Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Great Britain Travel Blog 5 -- To Bala!!!

May 11, 2019

The day finally arrived. We drove to Bala, Wales, for the historic dog sale, with Elgar and Claire. It was a gorgeous, sunny day in Wales with everything around us just waiting to be enjoyed!

Elgar pointed out many landmarks on the very scenic route that we took to Bala. Some of the roads were no more than one (small) car wide. It was a very nice tour! It is so beautiful - from green valleys up to high barren areas -- all with loads of sheep (mostly Welsh Mountain breed).

The dog sale itself was like a step back in time, for me.  Part country social event, part livestock auction. Sheep were let out at the top of the field, just like in a trial. The handlers had a certain amount of time to work their dogs on the sheep as they saw fit. The sheep were pretty lively Welsh Mountain yearlings and most of the dogs had probably never seen anything so mobile... then when a bell was rung by the auctioneer staff, the handler was to call the dog off while bidding continued. An exhaust person took the sheep off the field while the bidding went on...and the handler and dog stood in front of the crowd until bidding was completed. The auctioneers sounded just like the ones I knew from the states, and their cry was very familiar to me but with a Welsh accent. The feverish pitch of the auction grew as the day went on...but the buyers were confined to a smaller group that crowded close to the sales ring. The rest of us were there for the social occasion. I could see that folks came out to the sale as a kind of rite of spring - to greet their fellow handlers and friends in a country fair type of atmosphere.

The first several dogs went so cheap, that the sellers passed them through without selling. A few dogs sold high but there were questions in our little group of onlookers as to whether they were real and actual bidders, or not... a typical auction. There were buyers on the phone, we were told. Carefully, we kept our hands in our pockets and avoided eye contact with the ring men! We picked out a few dogs that we liked, and several that we didn't really care for - not the dogs' fault but perhaps they were put in over their heads, or their training level, or their handlers were nervous and didn't present the dogs well. All in all it was all about the presentation. Dogs who couldn't fetch the sheep down the field, for instance, we said, no thanks (not that we were buying anyway). Our new friend John Dyke was there, so we saw him again, and he introduced us to several gentlemen who provided enlightening commentary on each dog, and one of them even converted the guineas price of the high sellers into British pounds and then into American dollars for us... astounding. :-)

At the dog sale, we ran into Sue Main in the line to get coffee and sandwiches, and it became then a double treat! Sue was so warm and friendly, just as she has seemed online. Standing in line, we heard a voice behind us exclaim, "Gloria!?!?!? I thought I heard American voices!"And it was Sue. :-) We met her lovely grandchildren and enjoyed hanging out with her for part of the morning. It is such a small world, this sheepdog world... and the coffee/tea and sandwiches were served on china plates by vendors wearing what I would call white lab coats...it was all so civilized, despite us in our wellies, standing out in a sheep field!

Gloria bought a crook from a local gentleman selling sticks at the trial. I think she got the best stick that he had by deciding early on that she wanted it and not waiting for others to snap it up. It is a very handsome piece with a carved black horn handle carved with a thistle on it, and a hazel shaft. It had just a nice feel to it.

At the crossroads between The Hand and The West Arms-Chirk was invaded by the Normans 1000 years ago!

beside The West Arms :-)

A lovely field behind The West Arms, where E told us they used to hold a regular sheepdog trial... now sadly lost to time

At Bala!

Gloria and her prize new stick

Dogs being shown on the field at Bala

The exhaust pen at the Bala dog sale

If you wanted to buy a puppy there were probably ten choices, or more, to be had out of the back of vehicles and all well bred pups

Vehicles lined up against the field barrier to watch the Bala dog sale from prime positions

Once we had our fill of the dog sale (we did not say to see the young dogs in the puppy pen), we bid our goodbyes to Sue and to other new friends that we had met recently, and continued on our tour out to the location of the original first recorded dog trial -- at Bala -- and what a setting...wow. It is also the site of the first World Trial. At Bala, there is also Wales' largest lake, natural and not man made.

Bala dog trial site

The stone and the plaque

Looking down from the stone back to the road to our car

Elgar and Gloria discussing the stone

Bala dog trial location (!!!)

Close up of the plaque. Everything is spelled out in both languages, wherever you go in Wales
If all that were not enough, on our way home we stopped by the Vivod Estate, where the Vivod Sheepdog Trial is held. It was an amazing and gorgeous field!

Traffic jam, Welsh stle, en route from Bala to the Vivod Estate

Vivod Estate!

At Vivod, on the field used for the trial, Elgar points out to Gloria where the course is run



Claire and Gloria at Vivod...surely this is close to heaven! :-)
After such a wonderful day, as I recall we had a glorious dinner at The West Arms... I'm not sure that life ever gets better than this.

Cap Learning to Drive

Friday, July 26, 2019

Great Britain Travel Blog 4

May 10, 2019...continued...

After morning rounds on the mountain, and then a display of some of the best dogs in Wales...what could be better than a trip to see the Rhug Estate. We drove to the Rhug, near Corwen, and met up with John Dyke, and I was so happy to finally meet him! We got some great refreshments in the bistro shop at the Rhug and talked some with John, who is a hoot! Just as I expected. :-)

Then we went to see the farm and John worked several of his dogs on some Swaledale mules. Again we were wowed by the level of training and expertise on even more of these stunning Welsh border collies.  I had looked forward to finally seeing John's eight year old Taff in person, and I was not disappointed. He is a Laddie (Derek Scrimgeour) son and looks a lot like him. Taff is the whole package. In looks he is somewhat like my Spot but he is a whole lot more confident than my Spot. John is very proud of Taff, as he should be! We were shown a lot of other dogs and it was interesting to see them all... some are trial dogs as well as farm working dogs...and some have roles at the farm but do not have the high level of reliability and partnership to be able to be successful trial dogs.  Luckily, there are many jobs at the farm for the dogs and it takes several dogs to do all the work that they have with the sheep there.  John gave us his description of a Fell dog... a long legged, forward dog, who seeks out sheep even when he can't see them... a "lurcher" style dog... much like Taff or Derek's old Laddie, Taff's father.

At the end of this very full day, we drove back to our caravan, ate leftovers out of the fridge and contemplated what a wonderful time we were having! Tomorrow...we would go to the famed Bala Dog Sale! We had printouts of the sale catalog and we had already marked the dogs that we especially wanted to see...given input from everyone we had talked with in Wales about them. No intentions to buy...but just to see and look!

on the farm at Rhug

Farm buildings at the Rhug...a mix of old and new...

Great Britain Travel Blog 3

May 10, 2019, continued...

After our wonderful early morning with Glyn on rounds to check and feed ewes and lambs, it seemed like no other experience could be better...but we were then treated to watching a bunch of good dogs being worked on their training field near the house. Everyone wanted to show us their dogs...which was something we really wanted to see. I went overseas with no expectation of what dogs I might see, but what I hoped for was information and exposure to the types of dog(s) that I might like in the future. We had no intention of buying and bringing a dog or dogs home...but we craved being able to observe all kinds of dogs working in all kinds of situations...and that we got time and time again. It was wonderful.

This day, first Elgan brought some dogs out and he worked a new brace team of Kate and Joe. Joe has been a brace partner with another dog in the past but Kate is new to it. It was really interesting to watch how they practice working the dogs together and how they learn to take their own side and stay on that side. Then Elgan took out a young dog, only about 12 months old, who was very keen but hadn't been worked in about six weeks due to them being so busy with lambing. Gethin then arrived with a truck load of dogs, and worked his International winning brace team of Maddie and Fran. They were of course smoother than the new brace team of Kate and Joe, but it was really neat to watch the progression of both teams. Then Gethin pulled out a young dog named Craig (son of Cap, the lamb catcher) and worked him. They are all pretty high on this Craig, a rising youngster. All of them handle their dogs with such modulated tones, no yelling, and they are quiet handlers and kind to their dogs.  If something goes wrong, they call them back quietly and start over. It was refreshing to observe.  Craig and Kate had a litter of puppies which were just about ready to go to their new homes...they were darling and it was a good thing that Gloria and I had resolved that we were not bringing any dogs or puppies home with us to the USA!

Working dogs on the training field for us

View from the caravan in Wales

View out my bedroom window in the caravan in Wales... heaven!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Great Britain Travel Blog 2

Friday, May 10, 2019

What an amazing day!
7:00 a.m., we went with Glyn on his morning feeding rounds to check on the ewes and lambs and to feed concentrates. Cap, his older trial dog went with us. I fell in love with Cap, a wise old soul who is very adept at catching lambs! Cap is a big rough coated tri color dog with a split face. He gets to go on the morning rounds because he becomes " annoying" by howling if he is left behind in the morning.  I think it also mainly because he knows the job and is a perfect working partner who only rarely needs to be told what to do...most of the time he was already doing what was needed before it was asked of him. Truly a great dog and one to appreciate.

The three of us plus Cap went on the side-by-side through several fields of sheep, up and over all of their farms and up on the mountains with groups of ewes with twins, ewes with singles, etc. The Berwyn Mountains were nearby and the two peaks were called (in folktale lore) Berwyn and Bronwen (two giants).  The views were beyond amazing, and the numbers of sheep, beyond my comprehension. Field after field of ewes and lambs, on a beautiful crisp and sunny morning.


It is a family farm that has been held for generations, through good times and bad, and hard winters as well as mild ones... the sheep are mostly Welsh Mountain ewes, and some are crossed with South Country Cheviot, or Charolais, or Texels, to produce butcher lambs. There are a few crossed with NCC or BFL. Cap was amazing and helped to catch several lambs that needed treating for this or that. A piece of heaven, up on top of the world...wow, just wow! When we'd finished all the ewes and lambs, our last stop was at a field with 28 yearling Welsh Mountain rams. They were fabulous. A few will make the grade to stay, some will be sold as rams, and the few not so good, for butcher.

To be continued...

Great Britain Travel Blog 1

In May, before we left for Great Britain, I was scurrying around  like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to do all the impossible things before we departed. I told myself, "my life is too complicated...I need to simplify things when I get home! " Little did I know how that was going to apply during Summer 2019, but in the mean time I really want to record at least the beginnings of our travel adventures to Wales and England. I loved it! I had a wonderful time. I can't wait to go back. I am a very lucky person to get to go.

We actually were scheduled to leave SFO on 5/6/2019 and arrive the evening of 5/7/2019 in Wales, but things happened to delay us (and make us stronger!) and we did not actually step foot into England until late-night on 5/8/2019 and we got to Wales on the morning of 5/9/2019.  And from there, my paper journal (which I am so glad that I forced myself to keep up with) begins...

Thursday May 9, 2019
Last night we flew from London Heathrow into Manchester airport and we got our room in at the Manchester airport hotel sometime around midnight. The kind shuttle driver was cheerful to come and pick up just us standing out in the cold at the airport and took us to our hotel, where we were welcomed as if it were 12 noon instead of 12 midnight. Ahhh. A shower and bed.

Thursday morning, we picked up our rental car, a Vauxhall crossover which was quite comfortable. We had made arrangements to meet Claire and Elgar at Chester Services, which is a wonderful place to stop for everything you might need while traveling. Finally we made it to Wales! It was everything I expected, and so much more.

Winding our way along roads that got smaller and narrower as we drove further into the valley where Elgar told me has lived most of his life, everything was as I had seen in pictures and videos. It is a very peaceful place to be. It was very green with stone walls, endless fields of sheep, and not an LGD in sight. That was hard to get used to! Hedges between fields, are kept neatly and some are very tall! We also saw lots of laid hedges.

Field of Welsh Mountain sheep near Llanarmon, DC, in Wales
We picked up food at a tiny shop and then proceeded on to the Jones' farm where we stayed in a brand new caravan on the farm. It was perfect. We walked up the road to stretch our legs, to the Berwyn Barns, which is a 5-star self-catering accommodation. The Berwyn Barns is in a wonderful setting just above a running creek. There were more sheep, ewes, and lambs everywhere- mostly Welsh Mountain breed, but a few mules here and there. Everything was so green and the roads were so narrow. There is barely enough room for two small cars. My Chevy pickup would be too massive! I kept channeling Jill as I knew she would find this place to be paradise. There was no mobile service. It felt like a restorative retreat.

Everyone wanted to show us their dogs, which of course we were most happy to oblige! I loved watching all the different dogs on our trip.  Most of the Welsh dogs that we saw were worked ultra quietly, on the softest voice and whistle, and so patiently. I fell in love with their dogs, mostly rough coated. Many of the sets of farm dogs are on separate sets of whistles so that they can be run together on the hill for farm work, as well as for trialling in the brace competitions.  The lines they have developed are dogs that fit their own particular farm work and as such, not overly flanky and wide for use on the hill.  Claire also worked Briar at everyone's request. They liked Briar.

In the evening, Gloria, Claire and I went to The Hand in the village for a delicious pub dinner in front of a massive old fireplace. It was rainy and cold outside...but warm and cosy inside, and I loved all of it. What a great day it was, and it was more than worth all of the patience that it took to get us there!

The Hand

In our lodgings (caravan) in Wales

View outside our lodgings in Wales

A building that caught my eye in a tiny village in Wales

Sunday, February 17, 2019


Celebrating today! I am so happy!

Cap and some of the sheep whose feet got trimmed

 We were able to finish trimming feet on the sheep at the coop. I thought it would take three sessions but we got it finished in two sessions. A whole future weekend day is now freed up...I am so happy! Some of the sheep needed it more than others; some hardly needed anything or could get away without any attention...while others required a lot of work on their feet. You can't tell until you get them in position to trim.

We have been working on modifying the set of pens and alleyway to better resemble the "Bud box" system...we are not there yet but it is getting better. And folks are learning how to better handle the sheep through the system. I am sure this is part of the reason we were able to finish so much faster this time around.  Big thank yous to Foothill Agrarian for help on this with videos and advice.

Also...regarding confidence... I've not had a dog yet (in my small number of dogs) who is so confident to move sheep that they don't need any help, ever. Maybe someday I will have "that dog". Meanwhile I work to build confidence. It is in the back of my mind every time I work dogs. If it goes out of my mind I will be sorry (and have been when I let emotion get in my way). I've had several lessons that were solely focused on building and maintaining confidence in my dogs and I go back to those principles time after time.

The sun is out...celebrating! :-)