In the week before Christmas the farming world of the Scottish Borders and beyond lost one of its finest stocksman and sportsman with the death of Robin Dun of Gilston.
Robin’s farming career started abruptly in 1943 on the sudden death at a relatively young age of his father, George, whereby Robin had to leave school aged 16 to help on the farm. While he attended agricultural college in Edinburgh he was called up to serve his country in the army.
Gilston is a high extensive marginal farm lying just west of Soutra Hill, south of Edinburgh. The severe winters at more than 1,000 feet produce a challenge for any hardened farmer. Robin got on with the job and developed Gilston to his own mould. He was joined by his younger brother Tommy and they established the very successful partnership of R & T Dun to take the business forward to meet the challenges of modern agriculture.
The sheep flock was developed with the input of North Country Cheviots sourced from Lairg and privately from Clackmae – from his future father-in-law Will Hogg. Having started as a commercial flock, the foundations were laid to proceed to the establishment of a greatly respected pedigree flock which the family continue to take forward. The overall sheep championship at The Highland Show in 1994 was won by the home bred Hector the Protector.
Robin Dun was born at Gilston in 1927. His father George and mother Ella (nee McConachie, a Selkirk vet’s daughter) were continuing the line of Duns to farm Gilston. School started at Bowland overseen by his auntie, May Elliot, then to George Watsons in Edinburgh before attending Dollar Academy.
The family had always been involved with horses and so Robin, having hunted with the local Lauderdale, found his next challenge – the Farmers’ Race at the point-to-point at Mosshouses. Weight had to be carried and in those days jockeys rode in hunting coats and the necessary lead was in the pockets! When Nancy, his horse, fell at the tenth fence – a wall, Robin could not raise himself from the ground, such was the drag of the lead. In those days head protection was minimal in the form of a cork bowl – that came off too!
His appetite was whetted and his racing bug was established, which led to his successful point to point and amateur jockey career. The first highlight was him partnering his sister-in-law Jackie Dun’s Spud Tamson to win the 1957 4 mile National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham – in a snowstorm. This was followed up the next year when he won a three-mile Handicap Chase at Kelso when partnering Arnicus, who was owned and trained by Sheila Hogg of Clackmae. He got the ride because, as an amateur, he claimed 7lbs, and did not have to be paid! This kindled more than just the horse partnership and, with a little encouragement from the Daily Mail gossip columnist, Robin and Sheila were married the following year and settled into family life at Gilston. At the time Robin acquired a point to point mare from his godfather, Jimmy Hogarth. Badgers Beech went on to breed a family of horses, the highlight of which was Bright Beech, who won the Gold Cup Hunterchase at Ayr and the Cheltenham Foxhunters in 1968 partnered by Charlie Macmillan. To have bred, owned, trained and ridden winners at Cheltenham is no mean achievement for a true amateur.
Then Robin and Sheila bought a point to pointer from Rob Moore in Donegal. Carndonagh gave Robin’s two boys, Michael and Gordon, a great start in racing and the highlight of this was winning the BMW Final Point to Point Hunterchase at Chepstow in 1979, with son Michael riding.
Robin was a much respected member of the farming community and his advice sought far beyond his native Scottish Borders. He was a highly esteemed judge of sheep and adjudicated at all the large shows in Britain and Ireland. He also managed Nether Horsburgh and Howpasley for his late uncle, George Hedley.
Robin’s younger brother Tommy died very suddenly in 1999 and then his older son Michael also died very suddenly in 2015,
Robin is survived by Sheila, son Gordon and grandchildren Graeme, Charlotte, Megan and Angus.