It started back in Lonscale, the Keswick farm where people used to flock to the family’s weekly sheepdog handling demonstrations.
“Schools came, along with all sorts of groups and tourists. Lads who were the class rogues were excited, captivated by what they saw, and brilliant,” he explained.
That’s what I want to do here. To educate and show that exceptional bond between shepherd and dog and how working together as a team is great.
“It would bring what we do to a larger audience. We will showcase local and traditional varieties of sheep, along with Rachel’s different breeds of working dogs. We also want a history section, sharing what makes Lakeland sheep farming, its traditions and sheepdogs special.
“We don’t want the usual visitor attraction with all the signs, tearoom and typical tourist trappings. I don’t want folk to turn up and leave without getting anything from the experience.
“This is where people from all over the world will come to be taught sheepdog handling and where we will continue our work breeding and training dogs.”
“The advantage of being here is that while there’s plenty to do in the central and northern Lakes, it’s a lot quieter up here. My wife, Helen, is an artist. We will display her work in the new 30ft by 6ft glass-fronted building, designed so people can see demonstrations in all weathers.”
Derek and Rachel proudly point out where the action will take place. Father and daughter are united in their passion for sheep farming and their dogs. Rachel took over the 69-acre farm tenancy three years-ago, aged 22, and has builtup an impressive flock of 300 Swaledales, in addition to pedigree Bluefaced Leicesters, Dutch Texels and Belgian Blues.
Rachel is following in her dad’s footsteps. She appeared on ITV’s Natures Newborns, has been interviewed by a Russian film crew, and shares every bit of the passion.
Derek says he has not taught her, that sheep and dogs, breeding, handling and training are inherent. After A-levels and early ambitions to be a vet, getting her own farm at such a young age was a golden opportunity, a challenge she relishes.
Her first words were key handling instruction ‘that’ll do’. Really, there was never any other career option.
Originally from Killiecrankie, in central Perthshire, the Scrimgeours were standard bearers in Scotland, with their own tartan and motto ‘Dissipate’, which Derek, does not particularly like.
“It relates to the enemy. I’m a pacifist, though I’ve had my moments,” he explains in the gentle, decisive voice that has schooled many hundreds of collies, beardies and New Zealand huntaways.
It is said that one good dog takes the place of 10 men and over vast areas of land and fellside, where there are few fences or walls to contain sheep, their work is invaluable.
Derek explains procedures in his popular book Talking Sheepdogs, now in its third edition. The DVDs about his work have been translated into German and French, including key training phrases ‘come by, away, now, and lie down’.
Ironic that Derek’s first foray into handling came, aged 12, after being bitten on the backside by a chained farm dog. His mother bought him his own collie, which he trained, and by 17 he was competing in trails.
He made the English squad 14 times and took part in world trials. He now sees dogs he bred competing and winning.
“There are lots of students coming through, six are competing at top levels of trialling and that’s very rewarding.”
Once asked if he loved his dogs, his answer an emphatic ‘no’.
“I’m passionate about them and have complete respect, but not love. They have to be treated properly, but loving them is not the best way to go. They need guidance, and most of all, limits. Just like children.
Some are just not wired-up for work – and they make good pets. The better ones are more feral, with a killer instinct, closer to wolves. The least friendly make the best sheepdogs.
“I’ve developed the Killibrae line over the last 30 years. The name comes from our farm in Killiecrankie, it was on a brae, or hill, where the famous battle was fought. Many have been sold overseas.”
While Derek saves love for his wife and children, he allowed himself an all-time favourite collie, Laddie. He died aged 14 and three days after he had mated his last bitch, producing the final litter of seven fine pups.
“He’d always been a tremendous breeder. I won the national, Irish and Finnish championships with him. He disappeared once. Police and neighbours knew he was missing. I was out searching on Skiddaw when two women came up and asked if I was looking for a sheepdog.
“Apparently he’d spent the night at a really posh, upmarket hotel, where the Queen had visited. Having swum in the pool, he visited reception and fell asleep on a chair. That apart, he was a real gent and for two years running was the most used stud in England for working sheepdogs.”
Derek looks out over the Solway seascape and in the dulcet tones which define him, explains he is excited.
“People we have met over the years have been amazing. We’ve been all over the world, Japan, France, America, Ireland, but the best times lie ahead and the prospect of Sheepdog World now happening is thrilling.”
“It’s been a struggle and there have been times when I’ve felt like giving up, but we’re on track with the goal in sight.Hopefully Sheepdog World and World Heritage will combine to give visitors truly great experiences.”
Article by Karen Barden