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Arrival of the Cheviot working beardie:
Matt Mundell Meets Robert Brown of Calroust, Yetholm
by Matt Mundell
The below retyped article was published in
Scottish Farmer, February 13, 1971
on page 21. It appeared in a section entitled "Sheepdogs and Handlers -
Permission to reproduce has been granted by
Deputy Editor The Scottish Farmer, 200 Renfield St, Glasgow G2 3PR.
This article remains under copyright. Do not reproduce
without obtaining written permission from this magazine.
"THERE is a tale they tell to this day in the long
glens splaying out from the Big Cheviot about the coming of the working
beardies to that airt.
Dealers, they will tell you, were up in the north
to buy the cattle beasts of the Highlandmen. They took a fancy to a dog
— a beardie — they had seen working at one homestead. And, as dealers,
they were liberal with their offers. But the owner would not sell.
The beardie mysteriously vanished from his Highland
home. And today around Yetholm, Wooler and the other townships where the
dialect of the Cheviots is spoken, there are still many working beardies.
Strange country for them, maybe, when one considers some of the drifts
of winter and the effect of snow on long-coated hill dogs.
But there are ways to beat that, too — one soul
rubs the dog's legs with vegetable oil and hies [sic off into the snow.
From high-lying Calroust up Bowmont Water the
beardies have gone out right to the English border at 1,800 feet for 20
years at the heels of the head shepherd there, Robert Brown. In recent
years, they have been at the hooves of his garron.
Along with another shepherd, Robert has been
tending some 1,100 ewes, 300 hoggs and the tups on hirsels totaling
between 2,000 and 3,000 acres, and his own hirsel and a-half comes to
The horse has been an essential part since the
single 'herd at Calroust was done away with. "It's fairly good riding
but pretty steep," says Robert who is due to leave at the May term. It
means a 7:30 a.m. - 11 a.m. spell in the morning to see his own ground.
He will take with him a strain of beardies he has
been connected with even before he came to the Yetholm glens. Among them
will be the 10-year-old merled Craig whose progeny can be found in many
Border homes and as far afield as Speyside, Inveraray and Wiltshire.
Craig was bred in the Framington direction and it is thought his
forerunners could be linked to the Rogerson's Betty blood.
At work he is accompanied many a time by the blue
beardie Shep, a two-year-old grandson, and for future work there could
be the half-beardie Rob, who was 14 weeks old when I called recently at
"I like the half-beardies," says Robert. "With the
beardie you have to wait a bit on them starting; the half-beardie comes
on a bit quicker. Sometimes the beardie is 18 months old before he
starts to run.
They all are nowadays and they are also good for
cattle. I've heard folk say nothing can weir trough-fed hoggs like them.
The only thing is that their rough coats are maybe a drawback sometimes
at the faulds or in snow."
Robert keeps bareskinned dogs, too, for his
herding, but reckons he gets better work from the beardies. "They will
gather as far out as you can get them. They never baulk and it's seldom
I've seen one hold a sheep. They also have a tremendous 'eye.' A lot of
folk don't think this, because in the old days they had little 'eye.'
But not now — these dogs just creep the ground."
The Calroust head shepherd is one of a few around
the Cheviots trying regularly to inter-change the beardie blood and he
also has had quite a few bitches of the show type to Craig when people
are looking for an out-cross.
"A lot of sheep men are wanting them for the hill,"
he says. "There are a canny few in the Borders and Northumberland
working them. I think it is the power that they are wanting. But there
are some 'herds who get them and don't want them once they find they are
not early starters."
"They are hardy. That old dog has done a tremendous
amount of work and he can take any fence in his stride. They are also
great lambing dogs up here and will shift any kind of sheep. He was
great with a big bulk of sheep, working about the dipper or loading
sheep on to wagons."
TAKING A LOAN
There are always at least five "good" dogs at the
Calroust kennel. Not all are beardies and usually three or four follow
the garron on the morning round with fresh ones at night.
"They sometimes are inclined to take a loan of me
when I'm on the horse," said Robert. "Keeping them at the horse's foot
is the biggest job. When you are on the ground yourself, you can keep
Craig is a powerful dog, good for cattle work and
at dealing with trough-feed hoggs."