in the 1930s. We wanted to create a sense of community and belonging, kindness and humour.”
Gary added: “The art department has a lot to change with lots of little things that you don’t think about. It is a continual thing with my team to keep talking to the residents and business owners to try and make it as smooth as possible for everyone. We are fully aware that we have a big impact for the people of Grassington when we are around and don’t take it for granted. We are very lucky that they are very lovely people in that village that help us a lot and make it easier for us than it could be elsewhere. It takes a lot of work but it's worth it as it looks fantastic. The people of the town are rightly proud of it and hopefully we are adding to that.”
Jackie said she hoped that the way the team had dressed the village of Grassington to become 1930s Darrowby worked well for the audience and added that it also helped the actors to feel part of this world. “It took a team of around 20 people around a week, including our art director Tom, graphics and art dept team, construction and scenic painters who aged down fresh paint and added layers to surfaces to create more interest. Our set decorating and props team dressed all of the shop windows and market stalls.
“The residents and business owners of Grassington were all so accommodating and helpful, it really felt like a community working together. We can't wait to go back and do it all again for series two.”
*The All Creatures Great and Small Christmas special will be repeated on Channel 5 on Boxing Day at 7.45pm.
*All photos courtesy of Channel 5 and Playground Entertainment.
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