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Hidden Gems from our Glens – The Golden Retriever of the Scottish Highlands

Date published: 18/1/2016

Because of their wonderful temperament, Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular dogs with the UK, Australia and the USA consistently recording Golden Retrievers in the top ten breeds registered annually as family pets. What most people don’t know is that the breed originates just a few miles up the glen from Eagle Brae, in the Scottish Highlands at a place called Guisachan, just by Glen Affric.

Guisachan and the Tweedmouths

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Guisachan estate near Glen Affric in the Scottish Highlands had been owned by the Frasers for several hundred years and was purchased by Lord Tweedmouth in the 1860s. He set about building a magnificent stately home Guisacahan House, complete with stables, dairies and most importantly for our story, kennels. Lord Tweedmouth was an influential aristocrat of his era, and a member of Gladstone’s government. He had many famous guests staying at Guisachan, most famously including Gladstone himself, the Duke and Duchess of York, who would later become George V and Queen Mary, The Maharaja of Baroda, and famous artists such as Millais, Wolff and Landseer.

Lord Tweedmouth loved country sports. He had a variety of dogs trained to help him on the field and moor. Amongst them were celebrated Pointers, Deer-hounds and Cairn terriers. As sporting fire-arms improved it became necessary for dogs to have the intelligence and skill to retrieve birds from longer distances and Lord Tweedmouth set himself the task of breeding the first ever Golden Retrievers. What started as a mission to create a breed for his own sporting needs turned into one of the world’s most famous and recognisable breed of dogs – the Golden Retriever.

 The first Golden Retrievers

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The very first Golden Retrievers were born in the Scottish Highlands in 1868 when Lord Tweedmouth crossed a Yellow Retriever acquired in Brighton with a Tweed Water-spaniel acquired from Berwick in the borders. There has long been a myth in Strathglass and beyond that the Golden Retriever breed originated when Lord Tweedmouth purchased some Russian circus dogs but this has now generally been disproved by the appearance of Lord Tweedmouth’s original stud-book, which was brought to light by Lord Tweedmouth’s great-nephew the Earl of Ilchester in 1952.

The first mating produced four Golden Retrievers, three bitches called Cowslip, Ada and Primrose and one dog called Crocus. Lord Tweedmouth kept two of the bitches Cowslip and Primrose and then selectively line-bred up until 1890 introducing another Tweed Water-spaniel, outcrosses of two Black Retrievers, an Irish Setter and a Sandy-coloured Bloodhound along the way!

Golden Retrievers in the Glen today

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Today Golden Retrievers are more commonly kept as family pets and there are many locals who continue to keep them in the glen today. In 2006 and 2013 there were large Golden Retriever breeder club events with hundreds of Golden Retrievers all congregating at Guisachan. In the local village of Tomich in the Scottish Highlands, they are very proud of their association with such a world-famous breed and a magnificent bronze statue of one of the original Golden Retrievers was erected in the centre of the village in 2014. Unfortunately today, Guisachan house is a ruin, but it’s still a fascinating place to visit packed with history, and only just a couple of miles up the glen from Eagle Brae.