Exploring the Lake District’s sheepdog trials

Sheepdog trial at the Lake District Sheepdog Trials, Ings

The final stages of one of the trials at the Lake District Sheepdog Trials

One of the great things about the Lake District calendar is that there are still a number of traditional events each year which have been taking place for generations, particularly amongst the farming communities. As well as the bigger agricultural shows, you can also look out for smaller gatherings such as the local sheep dog trials.

Last week I decided to try out my photography skills by visiting the Lake District Sheep Dog Trials, which take place at Ings, between Windermere and Kendal.

The Lake District Sheep Dog Trials originally began in 1891 and, according to the association, trials had been going on even before that. Mr JR Bridson held sheep dog trials on Belle Isle as far back as 1877 (yes, that Belle Isle, the island in the middle of Windermere lake!), and those who were invited to the gathering all had to travel by ferry or boat!

Back to the present day though, and unfortunately I was only able to make it to the trials in the afternoon. That meant that I saw several of the sheepdog trials, which take place all day, and the hound trails which take place later in the afternoon. I did however miss the foxhound and terrior shows, and best looking sheepdog competitions. Later on there were also rounds of Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling.

The appeal of going to photograph this event for me was the speed of the subject you are photographing. You can learn all the photography theory you like, but you can only get better at photographing animals and anything else that runs or travels fast if you practise!

And although it’s to be expected that for every good photo you’ll have 10 or 20 that are blurred, poorly framed or out of focus, I really enjoyed the challenge. To give you an idea of what to expect at events such as this, here are a few scenes I caught while I was there:

A sheep dog with its owner, about to start a trial at the Lake District Sheepdog Trials, Ings

One of the sheep dogs about to start a trial with its owner

Scenery at the Lake District Sheepdog Trials, Ings

The dog runs up to the very top of the fields to bring the sheep down towards the shepherd

The Lake District Sheepdog Trials, IngsThe aim in the sheepdog trials is for the shepherd to drive the sheep around the course (through sets of ‘fetch’ and ‘drive’ gates and then into a fenced pen), with the time starting when the dog leaves the shepherd’s side. According to the association, the winner isn’t necessarily the fastest dog, as the dog will also be judged on style and accuracy. If you’ve seen One Man and His Dog, you’ve got the idea!

The Lake District Sheepdog Trials, IngsThe Lake District Sheepdog Trials, IngsThe Lake District Sheepdog Trials, IngsThe Lake District Sheepdog Trials, IngsThe hound trails were also a real photographic challenge. The races are organised to take place over several miles of the surrounding fields and fells, with the hounds trained to follow a trail made up of paraffin and oil of aniseed. This is left by two ‘trailers’, individuals who go to the halfway point and then walk in opposite directions to lay the trail back to the start and finish lines.

Hounds at the Lake District Sheepdog Trials

The hounds leaving the starting point

Hounds in the distance at the Lake District Sheepdog Trials

The hounds in the distance as they cover the trail over the fields and towards the fells

Cows in a field

Just keeping an eye on us from the field on the opposite side of the river!

Scenergy from the Lake District Sheepdog Trials, Ings

Time for a cup of tea and a few photos while we wait for them to come back!

Hounds approaching the finishing line at the Lake District Sheepdog Trials

Here they come! The hounds approaching the finishing line

Hound approaching the finishing line at the Lake District Sheepdog Trials

Running towards the finishing line…

Hound approaching the finishing line at the Lake District Sheepdog Trials

The gathering really is all about the trials and trails, but there was a small group of craft stalls and another stand with these lovely walking sticks, as well as a catering tent – and an ice cream van!

One of the craft stands at the Lake District Sheepdog Trials

One of the craft stands at the trials

Walking sticks on display at the Lake District Sheepdog Trials

Walking sticks for sale

If you’re interested in attending one of the local sheep dog trials for yourself, here are some other shows to be looking out for which incorporate sheepdog trials and/or hound trails:

Hawkshead Agricultural Show, Hawkshead, Tuesday 23 August 2016

Patterdale Dog Day, Ullswater, Saturday 27 August 2016

Ennerdale Show, Ennerdale, Wednesday 31 August 2016

Loweswater Show, Loweswater, Sunday 4 September 2016

Borrowdale Shepherds’ Meet, Borrowdale, Sunday 18 September 2016

The Vale of Rydal Sheepdog Trials, Rydal, Thursday 17 August 2017

  • Article updated 14 August 2016.

Have you been to any of the Lake District’s sheepdog trials or other traditional shows? If so I’d love to hear more – tell us about your experience by leaving a comment below. 

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One Response to Exploring the Lake District’s sheepdog trials

  1. Janine John 11/08/2016 at 4:15 pm #

    As well as the smaller traditional Lakeland shows and gatherings, there are also some great agricultural shows on the calendar including the Lowther Show (mid-August) and Westmorland County Show (early September).

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