Invercharron Sheepdog Trials in times past

W.A.M. Mackenzie gives a colourful account of the Trials in the 1950s. This event is still being held at Invercharron Farm as part of the Scottish National Sheep Dog Trials.

Invercharron Sheep Dog Trials prize giving, 1950s. From left to right: 
Watt Clarke, W. J. Mackay (secretary), Jean Munro, Invercharron, Matthew Elliot, Bonar Bridge, Mr MacAskill, shepherd at Mid Fearn, Jamesie Munro, Invercharron, Jock (the Still) Munro, and Neil Matheson, Gruinards. / © Photo courtesy of Margaret Ross, Cornhill

In order to live up to its full title, Creich and Kincardine Sheepdog Trials, the event alternated each year between Creich and Invercharron Farms. My home ground was Invercharron. Hughie and I made a point of turning up early and getting ourselves noticed by old Duncan Munro, the Invercharron boss. He invariably gave us the job of selling programmes.

The serious contenders, who came from all over Scotland, competed in the Open contest which took place in the afternoon. For most of the audience, however, the fun was in the morning when the local handlers tried their skills.

Invercharron did not carry enough sheep to last the whole day so some were borrowed from Croick. The Invercharron ewes were rotund, sedate ladies raised on the rich lowland pasture which bordered the Kyle. The Croick animals were wild, lanky beasts who could run and leap like deer, who, when released into the wide, flat field of Invercharron were inclined to take off towards the horizon.

The Invercharron ewes were rotund, sedate ladies and the Croick animals were wild, lanky beasts who could run and leap like a deer

So it was that the lads at the bottom of the field who released the little groups of sheep for each contestant had great power. Their leader was a retired gamekeeper, Watt Clarke. Attired in massively wide plus fours and tackety shoes he spied through his glass who was approaching the handlers post. For his cronies Watt sent out five Invercharron ewes who ambled up the field and stopped for a snack from time to time
The shepherd and dog who failed to score well with them only had themselves to blame. If Watt was not a fan of the handler he issued five Croick sheep. They could outpace most dogs and usually proceeded to do so and were as likely to jump the gates as to pass through them. Dog and handler were usually humiliated.

For someone who had been foolish enough to have offended Watt in the previous year Watt saved up a diabolical revenge. He mixed the sheep, two from Croick and three from Invercharron. As soon as they left the pen these strangers parted, the locals to have a taste of clover and the visitors to flee towards the hills.

A prize for the noisiest

There was a prize for the handler who made the most noise and it was invariably awarded to one of the poor souls to whom Watt issued a mixed lot.

Each competitor had a fixed time allowance and sometimes, when the sheep were spread across the field and the dog was running in desperate circles and the shepherd was in a state of roaring apoplexy Duncan took pity and blew the whistle early.

“Save the poor dog and stop Geordie having a heart attack,” he would murmur. The fact that Geordie had run out of time did not debar him from the consolation prize for the most noise.

Towards the end of the day, when arrivals had ceased, Hughie and I went to the committee tent to hand over our takings. Our pay varied between ten shillings and a pound. We suspected that the gauge for our remuneration was not how many programmes we sold but how empty the committee’s whisky bottle was.

In the hindsight afforded by nearly seventy years I can feel it in my heart to feel pity for the humiliated handlers. All that effort on the croft in the evenings practising and training until their their few sheep learned what was expected of them and duly trotted round the course to oblige. Then to put themselves before their peers and be made a fool of.

They were, however, stubborn men and next year they would practice and train and, if they saw Watt in Fergie’s Bar they made sure they stood him a nip.

by W.A.M. Mackenzie
W.A.M Mackenzie’s memoirs Where’s Home? Glimpses of a boy I used to know are available from Amazon as a paperback or kindle e-book.
From left to right: D. J. Mackay, Jean Munro, Invercharron, Matthew Elliot, Bonar Bridge, Mr Macaskill, Neil Matheson, Gruinards, and Jock the Still Munro. © Photo courtesy of Margaret Ross, Cornhill

4 thoughts on “Invercharron Sheepdog Trials in times past”

  1. The “unknown” person receiving the trophy in this picture is Matthew Elliot from Bonar Bridge. The year was definitely 1952 as my mother still has this trophy in her cabinet.

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