This year’s Garnock Valley Carves suffered a late call-off, but that still left time for an impromptu carving display, as James Hendrie reports.

UP until the week of the planned Garnock Valley Carves competition in Beith, Ayrshire, organisers were hopeful they had done enough planning and COVID-19 secure preparations to allow the event to run in this ‘new’ world. The competition was scheduled to be held at the Manse Field in the town on Saturday, 12 September, but just a few days before, it was announced that, “in compliance with Scottish Government guidelines”, it had been cancelled.

Norrie Brown, one of the main drivers of the event, summed things up from the organiser’s point of view: “This year has had its challenges, with the coronavirus and the difficulty of deciding whether to run or cancel. With the English Open and Carrbridge both having decided to cancel early, we tried to adhere to all guidelines and we considered that we had met them, but after consultation at government level we had to take the late decision to cancel this year’s event.”

Forestry Journal: Bench carving in a Beith garden.Bench carving in a Beith garden.

Having planned to attend and having been in contact with Norrie beforehand, I still travelled down to Beith on the day to find out more about this carving competition, which first arrived on the carving calendar in 2018. It was to prove an informative and interesting trip to Ayrshire, as I and some other local residents were treated to an unadvertised and bonus impromptu carving display from Sylvia Itzen and Craig ‘Steeley’ Steele.

Forestry Journal: Norrie (left), ‘Woody’ and John (right). ‘Woody’ is carved from a western red cedar log and was unveiled in February 2018.Norrie (left), ‘Woody’ and John (right). ‘Woody’ is carved from a western red cedar log and was unveiled in February 2018.

Sylvia had travelled from Germany for the event and wanted to carve if it could be arranged, with local ‘Steeley’ agreeing to carve alongside. Norrie and the Garnock Valley Carves team managed to arrange for them both to do so in Beith’s community garden in a COVID-19-controlled environment. Both carved side by side and off and on during the time they were carving, and some locals stopped to admire the undoubted skills that both displayed. Sylvia’s end carve was that of a woman looking thoughtfully into the air.

This carve will ultimately join several others located in both the public areas and the private gardens of Beith. Norrie hopes more will follow over the future years of the town hosting this annual carving event. His vision is to have a ‘carving trail’ similar to what he and his wife Rose saw on a trip to a town called Chetwynd in British Columbia in Canada.

READ MORE: Virtual success for Carve Carrbridge 2020

“From memory there were over 23 carvings placed along the highway and in other business premises,” he said. “We both felt these added so much character and interest to the area. Chetwynd also hosts a well-known three-day carving event, which attracts carvers and visitors from everywhere. Rose and I had always thought there is so much one can do for our respective areas but that in Scotland we are not good at promoting our towns. With this in mind, when we returned home, we contacted North Ayrshire Council with the idea of running a carving event in our home town of Beith.”

Forestry Journal: Manse Field, Beith, in 2020 with no carving event.Manse Field, Beith, in 2020 with no carving event.

From this initial meeting, and after doing a lot of research, Norrie and Rose established there were only a few dedicated carving events in the UK. This convinced them that setting up one would be a great draw for the town as well as for the Garnock Valley itself. They were told to contact carvers Pete Bowsher and Craig ‘Steeley‘ Steele to get their input. They did so and both promised their support with any future event. Next, Norrie and Rose set about finding a suitable venue, which proved to be the Manse Field in the town.

Norrie said they contacted the organisers of Carve Carrbridge and sought to gain knowledge and advice from them about how to set up and run a chainsaw-carving event.

“We visited their competition in 2017 and found the event to be well organised and welcoming,” he said. “We helped at the event and gained a lot of knowledge. After this, we decided to set up a non-competitive carve event the following year. Our thinking was to make it a great day out for the family, with carving being the main attraction. The idea was to get an event that would have general appeal.”

Forestry Journal:  Garnock Valley Carves 2019. Garnock Valley Carves 2019.

Forestry Journal: Carvers are able to carve in a central area in the park while stalls and other activities take place all around them.Carvers are able to carve in a central area in the park while stalls and other activities take place all around them.

Garnock Valley Carves came into being in 2018, running the week after Carve Carrbridge, which in turn follows on from the English Open. This scheduling was designed to attract international carvers who would be carving at these events, as well as home-grown ones. Unlike Carve Carrbridge, Garnock Valley Carves allows the use of tools as well as chainsaws, and all they ask for is that the carvers finish a carving of the highest standard in the four hours allocated.

“While we start at 10am and finish at 5pm, with an hour’s break for lunch, if the wood is in place before the start, we have no problem with the carvers starting earlier if they wish,” said Norrie. “Similar to Carrbridge, we do have a break followed by a quick carve after the main carving event. We like to think that there are no winners and losers at our event, although since the first year we have had places and prizes as part of it.”

Forestry Journal: Sylvia carving her ‘Woman Looking into the Air’.Sylvia carving her ‘Woman Looking into the Air’.

The 2018 event attracted 12 carvers to Beith and crowds of around 1,500 people, but also a wide range of stalls and other activities to enjoy. Tim Klock of Pennsylvania won the People’s Choice award with a bench carving. Tim’s bench incorporated three bears, with Daddy Bear at one end, Mama and Baby at the other. It sold before the event was finished. In addition, that year Damon Gorecki carved a large bench, which was to become a memorial to two young children of Beith who sadly passed away early in life.

Forestry Journal: Sylvia’s completed carving.Sylvia’s completed carving.

At the beginning of that year, Pete Bowsher had produced a 2.5 m-tall bear carving for Beith, which the locals immediately took to their hearts, christening it ‘Woody’. Both this carving and Damon’s bench have been placed at the top of the Strand, in the centre of the town. I was able to see them as Norrie and John Smith, a local building contractor, supporter of the event, and one of the organising team members, showed me around.

Both carvings sit together with an information board detailing the history behind them coming to be in Beith. In the community garden, where ‘Steeley’ and Sylvia were carving on the day I visited, there is another bench that was carved by Damon Gorecki and Tim Klock. There are plans to install a 2-m Angel that was carved at the 2019 competition in the town. A carving incorporating St Inan’s Chair, a local rock formation, is soon to follow. There are several other carvings from past events to be found across Beith in local residents’ gardens.

Forestry Journal: A bench in the community garden, which was carved by Damon Gorecki and Tim Klock.A bench in the community garden, which was carved by Damon Gorecki and Tim Klock.

Walking with Norrie and John up to Manse Park itself, it was clear to see even with the area empty – apart from a few dog walkers – it is a fantastic venue for the event. This 8-acre site is large enough to host the carvers in a central arena and have all the other stalls and activities take place around it. Close by are the local Bowling Club and Primary School, which are used as support venues for the competition. John Smith’s building company’s compound is also located just outside the field, which means his machines are close by for the heavy lifting of the logs and other components required for the event.

2019 saw the second running of the Garnock Valley Carves, with Pete Bowsher completing an eagle carve in only three-and-a-half hours. This was the overall ‘winner’ of the event and it took the People’s Choice prize as well. Damon Gorecki was runner up and Pete’s son Sam Bowsher took third place. Once again, the main event sponsor was J&D Pierce Contracts, alongside Beith Christian Action Group and North Ayrshire Council. Adam Murray of Thick and Thin Lumber Company supplied the slabs and Pete Bowsher the logs.

While Norrie and the team are disappointed that this year’s event could not take place, they are content with the knowledge of having organised and run two successful events. Garnock Valley Carves will be back for 2021. Indeed, Saturday, 11 September, has been set aside for the event. Garnock Valley Carves was able to secure National Lottery funding this year that would have allowed organisers to make the event free to enter for spectators, and they will hope that this can be repeated for next year’s event.

The hope is that the COVID-19 pandemic will be in decline, meaning not only that the event can take place but also that international carvers will be able once more to attend it. Sylvia Itzen certainly intends to return, as she told me: “The carving family in Scotland is right up there with other nations. The people are friendly and there is beautiful countryside to enjoy. I am looking forward to coming back next year.”

Forestry Journal remains dedicated to bringing you all the latest news and views from across our industry, plus up-to-date information on the impacts of COVID-19.

Please support us by subscribing to our print edition, delivered direct to your door, from as little at £69 for 1 year – or consider a digital subscription from just £1 for 3 months.

To arrange, follow this link:

Thanks – and stay safe.