Now there’s very little that surprises me these days as the Bonchester Bridge Sheep Shearing Contest.
At 55 years old and having had the benefit of travelling and working all around the world, making many of those countries my home for years at a time. It comes as quite a shock to myself that something so simple, even ancient, can conjour up so much passion and be so integrated into the psyche of a small rural community that even I was caught up in the magic of the day…. and night!
I’m not talking about hunting, fishing, forestry or any of the other plethora of activities, pastimes and professions the area has in abundance.
I’m talking about the annual Bonchester Bridge Speed Shear Competition.
I know obscure as the title may seem to most city dwellers, it is on reflection obvious given the fact that no journey on Scottish Borders roads are not rewarded with vistas full of sheep in fields, that we are actually talking about here is sheep shearing…… and at speed!
The competition used to be held a few years back in the local, the Horse and Hounds but its popularity quickly outgrew the venue to be replaced instead by the William Laidlaw Memorial Hall in the village.
A beautiful building which apart from the pub serves as a hub for village activities, albeit activities somewhat sedentary to that of the speed shear!
Keen to introduce our campers, many of whom are from Germany, the Netherlands and other European countries to the cultural character unique to the Scottish Borders otherwise overlooked by the sometimes gaudy tourist traps of the cities.
I embarked on some marketing strategies to promote the event to them. This consisted of for the most part word of mouth.
I speak German so convincing them that this was an opportunity to see something not only fascinatingly entertaining, it would also include an opportunity to meet real Scots in a truly rural and unique setting.
The fact there was an after-event disco and food which included locally farmed venison in the form of burgers and sausages helped seal the deal and along with our English and Scottish campers we all made our way to the village hall not entirely sure what to expect.
For those less acquainted with the art and skill needed to deprive a sheep of its wooly mass especially at speed, it does on first sight seem brutal to the uninitiated, with the animals being manhandled in such a way that that are swiftly despatched from standing on all fours to an unflattering feet up position (I know sheep don’t have feet but I don’t know whether they have hooves or otherwise either, such is my countryside ignorance!).
Once the animal is settled the time starts and with the precision of a surgeon the shearer proceeds to remove the fleece faster than a seasoned camper can reverse into a pitch. Believe me blink and you have missed it!
The shearers efforts are timed and points awarded or deducted for how clean the cut and other factors.
The debate amongst the judges being at times clearly contested in opinon but there’s no VAR and in the end generations and hundreds of years of experience rules here and the shearer is listed in pecking order on the score sheet according to the judges observations.
It should be noted that some of the shearers come from abroad and indeed some it might surprise you are women.
Although why it might surprise some is unfounded because there is a long tradition of females being active in farming amongst the agricultural communities of the Scottish Borders.
The atmosphere in the packed hall is electric with much enthusiastic whooping and cheering for all the contestants during their endeavors. The beer flows and the food devoured all the while the competition is underway and continues long after the award ceremonies are completed and the disco/dance afterward fades into the nights darkness.
A huge thank you all at the Bonchester Bridge Sheep Shearing Contest, from the farming community for inviting us in and giving us a little glimpse into todays take on a centuries old practice.
We look forward to 2023s Speed Shear event…. and the after party!