A new world record price for a working sheep dog bitch of 14,000gns, was paid at the opening fixture of 2019 at Skipton Auction Mart, when Northumberland shepherdess and media star, Emma Gray, sold her two-year-old, tri-coloured, Brenna.

Emma, who farms on the National Trust-owned Fallowlees Farm at Harwood Forest, Morpeth, only narrowly failed to match the all-time world record of 14,100gns paid for a male dog at Skipton in May, 2016, by Northern Ireland’s Padraig Doherty, of Ardagh Sheepdogs in County Donegal.

Emma and Brenna also smashed the centre's previous top price for a bitch of 9500gns, established in 2017 by top Irish triallist Michael Gallagher, of Armoy.

Already a multiple nursery trials winner with open points to her credit, Brenna is a daughter of Welsh trialist Aled Owen’s Welsh National and International supreme champion, Llangwm Cap, out of Aeron Flos, bred by Mr Owen’s nephew Arwel Jones in nearby Llangwm. Fron opening bid of 3000gns and huge pre-sale interest from both home and overseas, Brenna sold over the 'phone to American sheep farmer, Dr Pamela Helton, from Maryland.

Dr Helton, who owns 60 head of Swedish Gotland sheep also runs dogs in United States Border Collie Handlers Association (USBCHA) trials in the eastern and mid-western US.

“I already have many plans for Brenna. She is slated to be my farm and primary trial dog and I am strongly considering importing her in whelp (pregnant) to the US. A potential sire is under consideration,” said Dr Helton, who is artistic director and president of the Third Millennium Ensemble in Frederick, Maryland, which offers cutting-edge performances of chamber music and is also an advocate for up-and-coming composers.

Brenna however will not be travelling immediately to the States as she was also competing at the English Nursery Final at Hutton in the Forest in Cumbria, where she put in a good run two days after the sale. Emma meanwhile became English Nursery champion with another of her dogs, Telf Joff.

"I am over the moon, absolutely delighted," commented Emma, who has a 400-strong flock of North of England Mule sheep and also runs a commercial suckler cattle herd comprising Whitebred Shorthorn Blue-Greys and Galloways.

No stranger to the sheep dog trialling, Emma began working with dogs at the age of 13 and later became the first woman to win the Northumberland Sheepdog Trials League in the contest’s four-decade history.

She was also English Nursery champion and reserve National champion with another dog, Tweeddale Jamie, with whom Emma also represented the English team that won gold in the International Sheep Dog Society’s (ISDS) 2017 World Sheep Dog Trials in the Netherlands.

Emma first took over the 150-acre Fallowlees Farm aged just 23, becoming the UK’s youngest solo shepherdess in the process. Furthermore, she hit the headlines in 2012 when she penned a memoir of her solitary life on a farm in the middle of nowhere with no neighbours for miles around, called ‘One Girl and Her Dog,’ in which she chronicled how difficult it was to find a husband.

Dubbed Britain’s loneliest shepherdess, the story had a happy ending when Emma, who hails from Hawick in the Scottish Borders, found true love and last September in Kelso tied the knot with local fireman Ewan Irvine. It was a story that grabbed the nation’s heartstrings. As well as making the national press, Emma has since featured on national television in the BBC’s Countryfile, ITV’s Flockstars, Robson Green’s Tales from Northumberland series and the Alan Titchmarsh Show.

Scottish producer, Ian Sutherland all the way from Strathnaver in Sutherland, also had a good day with sales at 3900gns and 3000gns. Dearest was the two-year-old black dog, Jaybeez Ben, another promising son of Ricky Hutchinson’s Sweep that had been placed in several nurseries. He sold to Kevin Leatherhead, from East Haddon in Northamptonshire, while Mr Sutherland's 3000gns sale came for the 31/2-year-old black and white dog, Jimmy, which returned north of the border with R Brown, Crieff.

County Antrim’s Michael McAlister, of Glenariffe, was another in the money with sales at 3800gns and 2600gns for dogs, The former, Sam, a rising two-year-old black and white found a new home near the North Yorkshire coast with NC Cutter, of Great Ayton.

Later, Royal, a black and white yearling, made 2600gns selling to R Campbell on the Isle of Harris.

County Durham’s Jean Howes, of Redgate Lodge, Wolsingham, in Weardale, came next in the bidding stakes with a 3700gns sale for her tri-coloured, mottled bitch, Pandy Dotti, a July, 2017, daughter of Netherlands-based former World Sheep Dog Trials champion Serge van der Sweep’s Gary, a dog which stood third for the same handler in the 2017 World Trials. Out of MJ McNaught’s Ben and already placed in nurseries, Dotti joined Hexham’s David Robinson.

Local breeder Carol Mellin, of Moor Lodge Farm, Oakworth, claimed 3600gns with her three-year-old black and white dog, Moor Lodge Scott, a litter brother to Moor Lodge Ben, which acts as Carol’s 'take-off dog' on the Skipton trials field. The home-bred son of Moor Lodge Mirk, which has been placed in nurseries, was purchased by SG and LM Whalley, of Chorley.

A solid trade throughout saw an early field-run dog sell at 3500gns. This was the tri-coloured Wisp, a three-year-old nursery trial winner from up and coming Northern Ireland teenager Shannon Conn, who in May claimed top price here of 6800gns with a two-year-old bitch trialled by her father Loughlin, a Limavady sheep and cattle farmer.

Shannon, a former Irish junior trials champion and International junior final qualifier, who as a 13-year-old in 2015 competed in the televised ‘One Man and His Dog’, again left her dog, who is by the home-bred Bill and already a nursery trials winner, in Dad’s capable hands. He was claimed by O Brayne, from Derbyshire’s Hope Valley.

Back on the trials field, Derbyshire’s Ian Hulme, of Buxton, saw his well-schooled July, 2016-born black and white bitch, Tess, fully home-bred by GRN Saxon’s Cammen Rip, out of his Jill, command 3200gns when falling to regular buyer Kevin Evans.

Derek Scrimgeour, who runs Killiebrae Sheepdogs at Raise Lodge, Wigton, on the edge of the Lake District, made 3100gns with his June, 2016-born black and white dog, Fellside Roy, a solid trials prospect which has already bred two promising litters. Roy was claimed by the Lightfoot family in Penrith,

Also making 3100gns was the June, 2017-born black and white dog, Spot, from Irish vendor, Colm Doherty, of Tirbracken Sheep Dogs in Londonderry. A son of twice Irish National champion, James McLaughlin’s Dan, out of MF Doherty’s Tess, which is herself by International Champion, Silver, Spot, already a nursery trials winner, sold to K Donald, from Dalrymple in Ayrshire.

The opening winter sale attracted 137 dogs, of which 87 found new homes. By the end of the day, 30 registered broken dogs sold from 400gns to 3800gns to average £2090; 22 registered broken bitches sold from 450gns to 14,000gns to average £3223; three unregistered bitches sold from 1000gns to 1250gns to average £1117; 15 part/unbroken dogs sold from 250gns to 600gns to average £361 and 14 registered bitches sold from 200gns to 1100gns to level at £665.