Summer Trial

IMG_1330The August Trial Site is a 40 acre (16 ha) field with a West facing slope and two access points from the confluence of roads at Blore crossroads. The field hosts car parking, catering, crafts and commentary with the top third of the field reaching down from its highest point to embrace a sheepdog trial arena of a size and standard appropriate to National competition. The trial arena itself, with “fetch, away drive and cross drive gates”, “Maltese cross” and “pen”, is fenced off from on lookers by sheep netting which delivers an unencumbered view of the trial to spectators and competitors as they mingle around the focus of activity and the adjacent marquees that host the catering and crafts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpread over two days, competitors, who are balloted for running order, send their dog to gather the sheep from the top of the field, fetch them in a straight line through the “fetch gates”, turn them behind the handler and drive them away back up the field through the “away drive gates” then across the handler’s line of vision and through the “cross drive gates” before bringing the sheep to the handler at the mouth of the “Maltese cross” which, once successfully negotiated, leaves the shepherd and dog to pen the sheep within the time allowed. A new assortment of sheep is released from the top of the field for each run while the sheep that have completed the trial rest at the bottom of the field. The manoeuvres are designed to demonstrate the functional skill and ability of shepherd and dog as the sheep test their teamwork. The process sets standards, educates and entertains. A commentary with some explanation at the conclusion of each run announces points and placings.

The pattern of this core trial is broken mid-day on the first day to allow up to half a dozen “doubles” competitions whereby the shepherd gathers the sheep using two dogs, dispenses with the “Maltese cross” but splits the flock in a “shedding ring” and then pens the divided flock in two separate pens. The afternoon of the second day is given over to the “Championship of the Dales” in which the shepherds and dogs with the highest placings in the competition pit their skills against one another for the ultimate ranking.

This describes the activity, the challenge and the spectacle that draws the accomplished, the aspiring, the enthusiast and the tourist to the site. Locally, it is a fixture which trades on tradition and continuity to kindle a spirit of community amongst the population. The nature and location of the event, supported by explanatory commentary, serves to reconnect a diverse but increasingly urban focused population with the landscape, food and farming through the experience of these timeless skills.