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The Beardie Collies Got Lost in the Haze

This article was originally produced in the Northern Times in 1906.
It appeared in the Working Sheepdog News in February, 1982.
Permission to retype this article was granted by Andrew Hall, Editor,
International Sheepdog News  (formerly Working Sheepdog News)

"If sheepdog handlers think competition is getting tougher and the going harder, let them spare a thought for their predecessors of 75 years ago. Thanks to a comprehensive report in the Northern Times on the 1906 Sutherland and Caithness Sheepdog Trials, here is chapter and verse of how the handlers and their dogs were put through their paces.

The annual sheepdog trials for the great sheep farming counties of Sutherland and Caithness were held in Dunrobin Glen, close to Mr. Burnett's house, on Saturday (1st September 1906) in lovely weather.

The interest which the trials aroused all over the north may be gauged from the fact that during the day there were many hundreds present, and the Highland Railway Company ran a special train in the evening into Caithness carrying competitors and spectators to their homes.

In the valley was a pen composed of four flakes placed directly below the ruined walls about 500 yards below Mr. Burnett's.  On a mound by the side of a burn, slightly lower down, was a stake to which the shepherd was attached by a cord, allowing freedom of movement in any direction for about 20 feet.

Close to the mound the judge, James Craig of Burnfoot, Sanquhar, Dumfrieshire, was seated along with the committee.

On the top of the hill, and out of sight of the shepherd, there were a number of men in charge of the requisite number of sheep—three to each dog--and, on signal, three sheep were driven down the hill a few hundred yards just within sight of the competitor.

The distance between the sheep and the competitor would be quite two miles over a steep and broken course which included long heather, burns and boggy ground.  The full extent of the test was for the shepherd, purely by word and signal, to send his dog up the hill, to take back the sheep inside a specified area, and to guide them through between two flags set about 20 yards apart.  When this was done, the shepherd was free to open the pen, and, with his dog's help, to secure the sheep.

There were 40 entries for four competitions and the prizes given, including the Duke of Sutherland's Challenge Cup, were to the total value of about £30.  Everything counted in the test.  It was not merely a case of sending the dog up to chase sheep pell-mell down the hillside.  Points were allocated as follows — running out, 6; first turn, 10; bringing, 8; general work, 6; command, 8; flag obstacles (2 points for each sheep), 6; penning 6 — total 50.

The general work included keeping the sheep together, the straight course and the resting of animals, and each dog was thoroughly criticized by the shepherds and others who understood the work.

Many of the dogs made a good start, but a number of them seemed to get mixed up at a ridge half way up and went careering along the right, winding up in a green patch further up the glen, when they were almost invariably recalled.

Others went up all right and returned with the sheep, but finished on the wrong side of the flag obstacles already mentioned -- and other young dogs enjoyed a mad race on the low ground and came back at their masters' call looking very pleased with themselves.

Undoubtedly the best competitor there was the cup winner and his dog — R. Mac-Caskill, Skelbo, and his dog Skye, a black and white animal, three years of age.  They did not seem to the ordinary onlooker to lose a single point throughout the whole severe test, and the sheep were duly penned in about 18 minutes only three minutes over the minimum time allowed.

Those competitors, however, who had their turn in the afternoon when the sun was going fast west, had to contend with a haze which completely spoiled the light, and through which the sheep receded to an almost invisible white dot, and further, a sheep had fallen into the burn, half-way up the course and many of the dogs refused to go further up thinking, no doubt, that this was the animal they were sent up after.

Mr. Henderson, Achentoal, too, had very hard lines.  He was next to the last competitor and the light was at its worst.  His dog, which is said to be an excellent bringer went straight up and got in touch with the objective sheep in the record time of 4-1/4 minutes, but for some reason or another he could not get them started on the downward journey, and the attempt was finally given up and the dog recalled.

The prizes confined to tenants and servants on Braemore and Langwell estates brought out seven competitors, but as these seven also entered for the all-comers, the one trial sufficed.

The same remark applies to the class for the beardie collie dogs given as puppies at last year's trials by Lord Arthur Cecil.  These four dogs are only now a year old, and much could not be expected of them.  The two best both came from the Kildonan district, bringing the prizes to the county of Sutherland up to the gratifying number of nine out of a total of thirteen.

During the day, luncheon was served in [sic] the shepherds in Mr. Harrison's marquee, and to the ducal party and others interested in the trials an excellent lunch was served by the Dunrobin Castle staff under the supervision of Mr. Sims in a large marquee specially erected for the occasion.

Information from the "Northern Times" kindly sent by Alistair Munro of Inverness."

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