Scotland's Sheepdogs...Preserving a Tradition

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I'm always really happy to share compelling locations, attractions, and experiences with others. This next post takes us right into the heart of Scotland.  It's a glimpse into the present day, as well as a tradition that's been around this region for centuries. 

A unique way to delve into Scottish culture is to observe sheepdogs in action. It's an easy aspect of Scotland to overlook, as it does not enjoy heavy prominence in guidebooks. While determining our itinerary, I wanted to incorporate unique elements that set Scotland apart. The image of dogs and sheep among pastured lands seems so simplistic, however, it's actually a complicated symphony of orchestrated maneuvers between shepherd, dogs, and sheep.

 Neil showed the audience his beloved sheepdogs herding these sheep from approximately 500+ feet away.

Neil showed the audience his beloved sheepdogs herding these sheep from approximately 500+ feet away.

Plunk down in the middle of the Scottish Highlands is a working sheepdog operation, off the A9, near Kincraig and Aviemore, Scotland, called Leault Farm. (As always, pay careful attention to days and time of availability). Leault Farm typically has only one show per day at 4pm (no show on Saturdays), but always verify first.

Neil and Glynis Ross, owners of the farm, are successfully educating the curious about the capabilities of their intelligent canines, the sheep, and the general aspects of herding and shearing. You might hear the endearing story of one of his dogs who lost their eyesight, but insisted on being the first one ready to work the sheep daily. Neil does this live and in-person, while Glynis offers a way to remember the occasion, through a children's book, on sale at the end of the demonstration.

 Children's books about working sheepdogs make great souvenirs.

Children's books about working sheepdogs make great souvenirs.

This beautiful setting features an expansive view of pastures and stone walls, carefully guarded by the vigilant border collies and the gentle surrounding mountains.  True to the rustic atmosphere, the 45-minute outdoor show can be viewed by either standing or sitting on the grass, or on the natural boulders, so be prepared.

(If you have a portable chair, feel free to use it. For packing advice when visiting Scotland, click 5 Must-Have Items.)

Exhibitions are usually much more fun when interaction takes place, and Neil very patiently guides volunteers to try out the handshears on one of his sheep.

 Neil guides a volunteer with the hand shears to prepare sheep for their winter coats. The sheep go limp when placed this way and are not hurt in the process.

Neil guides a volunteer with the hand shears to prepare sheep for their winter coats. The sheep go limp when placed this way and are not hurt in the process.

Continue the fun by spending time with the sheep up close (feeding bottles provided), and if it's the right time of year, you can even cuddle the Border Collie puppies!

 Well, that milk is for feeding the sheep, but this Border Collie has other ideas.

Well, that milk is for feeding the sheep, but this Border Collie has other ideas.

 Frolicking puppies always bring smiles!

Frolicking puppies always bring smiles!

 The pups quickly learn to follow their master around.

The pups quickly learn to follow their master around.

 Lounging around on sheep's wool~it's a pup's life!

Lounging around on sheep's wool~it's a pup's life!

 Learning how to bottle feed a lamb.

Learning how to bottle feed a lamb.

Neil takes time to talk about the sheepdog herding tradition and the urgent need to protect and preserve it for future generations. The number of herders in this community has dropped at an alarming rate. Visiting Leault Farm is not only an excellent educational and cultural experience, but a way to help preserve this important tradition. Click here for Leault Farm's website.

For additional information to enhance your herding observations further, click here.

Fun Fact:

What does a world-famous rock and roller and shepherds have in common? If your answer is 'working sheepdogs', you would be correct. David Lee Roth, original lead singer of the band, Van Halen, has a real passion for sheepdog herding and has entered competitions with his own Border Collies.

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 Still hungry...the reward for all of his hard work.

Still hungry...the reward for all of his hard work.

 A sheep's respite from being herded.

A sheep's respite from being herded.

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