In the coldest weather of the year, Lockerbie shepherd, Alistair Stewart and Kemi Ruby won the inter-district nursery final at Coylton, Ayrshire, last Saturday – one of only a few events to have escaped the weather.

But it was not without its drama for the winner, as Alistair had to dig a track through the snow to let him off the farm and, prior to that, there was major disruption to the planned final.

The trial was due to take place in Campbeltown until a TB breakdown in the area.

At short notice, Kenny Donald offered a venue at Bargennoch, the site of recent nurseries and due to host a fund raising open trial for this year’s National trial, this weekend (March 10).

There followed hasty preparation of facilities for handlers and spectators and sheep for the 45 dogs due to run.

The storm then blew over the plans, with the Government issuing a red weather warning and advising against travel. Although Coylton was free of snow, elsewhere roads were blocked and many shepherds and farmers were digging sheep out of wraiths and drifts.

This meant that some teams were unable to make the trial, but it went ahead, 10 dogs down. Four teams mustered a full five dogs, but another four were incomplete.

Commenting on his winning run, Alistair said: “Ruby is a brilliant work beast, but she’s very shy away from home. I knew we’d had a good run, but there were still two dogs to go.”

The course was set on rising ground which gave good viewing, and provided a long and testing drive.

The Blackface hoggs needed to be handled with care and were particularly tricky in the morning shift. They were more settled in the afternoon, but could still prove hard to manage at the pen.

The judge, Roddy MacDiarmid, commented on the high standard of the young dogs. “I was impressed by the running overall and I was surprised how well the nursery dogs ran out uphill. I’ve judged open trials that didn’t match the work I saw.”

Kemi Ruby (DK Evans’ Tanhill Glen and Vicky) ran out well, but was just a little short as she came upon her sheep. Despite that, she lifted cleanly and kept a good line on the fetch, although she did not dominate the hoggs quite as the judge might have hoped. The drive was pretty flawless and a clean pen followed.

Though the shed went well, if just a little hesitant and with just two runs to come, success hung in the balance briefly, but was soon established, with 91 points providing a comfortable lead.

Alistair added: “Ruby’s nervous of all the folk and the cars. She’s fine once she leaves my feet, but she’s only used to seeing me at home. I hope she’ll settle a bit, once we go out this summer.”

In the early afternoon, George Gardner’s Nan took the lead and held it until Ruby rose to show her colours, later collecting the runner-up prize.

Nan (M MacNally’s Killiebrae Moss, GC Gardner’s Meg) was short on her outrun and it took whistles from George to encourage her to get around her sheep, when she was then hesitant to lift. After that, though, Nan came into her own, with a good fetch and a very good drive, judged the best of the trial, for which she was awarded the John Paterson trophy.

Finishing her run with a clean pen and shed, she secured second place on 88 points.

Ian Fergie’s Craig followed Ruby to the post and got off to a tremendous start. Craig (M McTeir’s Bob, A Sim’s Flo) ran out and lifted flawlessly, fetched well and earned the Jimmy McNeil prize for the best outbye work.

The first leg of his drive was good, but on the cross drive, one hogg broke up the field, taking another with her. Approaching the gate, Craig managed to reunite them, but the pair split again and Ian knew there was no time to gather the four and put them through.

He opted for the lesser of two evils and decided to take two, rather than risk all four missing the gate. Once regrouped, the same hogg continued to act up at the pen, but Craig stopped her from breaking, to pen successfully. A clean shed finished the run in third on 87 points.

Those points matched the score of Peter Martin’s Daisy, but with exemplary outbye work, Craig had the edge over her because of that.

Daisy (D Naylor’s Straid Moss, P Martin’s Jill) ran out cleanly, but her lift was a little hesitant. On the course, an awkward hogg faced the dog and was not concerned to stay with the packet.

Daisy had her work cut out pushing them round the fetch and drive, but she managed to get her gates, although her lines were not perfect. She did not wilt in the close work and a clean pen and a good shed completed the run in fourth place.

Sandy McCulloch’s Sam distinguished himself by being the only dog of the forenoon to earn a place in the prize list.

Sam (A Lehtio’s Coel, BJ Bowen’s Pat) ran out to the top, but in windy weather, he was not responding to Sandy’s stop whistle and lifted rather roughly. The hoggs were swinging from line on the fetch and missed the gate, but once Sam came within range, communications improved.

He achieved a tremendous drive and worked hard and well to contain one difficult hogg at the pen, before securing the packet. A clean shed completed the morning’s top run, which eventually earned fifth place on 81 points.

John MacKillop’s Straid Ben (R Hutchinson’s Sweep, D Young’s Straid Goldie) got off to a promising start, with some good outbye work. The drive was up to scratch, although the lines wavered before the first gate and again on the cross drive.

With a good pen to follow, Ben looked set to threaten the lead, but time ran out before his shed was made and he finished in a creditable sixth place, on 79 points.

Chris Toner’s Tami matched Ben’s score, but gave way on the outbye score. Tami (BK Renwick’s Nip, C Toner’s Graham’s Sam) started out straighter than ideal, but cast out and ran to her sheep. Though she found them sticky to lift, her fetch was faultless and the drive started well.

Nearing the first drive gate, Chris gave her a flank, but Tami overshot the sheep and headed them out of the gate. The cross drive went smoothly enough and the pen was clean, but at the shed, Chris judged an early opportunity too risky, but when a safer option came along, the pair made the split, to earn 79 points and seventh place.

Scottish inter-district nursery final

Bargennoch, Coylton (Judge: R MacDiarmid, Cairndow).

Four teams of five dogs and four incomplete teams ran, with the Borders absent – 1, A Stewart’s Kemi Ruby, Lockerbie, 91/100; 2, GC Gardner’s Nan, Lesmahagow, 88; 3, I Fergie’s Craig, Straiton, 87; 4, P Martin’s Daisy, Glenlyon, 87; 5, A McCulloch’s Sam, Dalmellington, 81; 6, J MacKillop’s Straid Ben, Fort Augustus, 79 outbye; 7, C Toner’s Tami, Drimsynie, 79; 8, G Simpson’s Celt, Forgue, 78; 9, JW Common’s Cowlow Rosie, Lockerbie, 77; 10, G Simpson’s Lad, Forgue, 76.

Teams: 1, North 337; 2, South Ayr, 326; 3, North Ayr 264.

LEADING prizes:

John Ferguson Cup (champion) – A Stewart’s Kemi Ruby; RSABI quaich (runner-up) – GC Gardner’s Nan; inter-district trophy (breeder of champion) – DK Evans; Lyn Lewis Trophy (competitor never previously competed in a National) – D Mitchell’s Kate, Stranraer; J McNeil Memorial Trophy (best outbye) – I Fergie’s Craig; J Paterson Trophy (best drive) – GC Gardner’s Nan; Bill Fleming trophy (youngest competitor) – J McKenzie’s Meg, Turriff; Robert Wallace Shield – North team.