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Fort Augustus Sheepdog Trials
Fort Augustus is a little village in the middle of the Highlands. It is North of Ben Nevis, South of Loch Ness, West of the Grampians and East of the bleak North Western Highlands. It is not on most people’s itineraries, but it was on ours because I had Googled “sheep dog trials scotland” and found a local trial scheduled for Saturday the 8th.
It seemed somehow far-fetched that we had found it. We were 5000 miles from home, and we drove right to the middle of this town of not more than 500 inhabitants. A hand-lettered sign said “Sheep Dog Trials Today,” and an arrow pointed to a country road. Within half a mile we saw in a distant field a gathering of cars, sheep, and black-and-white dogs.
The setting was quite beautiful. The soft green field was four or five acres, surrounded by a low stone wall. A gray stone church (hardly visible above) stood just beyond, and the valley was surrounded by hills that were purple with blooming heather. The sky was gray and clouds hid the tops of the hills. (Wallpaper, anyone? 1.3 MB)
Just for scale, here is a detail of the picture above. Now you can see the church and under it a pick-up truck. You can see a couple of people and a dog, as well. (This is what 7 megapixels will do for you!) So consider the size of the field and the distance involved.
The event’s organizer spotted us and asked us for a few pounds, which we only too gladly paid. She also watched with us for a while, explaining how the course was laid and how the dogs were scored.
The judge sat in a truck in the near corner of the field. Below, a contestant chats with him before setting up nearby at a post with his dog, ready for the start. In the far corner, which was at least 300 yards away, another man and dog had gathered four sheep.
In the middle of the field was a gate made of two pieces of fence set about 25 feet apart. There was another such gate in each of the corners to the left and right. Just off to the side of the starting post was a chute made of metal fencing, with a wide gate and a few feet of rope. The sheep below are running for the left gate.
Here’s how it worked. The man sent his dog to the far corner. When the dog arrived there to fetch the four sheep, the second man and dog would withdraw. The dog was supposed to bring the sheep across the field through the middle gate. When they reached the man, who was still waiting in the near corner, the sheep were to be driven around the post and away again to, and through, the left gate, across the diagonal to and through the right gate, and then back to the pen.
At the pen, the man would hold the gate open with the rope and extend his staff. The dog pressed the sheep in until, if all went well, the sheep would file through the chute. Then man and dog tried to divide the four sheep into two groups of two. This last part is called the shed.
The dogs start out with 100 points and have ten minutes to complete the course. Deductions are made for driving the sheep crookedly in zig zags, getting too far off-course, or missing a gate. The dogs did not attempt the shed unless they succeeded at the pen, and the deduction for failing the pen or shed was substantial.
Right: a fine-looking pup.
SEPTEMBER 2007: SCOTLAND
Dumfries & Galloway: