Of Sheepdogs and Vanilla Ice Cream

By “The Photographer’s Assistant”

The outrun......fast......purposeful......beautiful

The outrun……fast……purposeful……beautiful

Unusually, a day out; in North Devon in a beautiful and scenic part of a relaxed stretch of countryside. The Photographer has decided to take himself off on an assignment to The National Sheep Dog Trials at Castle Hill. We had loved One Man and His Dog on television with all the finer points of the art explained by the late and much lamented Phil Drabble.

The grounds of Castle Hill are very beautiful and the entrance price for old folks is very low. There is a gentle soothing atmosphere and before starting work, the photographer treats his assistant to an excellent cup of tea and a splendid piece of cake, served on fine porcelain, in the tent erected in aid of a local hospice.

After peering at some rural stores selling wellies and country type equipment for all sorts of animals, which was fascinating; did you know about the wide variety of nose bands available for your horse.

The Photographer engaged in an erudite, and possibly metaphysical debate with an exhibitor on whether a vintage Fordson Dexta 3000 was better with, or without a shroud over the steering box, while the Assistant admired the historical significance of the Fordson Model N and its role in feeding the country in WWII

Dexta 3000 with steering box shroud.....

Dexta 3000 with steering box shroud…..

Dexta 3000 without steering box shroud

Dexta 3000 without steering box shroud

Eventually the Photographer and his ever humble assistant made their way to the sheep dog area, a truly impressive course.

The course was enormous. We stood behind a rope looking up a distant hill to where the sheep were being held. The Photographers Assistant was now at a distinct disadvantage as she had forgotten her distance glasses and the Photographer was pointing out the splendors of sheep that quite frankly she couldn’t see. Honestly, you should never let the ever efficient Photographer know about this sort of thing. Just pretend, it’s the best course of action.

The first contestant took her place and had no time to act as the sheep had misbehaved and she was called upon to come back later. There followed a procession of shepherds and dogs skilled in the art. What an art it was, for a huge amount of concentration and practical skill required to work as a team in harmony together.

The dogs were beautifully turned out and incredibly responsive to their masters commands, sometimes taking it upon themselves to lift sheep that could not be seen and which were even in the wrong place at the top of the hill. The masters patiently whistled and watched from their stand such a far way from their dogs and the sheep. The hours of practice that had gone into this sport, or art, must have been terrific and way beyond the call of duty, yet there would be no millionaire athletes or fame at the end of these trials. This was all done for the love of the art and the pride in these noble dogs.

To watch the dogs at work is a great privilege  for they are the best athletes that you will ever see and we were proud that the photographer had caught one of the animals at full speed, putting every ounce of effort into his outrun. The dog has the look of the fox about it as it crouches with all its musculature on show. The masters were on the whole quite elderly and oozed experience, and sad to tell, many of them revealed the tough life of the hill farmer in their gait with limps and generally arthritic traits.

In all this was a marvelous and wonderful event to see, man and dog working in almost perfect harmony and if you get the chance to see it, do. It will be well worth the effort. What a shame that it is no longer seen so often on television, which now holds so high the metropolitan sports and not so many of the country cousins.

Having stood and watched in awe for a good while, the photographer decided that it was time to indulge in an ice cream. He enquired of the proud North Devon ice cream van as to what sort of flavours were available. Our ice ceam man replied that there was really only one flavour that he would sell his ice cream in and that was the one flavour that really brought out the excellent flavour of his ice cream and that was vanilla. The Photographer chose, vanilla. It proved to be an excellent choice of ice cream, quite on a par with the type of Italian ice cream sold in Wales by the sons of Italian immigrants. By the way, the Assistant is only allowed a limited number of ice creams per year due to ice cream addiction, so she knows her ices and this one was certainly on par with the best.

The Photographer sealed a perfect day by purchasing two large pies from his favourite local makers stand, and so the contented group, including the dog , made their way tiredly home and dreamt all night of dogs, and sheep and cups of tea and,of course, vanilla ice cream.

The Team, man and dog versus sheep.....and that pen.

The Team, man and dog versus sheep…..and that pen.

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