Dogging on the moors

First, an apology for the salacious-sounding headline. It’s not what you might think. Among hill farmers, the act of dogging refers to one farmer setting his dogs on another’s sheep to drive them away to another part of the moor.

In the toughest of times, before the regulation of grazing, it used to happen a lot when farmers accused each other of using pasture to which they were not entitled or grazing more sheep than they were entitled to, and thereby over-grazing the common moor. In the case of upper Swaledale such disputes were never worse than in the mid-to-late-1800s, when neighbouring farmers of Harkerside in particular were famously engaged in long-running, bitter feuds over their ancient rights of grazing.

Families sided with and against each other in a series of disputes that sometimes led to moorland stands-off between gangs of men. Some of the events resulted in a series of court cases concerning accusations of assault, damage, and even perjury, which were recorded in the local press under the general heading of The Swaledale Farmers’ Dispute.

The best of the stories about dogging on Harkerside Moor seems to have survived only in the oral tradition of the dale, and was told to me by my new farming friend, Raymond. His father told him that he had been told that one night a Harkerside farmer went on the moor with his dogs, and drove his neighbour’s sheep to a lead-mine shaft, where they were dogged over the edge and all fell to their deaths. The next day the farmer was surprised to hear of no complaint from his neighbour. It transpired that in the gloom of the night the angry farmer had mistakenly dogged his own sheep into the pit.

More on these events will appear in a book about Harkerside farmers currently being researched. In the meantime, anyone interested in knowing more about rights of common pasture on the moors might be interested in an article here:


About Will Swales

Amateur historian with a special interest in Swaledale, Yorkshire.
This entry was posted in Swaledale history and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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