Trevor Pells, of Norwich, is the provisional winner of this year’s North Road Championship Club Unikon-sponsored race from Lerwick which carries with it the prestigious King George V Challenge Cup. In a race dominated by the eastern sections, his winner is a yearling and this is believed to be the first yearling to win the race.
Race secretary Ian Bellamy gave this report on the race:” A sucessful day for the NRCC from Lerwick this year with all sections timing in on the day.
“The winning pigeon from the loft of Trevor Pells was a yearling and, as far as I am aware, it is the first time that a yearling has won the Kings Cup.
“Pigeons kept going right up to the close on the first day at 22.00, and the fanciers I have spoken to remarked what good condition the birds were in.
“Congratulations I feel need to go to the NRCC weather advisors in Messrs Britton and Garnham and, of course, to our convoyers Darren Shepherd and Merv Greatrix.”
126 members sent 620 birds
Provisional section winners are:
Section A - Nuttall & Son. Section B - W A Pell.
Section C - Mr & Mrs P & T Rodgers.
Section E - G V & W Britton.
Section F - T Pells.
Section H - J Lamprell.
Section I - P R Easter.
Eyebrows were raised in some quarters when it was realised that the King George V Challenge Cup, which comes with victory in the North Road Championship Club’s Unikon-sponsored race from Lerwick, was won by a yearling.
But it was no rash move when Norwich ace, Trevor Pells, decided to set this bird a 525-mile challenge. It was a calculated, well thought out move by a man who keeps only a small team and knows every one very well. The Keeper, for that is now his name, was spotted as being a little bit different to the remainder of the boisterous 20-strong widowhood cocks team with which he started the season.
While they were showing off and drawing attention to themselves on the loft top, he was the quiet one, keeping himself to himself. He was no pushover, however, and would always hold his own in the loft.
But the thing that started Trevor thinking seriously that Lerwick could be the destination for The Keeper was the manner in which the pigeon reacted to a hawk attack.
He came home late from an early season race obviously having struggled clear of the claws of one of the notorious aerial killers, flights and half his tail missing. Next morning, however, when it was time to let the cocks out for exercise, he was the first one out of the loft, no cowering with fear as one might have expected, but more a display of defiance after dicing with death.
The Keeper went on to recover well from the attack, and didn’t falter when brought back into the race team.
“I have never sent a yearling to Lerwick before, but he stood out as being different,” said Trevor. “He is a chequer pied cock, and not a terrific looker.”
How did the name come to be chosen? Well, Trevor’s policy is to retain in his race team only pigeons that have finished in the first six of his Drayton and District club. A friend rang to congratulate him on the outstanding performance and, with a touch of humour, commented “that will be a keeper then.” Now 66, and one year into retirement, Trevor has kept pigeons since the age of eight, and raced them since he was 25 years of age, early in his marriage.
In fact, the first race he ever won was from Lerwick, and his latest success is his seventh win from the Shetland Isles. Easy to guess which one set the pulses racing most of all.
The NRCC man with the meteorological knowledge, chairman and race controller, Brian Garnham, reflects on the fact that the wind over the sea on Lerwick day was, for some distance, from the north while, inland from about Arbroath, it had turned to south-west.
His theory is that the winner took the direct route out to sea. Trevor goes along with that theory and hence the clear win by a pigeon that was obviously well prepared to make the most of any advantage it engineered for itself. It had the speed and energy of youth on its side.
The Keeper bloodlines include that of Dale Collin and is the grandson of bird from Keith Warnes, this year’s Section F winner from Fraserburgh, whose pigeons Trevor describes as always being hard-working, and he is already mapping out the winner’s preparation for Lerwick next year.
In some circles Trevor is known as “Mr NRCC” because it is in these races that his name often comes to the fore. He usually starts the season with only 20 widowhood cocks and, at the time of speaking, had not been out of the first six in his club all season, having won from Driffield, Perth, Fraserburgh and Lerwick. He was 2nd Section NRCC Fraserburgh.
Having enjoyed a year of retirement, Trevor is now 66 years old and has kept pigeons since he was 10. He says that he does not keep a lot of pigeons and is quite ruthless in his selection, but small numbers mean that he can study each bird. He is toying with the idea of racing some hens on roundabout next season and was, in fact, planning to send two hens in his team to Thurso this year.
He feeds on Teurlings widowhood mix, obtained from David Hicks, and adds fats through selected seeds.
“You don’t get anything better than winning from Lerwick,” were his final words.
Second Open Another Norwich fancier was second open, and that man, 83-year-old Gordon Smith is another with a fascinating story to tell. And a fantastic pigeon to talk about. His runner-up in this King’s Cup race came to his loft as a stray, and if ever there was a case to argue that not all strays are bad pigeons then this is it.
What a pigeon! It has now had three races from Lerwick and has certainly shown that it knows its way home from the Shetland Isles. In its first race it was 44th open NRCC and 3rd club; in the second race it was 16th open and 1st club; now, in 2017, it is 2nd open and again winner of the strong Costessy club. A special award should now be the NRCC’s coveted Diploma of Merit for three outstanding performances in successive years.
This special pigeon, believed to contain Van Hee bloodlines, carries the name of Thomas. Why? Well, it has been named after Chris Leek’s son, Thomas, because it is from the Leek’s loft that it went AWOL, showing that it preferred to set up home with Gordon despite, on a couple of occasions, being given the chance to return to the loft of its birth.
Gordon confesses that this fabulous result is his only one of note this season, a marked contrast to the previous year when he could do little wrong and could list winning the old bird club averages among his achievements.
“I am still learning about pigeons,” he said, which may seem a strange statement coming from an 83-year-old but the fact is that he is young in pigeon fancying years. While he had a taste of the sport for a four-year spell back in the 1980s, he gave up the pigeons to concentrate on family life. The pigeon “bug”, however, never left him and, five years ago, he returned to the sport, first of all racing from the south before tasting competition from the north. He re-started with the help of late-breds from Keith Warnes, who has been a constant source of help and encouragement. “Keith has been a tremendous help to me in many different ways,” said Gordon. “Everybody knows Keith.”
Keith’s reward is the gift of a young bird from Thomas who, although previously raced on widowhood, was sent to Lerwick feeding a small youngster.
Gordon sent six birds to Lerwick and had four home. “I enjoy all the Scottish races but, to me, Lerwick is the Grand National of pigeon racing,” he said.
“The birds were in excellent condition when they came back from Lerwick. Thomas was so well that I was tempted to send him to Thurso.”
I think, when we were talking, Gordon was resisting that temptation.
Lerwick is a flight of 527 miles for Gordon’s birds, and Thomas recorded a velocity of 1345ypm.
He has been retired for 22 years, taking early voluntary retirement at the age of 61 after working as an engineer for Rowntrees, who were taken over by Nestle.
He says that keeping pigeons helps keep him active. While his sons have become bald over the years, he still has a full head of hair, something which amuses his grandchildren.
One of the major talking points about the 2017 Lerwick race is the performance of the third-placed bird which, surely, must have secured its place in NRCC folklore. Timed into the loft of Peter Easter in Maldon, Essex, at 6-34pm, this pigeon covered 586 miles at a velocity of 1341ypm to place it on par with the top performances in the NRCC’s 101 years of competing from the Shetland Isles.
The name of PR Easter is no stranger to NRCC results in the long races, and prominent positions in Section I but, unfortunately, I cannot give you more details of the pigeon and its history and preparation for the big race, because I have been unable to contact Mr Easter.
Everyone, however, will say a sincere well-done for an outstanding performance.
Sometimes fanciers in Section A can be excused for thinking that the default setting for the wind on NRCC race days is from the west, or variations thereof, although they have defied the odds on occasions when this has been the case – such as when Bill Bearder and Sons won this year’s Fraserburgh race.
From Lerwick, however, they could not overcome the handicap to challenge for top open positions but, as usual, there were plenty of good performances in the section. Best of all was by the father and son partnership of Derrick and Ryan Nuttall, the type of fanciers who form the very backbone of the organisation.
It was probably the hardest section to win on the day, and they are rightly proud of doing just that.
Their section winner is a three-year-old blue cock bird which was also 8th section 16th open from Perth this year, and was a winner as a young bird. Raced on widowhood throughout the season, he was paired for the Lerwick challenge and sent sitting 8-10 days.
“We were very pleased with this performance. We are still buzzing,” said Derrick. “It is also thumbs up to the convoyer. The birds came home in fantastic condition.
“The hen that was 1st Section from Dunbar for us came home at 9pm on the day. We sent seven and had two on the day, and two early next morning.
“In fact we had a good day because we also won the 60-mile club race from Wetherby, but it is always the Lerwick pigeons that you remember.”
The section winner had what Derrick regards as the classic preparation for Lerwick, going to Perth and Fraserburgh before the ultimate test, being allowed to sit eggs, and being fed on a diet which included plenty of fats.
His breeding is through a son of Page Brothers Gladiator, and a Peter Fox hen bought at a Blackpool auction. Derrick and Ryan have been consistent NRCC competitors over the years and Perth is the only section win which eludes them.
This is their second Lerwick section win, and they were 5th open in 2013 when Frank Bristow registered his second win. They were also second from Thurso that same year when they won the Skoulding Memorial Trophy for the distance races.
Derrick is 70 and five years into retirement which he enjoys “doing the simple things, getting up at 5am, walking the dog, feeding the chickens and enjoying the pigeons.”
He also appreciates the part Ryan plays in the partnership although, somewhat modestly one senses, Ryan claimed after their Dunbar section win: “Dad does all the work, I just help a bit.”
He did confess this time round, however, that he was delighted with the performance from Lerwick.
Their main ambitions lie with NRCC racing although they consistently do well in their Blidworth and Pinkston clubs. Derek has been a fancier since he was a lad, but Ryan did not get the pigeon bug until he was 30 years old. He recalled that he had taken his dad’s pigeons training and they were not back when he returned, so he waited and watched them come home. He was hooked after that, and the partnership has worked well over the years, especially as they both live in the same village.
I am in danger of getting into trouble with 82-year-old Billy Pell if I say too much about his Section B win. “I am not over keen” was his response when asked to feature in this article, and the suggestion that we might include a photograph was quickly rejected. Nevertheless we had a friendly and interesting chat, although he was not feeling well at the time. Billy, a retired bricklayer who lives at Langtoft and competes with the Spalding Tulip Club after switching from the Peterborough Central Federation when it turned south, revealed that he always sends hens to Lerwick and it was a four-year-old blue pied that won Section B and was 15th in the provisional open result.
As a young man, he was a keen footballer and played until he was 38 yeas old. He has been a pigeon fancier for 42 years, becoming interested in the sport after watching Don Clare’s pigeons return from races.
He has previously competed with the Deepings and Bourne clubs, and was a good friend to the recently deceased Arnold Bennett, a prolific section winner with the NRCC.
Billy says that Bourne fanciers Alan and Val Chapman, now living at Scredington near Sleaford, have been very good to him over the years, and one of his claims to fame is that he was successful in flying their sprinters from Lerwick when he was strongly advised not to send them. Perhaps I have written too much already . . .
There was a classy Lerwick performance from the Pete and Teri Rodgers partnership – sent three, all timed on the day, the second pigeon being within 40 seconds of the first, finishing first and second section, and provisionally fourth and fifth open. Not a bad day of distance flying by anyone’s standards!
The section winner is a black cock which Pete calls Blacky, and this is bred from the son of Mr and Mrs Bob Boulton’s Rocket, runaway winner of NRCC open Thurso in 2013. He is raced on widowhood and, when NRCC racing starts, he goes only to those races and sees his hen only once a fortnight.
So far this summer he has been 13th section 31st open Perth, 10th section 43rd open Fraserburgh, and now provisionally 1st section 4th open Lerwick.
The red cock which was timed just 40 seconds later is prepared in the same manner, and already had to his credit 1st section 12th open from a difficult Fraserburgh this season. He is poised to take 2nd section 5th open Lerwick, having also this year been 9th section 22nd open Perth.
He is of Red Barcelona and NatII breeding.
This husband and wife partnership previously has won NRCC open from Thurso, been runners-up from Lerwick and Saxa Vord, and taken 1st and 3rd young bird national.
This was from two different locations in Norfolk, and subsequently they enjoyed success in the mighty Up North Combine when they moved back to Pete’s native north east.
Now they live at Burgh le Marsh where Pete has collected together some of his old bloodlines to continue the success with Alford North Road Club and the Peterborough and District Federation.
Pete said that he would like to thank the convoyer on the excellent condition of the returning birds, and wish everyone well for Thurso.
Like many members, the father and son partnership of Graham and Michael Britton long to see their names on the King’s Cup, and really set their stall out to achieve that ambition this year.
They played their part by preparing the birds well, and had an avalanche of on-the-day timings, plus more backing them up early next day to make it 27 “on the clock.”
One thing, however, did not play ball, and that was the weather. The wind direction did not give them a helping hand and they had to be content with sweeping the board in Section E and with the satisfaction of knowing that their loft is full of pigeons capable of flying from the notorious Shetland Isles.
Michael is the man who describes their day – indeed weekend – to remember:
“We had a good race, getting 13 on the day and managing to get 27 in the clock, flying 521 miles. As I type this (Sunday one week later) we have just got another 2013 cock bird and are now just five short out of our 36 sent.
“Back to the winning pigeons and, at this stage, it looks likely that we will take the first five in the Section and provisionally 13th Open this year.
“ Our first pigeon, unusually for us, is a cock bird (a real good looker) arriving out the East (as nearly all our birds did) battling against the strong West Wind and 10 minutes in front of our next pigeon. He really had given his all and came diving out of the sky for the loft.....what a sight.
“This pigeon’s father is a son of a pigeon we call Mr “T”....an out and out sprinter that won numerous 1st prizes (10+) down South, and we brought in to add speed into our family. It obviously worked in this race as it only flew for less than 12 hours. Its mother is related to our NRCC Thurso winner.
“Our second and third pigeons arrived together, followed one minute later by our fourth. At this moment in time they figure in the first 20 Open NRCC. Their details are as follows:
“I have to admit to this being my favourite pigeon in the loft, our all pooler and a pigeon that started life very badly and almost died as a young bird after going very thin and looking very sorry for itself, before being nursed back to health. She received no training or racing in her year of birth because of the illness, and really has learned quickly. She was 106th Open NRCC Lerwick at her first attempt last year. “She is a new line of pigeon we have tried and is a Deweerdt x Brockamp. After studying the results, there is a particular line of Deweerdts that I like and a particular line of the Brockamp pigeons, and this is the result of the first cross. A full brother and sister arrived at 10 minutes to 10, and 10 minutes past 10 on the night! (a great feeling to know they love home so much!!)”
“The nest sister to our winner and the first time she has been in the clock!”
“One of the best handling hen’s you will find, a direct daughter of our NRCC Thurso winner from 2008 when paired to the late Ray Farrington’s NRCC Lerwick winner of 2009. You could say she was bred for the job.
“Arriving just over half an hour later, and Dad’s favourite, she is a hen that, should the race have been a 16 to 18 hour job, I feel would have been closer to the top.”
“This hen goes back to John’s KoNipius/Jan Aardens, they are great if you fancy actually clocking in from Barcelona at 800 miles as they just keep going!
“Lastly congratulations to the King’s Cup winner and also to PR Easter of Maldon.
“We now look forward to testing a few of our yearlings at Thurso and hope that the Westerly winds don’t pick up in strength by the time we get there on the 21st July.”
Way down in Cheshunt, 586 miles from Lerwick, John Lamprell produced a performance that would have any long distance addict preening with pride. He sent just four birds, timed two on the night (at 9-21pm, and almost in the dark at 10pm) and two next morning (5 past 6, and 11am).
Remember, this is just 14 miles off the magic 600. An outstanding performance from the 83-year-old John Thaw lookalike, and a welcome boost as he recovers from a prostate operation which has hampered his racing this season. The section winner is a three-year-old Busschaert hen, flying roundabout, which was also a day bird from Perth but did not feature on the result because John had to go out that evening.
The second two birds were cocks, and the fourth a hen.
John took the first three places in the London Distance Club.
He had previously won this section in 2014 and still insists: “I class my pigeon racing as a hobby. My hens go out in the morning, and then the cocks are out all day, doing what they like. I clean the perches, but don’t touch the floor of the loft for weeks.”
At the time of our conversation, he had been toying with the idea of sending the section winner back to Thurso, tempted by the thought that Mick Connolly did that successfully with his Lerwick section winner last year. John’s brother was advising strongly against this, and only time will tell whether he succumbed to the temptation.
Suffice to say that he thought the birds returned from Lerwick in excellent condition.
Back in 2014 John won the NRCC section, and also the London North Road Combine from Lerwick, with a six-year-old blue cock, flying 586 miles at a velocity of 1369ypm, after 12 hours 33 minutes 22 seconds on the wing. Racing on roundabout, the winner had Busschaert and Westcott in its bloodlines which go back to Lerwick-flying ace, the late Frankie Blackmore, John’s pigeon racing partner several years ago, via the famous bird of its day, Lerwick Queen, and Terry Robinson’s champion cock bird, The Motivator. Today John still follows the Blackmore method of preparing his birds for Lerwick, and insists that they have a race from Berwick in the build-up.
He started in the sport in partnership with his brother back in the 1950s, before joining up with Frank Blackmore to enjoy a lot of success at all levels of racing.VA former salesman with Wonderloaf and Kipling Cakes, John says, being the most westerly flyer in the club, he does not stand much chance in the shorter races, and that was why he decided to concentrate mainly on distance flying, being quite happy to wait for his pigeons to develop into three-year-olds before trying them at Lerwick.
After 56 years in the sport, John can recall the performances of the legendary Alf Baker and eyesign enthusiast Jack Humphries.
As well as his prowess as a pigeon fancier, John has another claim to fame – as a look-alike of actor John Thaw. He has, apparently, in the past, been stopped and asked if he was the famous star!
He says he enjoys NRCC racing alongside competing in his club which he believes is one of the strongest in the area, and he believes that, given the right conditions, it is possible to win the NRCC in the London area.
Final thoughts: The NRCC’s 101st race from Lerwick turned out to be a good one. There was praise for the race controllers and the convoyers, and returns were good for most competitors, and in all sections. It was a pleasure and privilege to speak, and write about, the winners featured here. Their skill, commitment and stories should be an inspiration for others to join (or not to leave) this iconic organisation and take on the challenge of conquering the north road’s biggest, and oldest, test.
By George Wheatman