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Keith Mott writes...


This week it's the turn of the north roaders to be featured in 'ON THE ROAD' and we look at some of the winners of the premier north road race, the North Road Championship Club Lerwick King's Cup event.


The first loft that we are going to feature is the 1998 North Road Championship Club King's Cup winning loft of Brian and Angela Garnham of Butterwick, near Boston in Lincolnshire. This partnership has enjoyed many outstanding seasons since starting up in the sport in 1974, but say the 1998 season was one of their best. Brian has had pigeons all his life and as a lad had races with the other children, with him being the convoyer, because his racing bike had three saddlebags to carry the racers. Great times!

Angela likes long-distance racing and to win the King's Cup from Lerwick was a dream come true. The 1998 North Road Championship Club race was held over until the Monday, when the convoy was liberated at 9.40a.m. The race turned out very hard with .no day birds but the Tuesday morning blossomed with bright sunshine and the partners clocked their winner 'Butterwick Bon- Ami' flying 498 miles at 7.48a.m. This champion four-year-old cock is of the Frans Van Wildemeersch strain and raced on the widowhood system. This was his third time at Lerwick, having been clocked late on the day coming in from the south on his two previous Lerwick events, so Brian gave him three short training tosses before the 1998 race and he came in from the north to win 1st Open.

Angela is the main manager of their 27 widowhood cocks which are paired up in late January and trained well before the first federation race. Once racing starts the cocks are rarely trained, but fly out around the loft twice a day. The partners never race the hens and the cocks are broken down from Sunday to Tuesday during the racing season. They have a wonderful tiled-roof loft built by local fancier Alex Legget, who is a joiner. Alex was 3rd Open Lerwick North Road Championship Club in 1998. The widowhood sections have nine nest boxes in each and heaters for winter breeding. All trapping is through open doors into a corridor which runs the length of the loft. Brian and Angela have one other small tiled loft which is used for widowhood; 'Butterwick Bon- Ami' raced to that one. Angela's favourite pigeon is a handsome Staf Van Reet mealy cock bred by the Royal Lofts, which has won many top prizes including 1st Club Morpeth (twice) and flown Lerwick.

The Garnhams keep 20 pairs of stock birds, mainly Wildemeersch from Porter and Richardson of Newark and direct from Frans Wildemeersch. These are paired in late January, their eggs floated under the widowhood racers. When selecting breeders, Brian likes the very best winning lines and pigeons with character. The partners breed about 50 young birds each season. These are put on the darkness system on weaning at 24 days old and are trained up to the Humber Bridge, 60 miles. All race through to Berwick, 210 miles, with the North Road Championship Club and no young cocks are saved for widowhood, as Brian says he had found it to be a waste of time. He maintains the darkness system is excellent and isn't detrimental to the birds in later life. He won Fraserburgh in 1998 with a yearling cock that was on the 'darkness' the year previous.



The members of the North Road Championship Club sent 3,574 birds to Lerwick in 1996 to compete for the greatest prize in North Road racing, the King's Cup. That year the birds were liberated in a north-west wind so it was the east side of the country to host the winner in the form of Mel Waller of Norwich. When I met Mel he was over the moon and couldn't believe that he had won, saying the cup had never been won in the city of Norwich before. His 'King's Cup' winner was a blue chequer widowhood cock of Mel's own blended family, a game champion which had previously won many good prizes in club races.

Mel only races north road in the local Lakenham Club (Norfolk North Road Federation and Great North Road Championship Club). The loft has won the federation many times, including from Elgin and Lerwick racepoints. The main families are Janssen, Busschaert, Grondelaers and Van Loons which win from 76 to 530 miles in Club, Federation and National races. He breeds his families pure and crossed, and always pairs winners to winners, only breeding from the best performance pigeons. As he said, if you want to keep up with the best, you must have birds that will score in Nationals, not just Club winners. Mel has had pigeons on and off all his life and has been racing with outstanding success for 26 years. He obtained his first birds from Mr Ellis of Droylsden, near Manchester, after Mel reported one of his stray birds. After a few years Mel decided to have a go at racing and obtained some stock from Barrett Brothers who were at the top in the federation racing at the time, winning 1st Federation three weeks on the trot. Mel's first birds were Stassarts and he won the first race he entered, also winning the federation from Lerwick at his first attempt.

The birds are paired up on the nearest weekend to February 14thif the weather is good, and 30 cocks are raced on the widowhood system. Mel has a 40ft 'L'-shaped loft with five sections and open-door trapping for the old birds, and a sputnik for the youngsters. He used to re-mate the widowhood cocks after the 300-mile stage, but now races the whole season on widowhood. Near the end of the season he brings in the hens to race, as he finds them fresher for the long- distance events, quite often beating the cocks. He only keeps three pairs of stock birds and breeds about 35 young birds each season. These he races to three sections on widowhood, each section having 12 nest boxes, and finds that each section comes into form at different times. When picking out pool birds, he throws twigs on the loft floor and watches which cocks carry them up to their nest boxes. Mel hopper feeds a breeding mixture as he finds the normal widowhood mixture goes through the birds too quickly. He puts garlic in the drinking water twice a week and gives the widowhood cocks glucose the night before basketing, along with as much canary seed as they want. Her has several little tricks to get them going but he doesn't show the hen on Friday night, as he thinks they get too excited before going into the race basket. When picking out birds for the long-distance races, he watches them after the Perth (330 miles) race to see if they are fresh, and the ones that still look and act well are his main candidates. Mel said his area in Norfolk has several ace fanciers who regularly score well in National races, and in his opinion it is the top area for North Road National winners.



For our next loft visit we are going to the east side of the Midlands, to John Norris of Grantham. John is a convoyer with the North Road Championship Club, which he says he enjoys very much. He has been convoying off and on since the late 1970s. John won the Lerwick North Road Championship Club King's Cup race in 1995 with his champion Busschaerts dark chequer cock 'Naylor's Pride'. This above-medium-sized widowhood cock was bred by J. Naylor and Son of Murton, Co. Durham and was down from Mitchell Brothers of Bilsthorpe Busschaert bloodlines. John and his son, Peter, purchased 'Naylor's Pride' as a squeaker for £50 at the Murton Charity Auction and he has proved to be the best money they have ever spent on a pigeon. John has a silent partner and loft manager in Len Hart, previously of the Hardy and Hart partnership of Grantham. It was Len who clocked 'Naylor's Pride' in from the

North Road Championship Club Lerwick and won the King's Cup, as John was at the Lerwick racepoint as chief convoyer for the North Road Championship Club. John and Len spent a considerable time selecting four pigeons for their race entry. They chose three Mattheeuws and one Busschaert and their small team recorded 1st, 4th, 25th and 228th Open Lerwick North Road Championship Club, with a convoy of 2,970 birds taking part in this 500-mile race. A brilliant performance!

John's main racing loft is self designed and features open-door trapping, with sections for widowhood cocks and young birds. The loft races only the widowhood system, never hens, and the partners are only interested in the long distance events. John thinks the nest bowl as the main factor behind successful widowhood racing, and shows the hens on marking nights but never for sprint races. The cocks are never broken down, being fed a standard widowhood mixture all week and they are given the hen for anything up to five hours on their return home from the race. John and Len have a wonderful brick -built stock loft which is full of quality. The ten pairs housed in this loft are mainly Busschaerts and Maurice Mattheeuws which are paired up on February 18th. The inmates are kept in perfect condition with plenty of space and good ventilation.

At the age of 15 John joined his first pigeon club, Grantham Invitation Flying Club where members included D. H. Templeman, J. Wallwork, Graves Brothers, K. Meadows and John's great friend Bernard Charles. That year he left school to undertake an engineering apprenticeship as a plater, with a firm called Aveling Barfords. Where, his first tutor was Peter Collishaw, a pigeon man from Sleaford, who at that time was a very successful long-distance flier on the south road, flying Westcotts from Wally Grantham of Ipswich. Over the next few years John made many trips to see Wally Grantham and spent many hours listening to his wealth of knowledge of pigeon racing. John has come a long way since those early days and has now been in the sport over 30 years but he says his fascination with distance pigeon racing, especially Lerwick, started in those days working with Peter Collishaw.



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