National Geographic : 1940 Apr
SHEEP DOG TRIALS IN LLANGOLLEN Trained Collies Perform Marvels of Herding in the Cambrian Stakes, Open to the World BY SARA BLOCH T HE four of us had just arrived at the Hotel Royal, a smallish inn de spite the dignity of its name, in the Vale of Llangollen, North Wales. Our dining table faced the western window, past which the sun splashed the evening sky with sweeping and majestic color. The distant hill, Dinas Bran, surmounted by its ancient ruin, glimmered with a secret magic, while just below us the River Dee catapulted joyously over a small dam. It gave no hint, at this high and lovely spot, that at its mouth the turbulent tides swept so treacherously "across the sands of Dee." LIVELY SPORT IN POETIC SETTING We thirsted to explore this delicious land, to ascend its mountains, traverse its val leys, follow the wanderings of the Dee. But our little waitress interrupted us. "You've surely not come to Llangollen without planning to see the sheep dog trials, have you?" "Do sheep dogs have trials, too?" mur mured the wit of our party. "I thought they led quiet and contented lives." "Oh, these are not that kind of trial," answered the girl, mistrusting the pun. "These are contests that the dogs run against time to prove their cleverness in handling sheep. The best dogs get prizes. It's a national sport, international, really. People from all over the world come here to witness it. The hotel gives us the whole afternoon off. I've not missed a single trial in twelve years." WHEN DOGS HAVE THEIR DAY The next morning broke calm and cool -a hint of sunlight, a promise of clouds. We made our way over Llangollen Bridge, a sturdy, slightly humpbacked little struc ture with four or five arches, whose dark gray stones have withstood the onslaughts of some six hundred years (page 563). A sort of holiday expectancy permeated the air. In the open meadows beyond a wood people were converging from all di rections. A jolly lot they were, talking in their soft guttural language. Not a word of it could we understand. We had not realized that Welsh was so utterly foreign a tongue. Soon we reached the Vivod estate on which the trials were taking place. Off to the side was the manor house, gray stone with turrets and terraces. Vaguely distinguishable as they wandered back and forth were the guests of the owner, the ladies in wide-brimmed hats, the gentle men in formal attire. Among them moved attendants in uniform, covering small tables with white luncheon cloths. But neither the house nor its guests had more than a nebulous reality; for close at hand, stretched out in a huge semicircle, sat the great mass of onlookers, who, for this day at least, most truly owned the fields. We sat among them. The trials had long since begun. An enthusiastic little boy at my side told me in excellent English that the ninth dog was at that moment engaged in looking for the sheep. The program the child gave us was a four-page folder. At the top, in large, black capitals we read: "CAMBRIAN STAKES (OPEN TO THE WORLD)." Then there was a list of the prizes. WINNERS MEET IN GRAND FINAL The rest of the page was divided into two parts, and we learned that two trials were being held simultaneously, one here and one on the neighboring Tynycelyn estate (pages 564 and 565). We learned also that the Cambrian Stakes were run with one dog each, handling three sheep, but that there were also special stakes to be run with two dogs each and six sheep. Following these there were to be the final Cambrian Stakes, to be run by the four best dogs from both sides. We were pulled from our absorption in the program by a stentorian voice: "Dog number ten, Jix. Trainer, J. 1M. Wilson of Homlmshaw, Moffat." From somewhere in the crowd a small but broad-shouldered shepherd emerged holding in one hand a crook almost as long as himself and in the other a leash at the end of which trotted a small black collie.