Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Sheepdog Trials. One Man and his Dog.

When I was a young lad in the early 1950s,the Lewis sheepdog came in all 57 varieties(it seemed to me),which might loosely be referred to as the "West Highland" sheepdog. Whether these dogs ever existed as a true breed,I don't know,but what I do know is that they were highly skilled in the tasks demanded of them. I believe they were better at sheep gathering and fetching on the wide expanses of the Lewis moors,than at close quarter work on the croft.There were exceptions,of course. The Shoudie dog,Julia(aka Stowlia or Dolita)was always impressed to see a large flock of sheep being brought towards the fank by two or three of her fellow canines. Stowlia would,at this late stage,join in the fun,running back and forward just like the class-act dogs,her tail wagging furiously at the kudos of being seen as a real sheepdog. She was just great! Even back then,certain men were recognised for their prowess with their sheepdogs,and their pups were always in demand by others.
In no time at all,sheepdog trials became very popular on Lewis,and contestants became increasingly high-profile in competitions which demanded great skills from both man and dog. Competition was keen at these trials,and in many cases, frankly, fierce. It was at this time that crofters began to import sheepdogs from the mainland,dogs of proven ability and known pedigree. They were almost entirely of the breed known as the "border collie",which originated in the Scottish borders,and which were the stars of the big UK trialing scene. They were small,very fast and highly intelligent. Usually black, with some patches of white,they were expensive to buy and this usually entailed the Lewisman going out to the mainland to assess the pup and its mother. All the serious trialists on Lewis and Harris bought into the border collie,and spent long hours training their dogs to obey their commands,using voice,whistle and who knows,what else.
Norman Macarthur(Tiger Navarre)stayed at the end of the Dalmore road,just inside the Carloway fence. If you knew "Tiger",you knew how appropriate was this name. "Navarre", his father,I assume was given that name because of his presence in France during World War One. Tiger,the brother-in law of Seoras(George,8 Dalmore),was already known as being good with a sheepdog,at that time,a large brown and black dog called Toss. Tiger went over to the border collies,and from that time (c.1955)he emerged as possibly the top sheepdog trialist in all Lewis and Harris. I was often in Tiger's house, as I knew Alex(Alexina)his wife from her days living in Dalmore. Alex was a kind woman,with a fine sense of humour. I remember one day going over to the dogs in their outside kennel with some some bread or potatoes,when I was stopped in my tracks by Tiger shouting at me "Don't go near the dogs.I am the one who feeds these dogs.and only me"
We would attend trials in Shawbost,Lochs and Barvas in George's Austin A.35 van,and often returned with a 1st.prize and a silver cup. The one to win was the Stornoway Sheepdog Trials,held each year in the Castle Grounds. Tiger did not get it all his own way,as at this time, there was a very worthy opponent in the Stornoway butcher,'An Bhragie.If anyone were capable of denting Tiger's crown,it would be 'An Bhragie. Often, these two would be well ahead of the field. I remember one Stornoway trials(1956/1957), when we went across in the A.35 van with Tiger and his dog,and Ia'Ruadh Dhomhnull Higort(Garenin),who felt like mixing it with the big boys. 'An Bhragie was there as expected and performed to his usual high standard. I don't remember how the points were scored in these trials,but I do recall parts of the trials viz. outrun,shedding,penning. Tiger won that year,and the Cup was Dalmore bound. A lot of whisky went into, and out of, that large silver trophy in the following few days.
I have not been to sheepdog trials in a very long time,and I would not be surprised to discover that they now employ satellite navigation and radio controlled collars.

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