The prestigious and biggest race on the NRCC calendar, the Lerwick Kings cup race sponsored by Aviform, did not disappoint in its stubbornness weather-wise and rather than mother nature allowing a nice, straight forward liberation from the beautiful Island of Lerwick on its calendared race day, it decided to make the fanciers wait and while the pigeons enjoyed the view out from the transporter, those waiting patiently at home were kept up dated and entertained by convoyeur, Darren Shepherds, postcard pictures and regular video updates on the group chat. The three-day holdover would not have been as stressful had it not been for the updates on the bird’s welfare and both Merv and Darren doing a sterling job once again in looking after the birds. I have had reports from members of two of the longest sections, Section ‘H’ and Section ‘I’ that have said, despite birds being held over and stopped by the rain on the day, when they were eventually clocked they arrived home to the loft in immaculate condition and exactly as they were on the day they were basketed up for the race. You really cannot ask for more! The following is an account from race Secretary, Ian Bellamy which sets the scene leading up to the liberation and is then followed by a full loft report and account from the NRCC’s Lerwick Kings Cup winners, Russ and Denise Skinner of Boston. 138 members sent 779 birds. (Total number of birds released was around 1100 from other organisations we convoyed) The birds were marked at the various marking stations on Wednesday 28th June and just after midday the birds were on their way to Aberdeen to catch the ferry which is sponsored by North Link Ferries (they give us a generous discount on the ferry cost for which the club is very grateful) Darren and Merv our convoyeurs made the usual stop at Ecclefechan to feed and water the birds with the plan on staying there overnight and to get an early start the following morning to finish the trip to Aberdeen. Food water and rest was the order of the day for the birds before boarding the Ferry around Thursday teatime for the twelve-hour journey to the Shetland Isles arriving around 8.00am Friday morning. Darren and Merv made the short trip to the liberation site where the birds were fed again around 2.00pm then rested in readiness for a liberation on Saturday morning. Saturday morning arrived and the convoyeurs woke up to heavy rain which did not stop for most of the day so a holdover was called. Sunday and Monday were much the same with either rain, drizzle or low cloud. Tuesday morning and the clouds were breaking up to give patches of blue sky and a light North West wind and as the morning progressed the weather improved further and the convoyeurs decided to liberate at 6.00am after having consultations with the NRCC weather team. There was rain expected further down the country by late afternoon but it looked like this was the best scenario we were going to get. Back at the home end I thought the first verifications would be in around the 12-hour mark and first verification came from Hubert Walker from Newark who timed at 17:11 to provisionally win Section B and finish runner up in the Aviform Lerwick race. Second to verify was Russ and Denise Skinner of Boston who timed at 16:58 to take top spot and win the King George V Lerwick trophy. Congratulations to Russ and Denise on their great performance. There were 36 members who verified on the day, there would have been many more but rain was heavy in places which must have stopped the birds. The next morning with the rain mostly gone there was a steady stream of birds arriving at their lofts and by the end of the second day the club had received 105 first bird verifications out of a possible 138 members. The next NRCC race will be from Thurso which is sponsored by PJ Lofts and is scheduled for July 15th. Please remember to telephone your entry on 01733 590166 by midnight on the Monday prior to the race and your Form 1 to reach the race secretary by Tuesday prior to the race at the latest. Moving on now to winners Russ and Denise Skinner from the Boston Central club. Following the winning pigeon’s verification by NRCC life Vice-President Brian Garnham I made the date to visit Russ and Denise two days later and after being warmly welcomed into their garden, I perched myself in a comfortable position and got out my pen. What initially struck me was that both Russ and Denise seemed to be in a state of disbelief with regards to what they have achievement and although clearly very pleased it was obvious that the magnitude of the win had not fully sunk in. This was two days later and following verification so I am hoping, by the time this goes to print they have managed to allow themselves some time to really enjoy the moment and celebrate in style. Born into pigeons via his dad Alberts love of the sport, you can tell, the moment you here Russ talk about pigeons, it is not just a hobby but a true love of the fancy which runs very visibly through his veins and although Denise is not from a pigeon background you can see that her passion, love and dedication for the sport is in equal measure. I am going to stick with Russ’s dad Albert just for a moment longer because I think without a doubt, some of the credit for the success of the Skinners pigeons can be traced right back to him and which form the foundation of the pigeons that are in the loft today. Known as Mr Thurso for his love and successful multiple wins from that race point, as well as a first open from Coupar Angus in Perth, he was able to share knowledge with Russ that you can’t get from a book and only comes with experience and time spent with the birds. Albert was known for not suffering either fools or pigeons gladly and would refer to the shorter races as ‘sprint blitzers’ and used them as preparation for the longer distance races and Russ has the same mindset. After racing at home with his dad, in 1996 Russ started up on his own after moving into the address he still resides in in Boston with wife Denise. Like a fair few ladies who are in the sport with their husbands it is usually from the introduction of a loft appearing in the garden and this was no different for Denise however, her help, support and enthusiasm has without a doubt proved to be a fundamental aspect in building the team that has seen multiple success’s over the years with longer distance racing. This husband and wife team now have four NRCC wins to date including a very poignant and emotional first win from Thurso in 2006 with a pigeon aptly named Diamond Geezer. Initially housing the loft with gifted pigeons from Albert and Russ’s uncle Billy to start off with, it is great to think that the legacy of these pigeons has played a part in the journey right the way through the Perth and Thurso wins and now onto this brilliant Lerwick race and winning the coveted and much desired, Kings Cup Trophy. The NRCC has been racing from Lerwick since 1901 and it has now become the pinnacle event on the calendar for many a fancier with one of the most valuable and prestigious trophies in the whole of pigeon racing to be won, it is one to strive for. To see your name added to the engraved list that already graces this stunning trophy is something that can only be dreamed about but, for Russ and Denise, their iconic win will now join the other great flyers that have been clocked as front runners. Russ tells me that ‘Tushka’ came straight of the line of flight as expected and trapped with no messing looking as good as she did on the day she was basketed. Ironically, at five years old and a previous Lerwick bird Russ didn’t put her as his pool pigeon and out of the nine pigeons selected for Lerwick, hedged his bets on a two-year-old that he felt would do better. The theory being that usually, it was the first timers to Lerwick that came better and with ‘Tushka’ being a more seasoned bird, was not the favourite to trap first. Needless to say……. she had other ideas!! Russ and Denise race widowhood with both cocks and hens and there is no hard and fast rule to the preparation of the birds for racing as I am told; ‘every season is different and you have to adjust to that.’ This year, the birds in the Skinners loft were paired up two weeks later than usual and thus, started racing two weeks later. The rule of thumb is that Denise takes on the responsibility of the daily regime of the young birds from the moment they are moved across away from their parents. Initially they are fed maples only (a staple of food given to them by the parents during rearing) then after three weeks an introduction of another mix in the food when they are getting ready for training. With Denise’s intervention and support they are trained to come on command to the feed tin and her call once out of the loft and in the sky. Called in on the hour, they are then communal fed and anything that doesn’t come in on the hour will miss dinner, hence to say, they soon learn to trap when that tin rattles! When the time is right for training, the babies do not get fed or let out on the day. They are taken to a distance of 11.5 miles for training on an empty belly, a couple of hours after they would normally have been fed, and singled up at two-minute intervals. This has been the same regime for the last twenty years for the Skinners birds. The theory being, that they need to think for themselves to get home, they are hungry so do not worry about flying out any further or mess around, they just want to get in the loft and be fed by a waiting Denise. This initial first singled up training toss is followed by a maximum of six more training tosses from the same distance as a batch before going to their first race. The preparation for the old bird season and the lead up to racing sees the widowhood race team let out for an hour in the morning and again in the evening with half an ounce of food after each session of exercise for the hens and an ounce and a quarter for the cocks. In addition to this, the feeding is unique to each bird’s appetite with some getting a little more and other slightly less dependent on appetite. The cocks and hens do not see their boxes or each other at all, all week, only on return from a race where they are then let in together. They are then separated at the end of the day back into their own sections as shown in one of the photos included in the article. The lead up to the Lerwick race would normally have seen the birds being entered into all races on the club race program however, due to the continuance of East in the wind, they had a week off after Perth and a week off after Fraserburgh. On the actual day of the race, although Russ had set his stool out for Lerwick and had been close on previous occasions, he didn’t actually think it would ever happen. He said that even after he had called in to verify and had done the maths he couldn’t let himself believe it and with knots in his stomach and no words being spoken in the car by him or Denise on the way to the clocks that night it didn’t compute that they may well have won. After a very restless night and following verification of the bird it still has not sunk in for either of them. In her racing career ‘Tushka’ has previously placed 266th Y.B Berwick in 2018, 112th in the NRCC Perth race in 2019, 30th NRCC Fraserburgh race then after a break in racing due to the Covid lock down and restrictions in 2020 she then went on to race and in 2021 and placed 138th NRCC Lerwick and then again on from another Lerwick race organised by the BICC she placed 145th. In 2022 she placed 12th NRCC Fraserburgh, 16th BICC Thurso, 21st BICC Lerwick, 35th NRCC Thurso and 48th NRCC Lerwick and in 2023 she has placed 118th NRCC Dunbar and now has ownership of the number one position in the prestigious NRCC’s Lerwick Kings Cup race. A pigeon that has certainly earned her perch and who will now retire graciously to the stock shed. On finishing up Russ would like to thank his wife Denise for all of her support and help. He would also like a special mention to go to John Platt who has been a big supporter and mentor over the years and who Russ has shared ideas and thoughts with about pairings and breeding of the pigeons. It was following one of their conversations that ended with a pairing of pigeons that bred ‘Tushka.’ In addition to this, despite John no longer racing, he still is a big part of the Boston and District club and is also one of the sponsors for those flyers that fly over 550 miles from Lerwick. On a final personal note, I would like to thank Russ and Denise for their hospitality and allowing me into their lofts and sharing their story with me. It was an absolute pleasure and one which I will not forget. A great result from a brilliant winning loft and two lovely people. I wish you both all the best for your future racing and success in the sport and I hope sometime soon, it sinks in and you can say, ‘yes, we did it’ and not just ‘I think we did it.’ I would also like to thank Russ and Darren for the marking station photos and for Brian and Angie Garnham for their support.