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The Beardie Collies Got Lost in the
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
the "Northern Times" kindly sent by Alistair Munro of Inverness."