RETIRED shepherd John Atkinson, who runs Whiterose Sheep Dogs in Escrick, York, claimed top price of 6,900gns (£7,245) at Skipton Auction Mart’s ‘live’ summer sale of working sheep dogs with his December, 2018, red and white bitch, Marchup Stella on Friday.

Bred locally out of well-known Silsden handler Andrew Throup’s Marchup Bess and by Hilston Spot, from Graham Blyth, of Hilston Sheep Dogs on the east coast near Withernsea; Stella, who has herself produced a litter of pups, had already been placed in nursery trials and appears primed for the Open circuit.

Until retirement last year aged 74, Mr Atkinson worked as a shepherd on the Escrick Park Estate, owned by renowned conservationist and sporting gun Charlie Forbes-Adams.

He is an accomplished dog trainer and trialist, responsible for two Scottish National champions and an International champion, and himself picking up multiple high profile successes on the trials field, most notably with Whiterose Queen, with whom he won over 20 trials, including a Double Gather Championship. He has also sold dogs extensively across Europe, Japan and America.

Mr Atkinson, who sold his first dog at Skipton a decade earlier, was claiming his highest-ever sale price at the venue with Stella, who was only offered for sale as he has plenty of nursery dogs coming through.

The stylish bitch attracted keen interest from both live and online bidders, remaining in North Yorkshire when successfully claimed on the field by T&G Farrow, of Richmond, who made it a brace of buys on the day when earlier going to 3,000gns to claim Swift, a rising two-year-old black and white dog from Irish vendor Declan Neary, of Castlebar in Co. Mayo.

The Farrows were returning to seek replacements for two good dogs previously bought out of Skipton ten years earlier which had more than proved their worth at home, before unfortunately passing away within months of one another.

Stella’s sale-topping performance further cemented the growing popularity over recent years of Border Collies with the red gene, which are now being increasingly bred and perhaps even convincing black and white traditionalists that a red dog can do the job just as well.

Again supported by a real-time online bidding facility, the summer fixture especially catered for prospective purchasers who prefer to see fully broken dogs perform live on the trials field, with an increased feel-good factor clearly in evidence among a decent crowd, reflected in top end selling prices.

Second top call of 6,000gns (£6,300) fell to a first-time vendor from Cheshire, Macclesfield’s Andrew Heathcoate, with his October, 2019, black and white bitch, Beaut, who is out of Lyn, bred by his half brother Steven Massey. The sire is Moor Lodge Ben, bred locally in Oakworth, above Keighley, by Carol Mellin.

Both she and her dog are familiar faces on the Skipton trials field, continuing to marshal the sheep at ‘live’ sales, while Ben is also an accomplished trials-winning dog, recently running in the English National and earning a place for himself and his handler in next year’s World Sheep Dog Trials in Ireland.

Mr Heathcoate, a sheep farmer who runs a 200-strong North of England Mule and Texel flock, has been training sheep dogs for eight years and has just started trialling himself, making an immediate impact with Beaut’s brother, Roy, who has qualified for this year’s English Nursery final.

His genuine all-rounder became the handler’s highest ever dog sale price when finding a new home on Scotland’s Isle of Arran with hill farmer Iain Logan, who runs a flock of 650 Scottish Blackface sheep, along with a small mixed native cattle herd. Beaut will be used primarily as a work dog, possibly also running in local trials.

Ringing up the next best price of 5,400gns (£5,670) was Jen, an 11-month-old tri-coloured bitch from retired sheep and cattle farmer Robin Bell, again heading down from Hawick in the Scottish Borders. She is by Peg – two of her daughters also sold in July last year at Skipton for 4,500gns and 3,300gns – now enjoying retirement with a friend of Mr Bell, though continuing to work on a small sheep flock.

Jen’s sire is Doug, who ran in the 2021 International in the hands of fellow Scottish handler, Selkirk’s Mark Airey. Mr Bell, who turns 72 later this year, has been breeding dogs for over four decades and retains a small flock of Scottish Blackies on which to train his charges, as well as still undertaking lambing and gathering for other people. His latest Skipton dog returned to the Scottish Borders with a regular buyer.

The last broken dog to take the trials field put in an eye-catching run, earning a 4,200gns (£4,410) sale tag for his Welsh handler, Arran Games, from Talgarth in southern Powys. Ace, a January, 2021, dog by brother, Ross Games’ Jock, is out of Nell, from fellow South Wales breeder Neil Redman and herself a daughter of Ross’s twice International Champion, Roy.

Arran, who keeps Welsh Mountain sheep and beef cattle and is himself a talented triallist, saw Ace head back to South Wales and Gwent with fellow beef and sheep farmer, Phillipstown’s Robert Davies, who runs a flock of 1,200 Glamorgan ewes and 70 suckler cattle and travelled north purposely to purchase the dog on behalf of his ten-year-old son, Jack, a pupil at Upper Rhymney Primary School, who is just starting out as a budding trialist and no doubt hopes to become something of an ace with Ace!

Three other fully broken dogs sold over 3,000gns. The best of them at 3,600gns was Patch, an October, 2019, black and white dog from James Gilman, the second vendor from Macclesfield, who has previously sold dogs at Skipton. Patch heads down to East Grinstead in West Sussex with Emily Killick.

A brace of dogs made 3,400gns, the first from County Durham regular Jean Howes with her rising one-year-old black and white bitch, Mist, by Bacup-based trialling legend Jim Cropper’s Jaxx, bought out of Skipton two years earlier, by Eric Jacques’ Pen-y-Borough Beth, bred locally in North Craven by Shaun Richards. Mist sold to an online bidder from the Isle of Man, Heather Moore.

Making the same price was Glen, a March, 2019, black and white dog from well-known Red Rose sheep dog aficionado and triallist John Palmer, of Twiston, Clitheroe. This, too, had Jim Cropper breeding, being by his twice International Brace Champion, Dan, out of Littledale-based Ricky Hutchinson’s Denwyn Moya, one of the UK’s leading trialling bitches. Glen returned to the Ribble Valley with Chipping’s Richard Alpe.

In the unbroken pen, Irish regular Pat Byrne, of Knockcroghery in County Roscommon, arrived with another nice selection of youngsters, topping this part of the sale at 800gns with Kim, a six-month-old black and white bitch which fell to a South Yorkshire buyer

The Riverdale Gundogs-sponsored fixture attracted a total entry of 42 dogs, which achieved another sold clearance rate, with 34 successfully finding new homes, eight selling at 3,000gns and upwards, a trio at 2,000-3,000gns, a brace at 1,000-2,000gns, with 21 selling up to 1,000gns, these predominantly in the unbroken pen. It once again demonstrated Skipton’s ability to attract an across-the-board selection of readily affordable dogs for all tastes and pockets – both solid fully broken entries for work and trial, and promising youngsters to further improve and run in nursery trials.

Top prices and averages: Broken - registered dogs from 850gns to 4200gns (av £2667), registered bitches from 550gns to 6900gns (av £4177); unregistered dogs from 200gns to 3600gns (av £1995), unregistered bitch to 2000gns. Part-broken - registered dogs from 100gns to 420gns (av £259), registered bitches from 300gns to 800gns (av £594). Pups – registered dogs from 220gns to 380gns (av £315), unregistered dogs to 50gns.

The next sheep dog sale at Skipton on Thursday, September 1, returns to the online format – entries close on August 19 - with the next ‘live’ field sale scheduled for Friday, October 14.