A new name to North Road pigeon racing!
Let me give you a bit of background on how I came back into pigeon racing.
I kept racing pigeons as a schoolboy in a village between Leeds and Harrogate, Yorkshire, and raced in the same club as Guy Barrett OBE and his loft man. In fact, I used to spend many a Saturday afternoon at Guy's wonderful lofts waiting for his birds to come home.
In early 2004, my wife and I bought four and a half acres of unused and uncared-for land with a small cottage on it in Central Brittany, France. We wanted somewhere to grow and raise as much of the food we put in our mouths as was possible. We immediately set about turning this bit of French soil into a working smallholding. The idea was not so much to make a living from our smallholding but at least to get it to pay its way.
Almost as soon as we got the place up and working, with vegetable beds and livestock, I started feeling ill - VERY ill! To cut a long story short, I was diagnosed with acute liver failure, not due to alcohol (I say that because, when most people think about liver failure, they think about over-consumption of litres of alcohol, which wasn't the case with me.) I ended up having to have an emergency liver transplant in 2008. The doctors didn't tell me at the time but apparently I was so ill I only had 8 days to live. Thank goodness they were able to find me a new liver in 3 days!
Having a full liver transplant is a major operation that took over 9 hours in the operating theatre, and can take up to 4 years to get over it and get back to anything like a normal life. During the first months of convalescence, I did a lot of soul-searching and decided it would be beneficial if I found something to get me out of bed in the morning and to fill my days, as I knew I wouldn't be healthy or fit enough to carry on with running the smallholding any more.
Little did I know that pigeon racing in Central Brittany, France, would be so different from what I was used to, mainly because of the poor quality of birds available in my part of France and the massive distances between fliers. For example we had to drive nearly 2 hours to our nearest pigeon club, and birds were always picked up by the convoyer on the Thursday, if not Wednesday afternoon, due to the vast catchment area.
Again to cut some very long stories short, my wife and I decided we could no longer keep going with the bit of land we had to look after and made up our minds to sell. This was when Brexit was first being spoken about, so we thought we had better get out quickly! But it still took us 4 years to sell the property and we had to drop the price over £70,000. Because the people who bought our property wanted to move in quickly, we didn't have time to buy ourselves a house in England, and knew we would have to stay in temporary accommodation for a while. We sold as many of the birds as we could, and gave away the rest.
Which brings us to our new house on the outskirts of Gloucester, and having to start again in the sport from absolutely nothing in late March 2019. It took my wife and I, with a little bit of help from one other person, until the end of April, to design and build a loft, get a few stock birds, and get them down on eggs.
Young Bird Loft
We were able to enter two or three of the later young bird races in 2019, just to give the very few young birds we bred a bit of experience, but of course no old bird racing in that year.
We started the 2020 old bird season (which was hampered greatly by Covid) with a dozen or so very late bred 2019 birds which had hardly been raced or trained much, but we did OK at club level. Nothing special but the 2020 young bird season was a different story.
When I first went looking for some really good quality stock birds at sensible prices in 2019, I found George Slaven at Glenview Lofts, Ayrshire, Scotland. At the time, George mainly had Vandenabeeles, so I bought 4 pairs from him. Later I heard of a guy from Ireland who had some really amazing birds, and I bought some of those as well. I bred a few pairs of youngsters from these birds.
With these young birds, along with some others, I managed to get a small young bird team together, which had some success and, bearing in mind it was really our first full season, we were very pleased with what we had achieved.
Our results were as follows:-
4 x second club and 1 x third club with old birds.
3 x first club, 4 x second club, 6 x third club and 6 x fourth club.
We topped the Fed twice, 2 x second Fed and 2 x third Fed.
In our last young bird race of 2020 we were first, second, third and fourth Club and First, Second, Third and Fourth Fed - with young birds.
For some time I had been very unhappy about the directions in which the Federation and Combine that I belonged to were flying. In the end, I decided to try my utmost to be able to fly north. I was extremely fortunate to get one of the last places available in the South West of England Lerwick Club for the 2021 Young Bird season. I wish now I had joined the Lerwick Club a year ago, but aren't we all very clever after the fact! I also had to find a new club to fly with, as my old club wasn't affiliated to the Lerwick Club. The people at Longford RPC have been amazing and have welcomed me and my wife warmly.
Basically, we started the 2021 young bird season as we left off the 2020 young bird season, taking the first few places in my new club, and we were 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th Open in the Lerwick from Stratford on 9 August.
The next race was another Stratford on 15 August. We were 1st, 2nd, 4th, 13th, 14th, 15th Club, and 22nd Open.
Then came the weekend of 21/22 August. We entered 6 birds into the Central Southern Classic from Ilkeston - unfortunately we didn't see a bird for another 2 weeks and then we only got one - WHY? I would love to know.
But the weekend wasn't a total loss - we were with the Lerwick Club from Coventry and we were 10th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 20th Club, and 11th, 17th, 18th, 19th Open.
The second Coventry race, we took 3 places in the top 12 at club level, and only 28th Open.
Then we came to some races with a bit of distance. On 5 September we were at Newbold Verdon against 1,063 birds. We were 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th Club, and took 13 places in the top 20 that weekend. We also topped the Lerwick Open, and were 6th, 7th, 8th Open as well.
Our penultimate young bird race of the 2021 season was from Pontefract where we took the top 8 positions in the club, and were 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th Lerwick Open.
Next came the race I had been looking forward to, from Harrogate, very close to my home town in Yorkshire - I was hoping to have some young hens on eggs or maybe even at the point of chipping but unfortunately the birds had other ideas! But still, we took the first 5 positions at club level, plus another 7 positions above 20th, and - the sweetest way to end a pretty good racing season - we were 1st and 2nd Lerwick Open. We were also 8th and 12th Open.
There is a race on 25 September with the Lerwick Club from Hexham (not Berwick) but I think my birds have proven themselves this year and there is no point in running the risk of losing any, as I need to keep as many as possible for next year.
In closing, we looked back through the 2021 results and the birds that have done well for us have mostly come from our Irish blood.
In 2022 I would like to see if I could get our birds into some of the larger races but it all depends on whether they decide to go north or not.
I would just like to thank all the people who have given me help and advice over the last 18 months, and roll on next year!