2020 has put a stop to countless events taking place in their normal form, and annual Scottish chainsaw carving event Carve Carrbridge was no exception. In its place, the organisers put on a virtual event, with technology allowing the carvers to showcase their four-hour carves in just a matter of minutes. James Hendrie reports.

FEW people could have imagined that Graham Allsop, the much-loved MC of the Carve Carrbridge event, would be standing clutching the famous claymore sword, in a woodland setting, announcing the winners of this year’s ‘virtual carve’ competition. Yet that is how the public, who had been following the event online, found out that Sam Bowsher’s ‘Ready tae Roam’ carve, had been judged the winner.

Sam, himself a well-known figure at the annual event, became a first-time winner of the competition. He will be hoping he can perhaps follow his father Pete Bowsher’s example and win it many more times in the future. I had caught up with Sam before the event to find out how he felt about it not running this year, and, perhaps not surprisingly, as someone who has attended so many carves with his father and other family members, he was disappointed.

“It feels weird not to be getting organised to travel up north as I have done for the last umpteen years since I was wee. It was great fun when I competed last year for the first time against 23 others in torrential rain! Hopefully, we will be back to some kind of normality this time next year and Carrbridge will be back for four of the most fun hours of the year, followed by ‘that’ ceilidh.”

Forestry Journal: ‘Ready tae Roam’, Sam Bowsher’s winning carve of the virtual Carve 2020.‘Ready tae Roam’, Sam Bowsher’s winning carve of the virtual Carve 2020.

After he was announced as winner, I made sure that I spoke to him again, to gauge his reaction. He was, understandably, a very happy man. “It feels great to be able to say I’ve actually won a Carrbridge! It felt a bit of an anti-climax without seeing everyone and enjoying the night afterwards though. I am looking forward to next year to see if I can do it again when it matters!” Many Carrbridge regulars will wish him well in this endeavour.

Runner up was Chris Wood with his ‘First Nation Chieftain’ carving. This was his first time carving at Carve Carrbridge; albeit virtually, having been down to compete last year but having to withdraw late from that competition. Chris, from Wales, has been chainsaw carving since the late 1990s. He started carving full-time after having been made redundant and has carved a vast array of different pieces over the last 20 years.

Forestry Journal: Douglas fir was the log to carve with in 2018.Douglas fir was the log to carve with in 2018.

As he announced the joint third place carvers, Graham reckoned that this was a first for Carve Carrbridge. The judges could not split Tom Harris Ward and Gary Shand. Tom’s carving was called ‘Lonesome George’, while Gary’s was ‘Raptor Us’. Both have appeared on the winner’s rostrum before, back in 2015, with Tom picking up second place and Gary another third place. Both have been regular competitors at Carve Carrbridge over the years.

For Tom, this was his first time entering a virtual carve competition, although he has been carving for 14 years. He specialises in Scottish wildlife carves but has also carved a life-sized North Sea commercial diver! Garry’s speciality carve is his ‘wee coos’ and he carves full-time from his base in Moray. He has competed at Carve Carrbidge every year since 2008. Last year, his carving Highland Teuchter was the highest-priced carving sold at the post-event auction.

People’s Choice is always a sought-after award amongst the carvers. This is voted for by placing a washer in a tin next to the carver. However, this year it was through the collection of votes by those following the event online. For the first time, selected by this online voting system, Welsh carver Ian Williams picked up the award for his carve ‘Parliament of Wise Owls’.

Forestry Journal:  Ian Williams’ People’s Choice-winning carve, ‘Parliament of Wise Owls’. Ian Williams’ People’s Choice-winning carve, ‘Parliament of Wise Owls’.

This virtual carve was Ian’s fourth time taking part in the competition. A 30-year veteran firefighter who carved part-time, Ian took the plunge three years ago to take up carving full-time. Ian carves using trees that have either fallen naturally of are felled for woodland management purposes and sees his role as bringing them, in effect, back to life in his carves, which are designed to show off the beauty of the wood. Ian was naturally delighted at picking up the award.

“The competition was very strong, and I did not give myself a chance. I logged on to watch the live results and when they announced the People’s Choice winner, I nearly choked on my mug of tea. It brought a tear to my eye. The thought of people voting for my carve, out of all the amazing pieces that had been produced, made me humbled. I will be back next year for sure, trying again for the selection process, and I hope to see everyone again in September 2021.”

Sam Bowsher’s success in winning meant that German carver Michael Tamoszus, despite taking part in this year’s event, was unable to claim the title and lift the claymore for the third year in a row. Michael was one of three carvers from overseas who took part in the virtual carve, the others being Marcos Marino Seoane from Spain and Igor Kucera from the Czech Republic. This showed once more that, even as a virtual event, Carve Carrbridge can truly be called international.

Forestry Journal: Iain Chalmers’ ‘Early Morning Alarm Call’ of 2012 Photo: James Ross.Iain Chalmers’ ‘Early Morning Alarm Call’ of 2012 Photo: James Ross.

The rest of the carving field was made up of familiar names to the event, Simon Archer from England and Martin Nimmo and Alice Buttress from Scotland.  Gavin Gerrard, event coordinator, told me that 2020 saw a record number of entries for the competition and that he and the organisers were grateful to the carvers who agreed to take part. He admitted that, having been involved in the event since 2006, this year had been the most challenging.

“Everyone was disappointed that we were not able to run Carve this year, but this needs to be set in the context of the wider challenges that so many are facing in their daily lives right now. We remain optimistic that come 2021 we will have turned a corner with the pandemic and will be able to run the Carve for real once more.”

Forestry Journal:  Virtual Carve Carrbridge – as it was seen online. Virtual Carve Carrbridge – as it was seen online.

Gavin opened the event with a video recording outlining how the virtual Carve would work on the day and thanking the carvers, the volunteers behind its setting up, and the public for watching it. In essence, he explained that in a matter of minutes, thanks to time-lapse photography, viewers would be able to see the competitors’ full four hours of carving to achieve their end carve.

Gavin was just one of many associated with the event that expressed similar views when I contacted them, before the announcement of the virtual Carve, to discuss their feelings about Carve Carrbridge being cancelled for 2020. Dave Mills, the BSW mill manager at Boat of Garten, who supplies the wood for the carvers to use, and who is a past judge at the event, summed up how many felt.

“I am hugely disappointed not to be involved in Carve this year. It is a great event, which brings some genuine support to many good causes in our community. However, at this time, under the circumstances, the committee were right to cancel this year’s event. In the middle of a worldwide pandemic just now, it’s just not the time, it would have risked creating more challenges in our community than it would have helped. The logs will be there again to carve another day and I look forward to enjoying that day.”

Forestry Journal: The winners announced online.The winners announced online.

Dave Roberts, of Dervish Carvings, who has carved at Carve Carrbidge for the last eight years, offered a carver’s viewpoint when I caught up with him. “Not having an event this year is a blow to everyone – the carvers and the organisers alike. The organisers put so much effort into the show, the work starts many months ahead of the actual date, and I know it was an incredibly difficult and disappointing decision for them to have to cancel the show this year. We all hope that this situation will have improved by next year and Carve Carrbridge 2021 will be back, better than ever.”

Returning to the virtual Carve, two well-known carvers to the Carve Carrbridge community, Pete Bowsher and Tim Burgess, took part in a recorded Q&A session to offer a carver’s insight into the event. Each has a strong association with it, with Pete having been an eight-time past winner and Tim having been ‘placed’ with some memorable carves at past events. The opening comments from both reflected just how unusual it was not to be participating in a live event.

Tim made the point that, having travelled to Carrbridge to support the virtual Carve, it was strange to see no wood or people in the sports field where the event is usually held. For Pete, this was the first time he had been to Carrbidge without a chainsaw. Both offered a view as to the preparation that carvers have to put in, to plan in their minds what they will carve at the event, and to practice doing it to perfection within a four-hour time slot, so that they can reproduce it on the day.

Carvers who participate in Carve Carrbridge each year get a T-shirt to mark the occasion and this year was no different. The 2020 T-shirt was of the usual Carve Carrbridge logo design but with the addition of a rainbow, something that has become synonymous with this COVID-19 pandemic. In keeping with the norm, there was a piper to open the event and various other presentations were offered during the day to watchers of the event, including about the village’s carving trail, as well as memories from the Carve Carrbridge archive.

There was also a children’s colouring competition with prizes of tickets to visit the nearby Landmark Forest Adventure Park. While judging was taking place, there was a green woodwork demonstration. No Carve Carrbridge would be complete without the Saturday evening ceilidh and 2020 was no different; well, other than the fact it was ‘virtual’ and dancing would have been in the privacy of viewers’ homes.

Sadly, in terms of the revenue that it normally brings to the village, there was no grand auction to end the event. That, and the fact that, on the day, the village was not playing host to thousands of visitors who flock each year to see the competition, were probably the only parts of the normal Carve Carrbridge that were not replicated virtually. The date of next year’s carve has been set for Saturday 4th September 2021, and hopefully it will be great to return to the normal way of doing things.

If 2020 was out of the ordinary in Carve Carrbridge’s history, then, looking back over the last decade, there are a few more things that, for different reasons, stand out in the memory. 2010 to 2012 saw Black Isle carver Iain Chalmers win three times consecutively. Iain, like Pete Bowsher, is a carver that has supported the event since the very early days, first taking part in the competition in 2003. His carve ‘Early Morning Alarm Call’, which was the winning carve in 2012, still holds the record as having the highest price paid for a carve at the grand auction.

Not to be outdone, Pete Bowsher then took over with a three-year winning streak of his own from 2013–2015. Pete has described his 2013 winning carve of the Woodsman as his favourite Carve Carrbridge carving. Both were recognised between 2012–2015 as People’s Choice carvers; Iain winning in 2012 and 2014, while Pete picked up the accolade in 2013 and 2015.

Forestry Journal:  Pete Bowsher’s ‘Woodsman’, winning carve of 2013. Photo: James Ross. Pete Bowsher’s ‘Woodsman’, winning carve of 2013. Photo: James Ross.

The Carvers’ Choice award, first introduced in 2014, is recognised as an award to be proud of winning, as the carvers themselves vote for this. In essence, it is a vote of approval for the carving efforts of the recipient each year. That year, Tim Klock from the USA picked up the award. Like many carvers, he came to carving full-time after having been a contractor and roofer in his home state of Maryland. 2013 also saw Tim Burgess placed third, a feat he was to repeat the following year.

2015 was the year that Bruce ‘Thor’ Thorsteinson described Carve Carrbridge as the “drag race among chainsaw carving events”. He was using the racing analogy to convey how quick carvers have to be at this event to produce an end carve within the four-hour time limit. This year also saw three female carvers competing: Griffon Ramsay from the USA, Nansi Hemmings from Wales, and Carrbridge’s very own Alice Buttress.

Forestry Journal: Wladek Ligocki working on his winning ‘Beggar’ carve in 2016.Wladek Ligocki working on his winning ‘Beggar’ carve in 2016.

Polish carver Wladek Ligocki ended Peter Bowsher’s winning streak in 2016 by picking up the top spot and raising the Carve Carrbridge claymore sword high above his head as he posed for pictures at the end of the event. The claymore has to stay in the UK and, therefore, as a carver from foreign fields, Wladek was unable to take it home with him. Wladek also picked up the Carvers’ Choice award with his Beggar carving.

Pete Bowsher was runner up and the People’s Choice. He told me at the time that, up to then, he had either won the event or not been placed at all. That year he started a run that would see him be runner up in two future years. Third place that year was German carver Michael Tamoszus with an eagle carving. He picked up the Best New Entrant award the previous year.

Forestry Journal:  Simon Archer having his head shaved at Carve Carrbridge 2016. Simon Archer having his head shaved at Carve Carrbridge 2016.

Liverpool-based carver Simon Archer, during the lunchtime interval that year, had his head shaved by fellow carver Tom Harris Ward to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. Simon, like many carvers, has fond memories of competing at Carve Carrbridge. “My very first competition was my first appearance at Carve Carrbridge back in 2012. I was nervous but was made very welcome by the other carvers and the locals. I remember being next to Tim Burgess and Pete Bowsher in the event and about 10 minutes in I noticed I was being covered in sawdust. I looked up and behind me, Pete was about eight feet up, deliberately making it snow sawdust all over me!”

Long-time supporter of the event Alice Buttress led the carvers onto the field in 2017 to get the event started, and the first Lithuanian to take part in the competition, Raimondas Uzdravis, scooped the top prize with his ‘My Trained Dragon’ carving. This ‘hinged’ dragon was the talking point of the day with the crowds and carvers alike. So much so, that he also picked up the Carvers’ Choice and Best New Entrant awards as well.

Forestry Journal: Raimondas Uzdravis with his ‘My Trained Dragon’ carve in 2017.Raimondas Uzdravis with his ‘My Trained Dragon’ carve in 2017.

The previously mentioned Michael Tamoszus pulled off another triple set of awards wins for a foreign-based carver when, the following year, he won the First prize, Carvers’ Choice, and the coveted People’s Choice. Again, it was another innovative carving called ‘Girl in the Wind’. The logs supplied by Dave Mills that year were Douglas fir rather than the normal Sitka spruce and offered their own challenges to the carvers. Guinness World Record Holder John Hayes was a first-time participant; his ‘record’ was that he had carved a 23-metre-long Viking sword from a fallen Douglas fir tree.

Last year was rain affected, just as the event had been in 2014, with the carvers forced to carve under gazebos and cover where they could. Michael Tamoszus once more picked up the top prize with his carving ‘Girl with a Lantern’. Josh Dagg also created interest with the carving ‘A Wolf on Four Legs’ from two logs. Perhaps not surprising given the cold, wet weather, there were record takings in the tea tent.

The hope from carvers, organisers and those who love attending this event each year is that 2021 will see a return of Carve Carrbridge in the flesh as opposed to on a computer screen. Sam Bowsher stopped the run of foreign-based carver winners, which had occurred since 2016, when dad Pete was the last UK-based carver to win. There will be many carvers who want to take part next year and lift the claymore sword at Carrbridge.


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