HAVING had to cancel the 2020 Garnock Valley Carves (GVC) competition due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Beith Orr Park Neighbourhood Watch team was delighted to be able to host this year’s event on Saturday, 11 September.

The weather on the day was overcast, but the rain held off and a crowd in excess of 1,500 people made their way to Manse Field at Beith to watch 12 carvers from across the UK demonstrate their skills.

While there were many of the familiar sights associated with a carving event – the central carving arena, competitors in their GVC tee shirts, the noise of the chainsaws, the traditional piping in of the carvers and the four-hour competition and 30-minute quick-carve event – there were also reminders of the times we still live in, such as temperature checks on entry, crowd control measures and COVID-19 signage. Also, given the date, a minute’s silence to remember 9/11 victims.


Sadly, there were no overseas carvers present because of ongoing travel restrictions. There were, however, carvers from Wales, England and Scotland demonstrating their undoubted skills, producing some wonderful end carves from both the main competition and the quick-carve event. While the event went off without any hitches, there was a lot of planning and work that had to be put in to make it a success, as organiser Norrie

Brown explained: “Due to the ongoing uncertainty of being able to run the event due to COVID-19, it has been a nail-biting run-up. However, due to the current relaxation of restrictions, we got set up to go as planned.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have remained optimistic and continued with planning and it has paid off, with a full house of carvers and associated stalls. We planned for a good response from the visiting public and to support this we have had a full package of COVID-19 controls put in place.”

While getting the public to attend is one thing, you need carvers to come to offer displays of their skills on the day. As a result, Norrie was quick to praise local carver Craig ‘Steeley’ Steele for his support on this front. ‘Steeley’, along with ‘Chainsaw Pete’ Bowsher, have been supporters of GVC since its inception, both by competing as well as offering their knowledge and expertise in how such events run.

Norrie said: “We currently allocate slots for 12 carvers and this year, due to travel restrictions, we have none from overseas carvers and all who compete come by invitation. We want and need the event to be one that carvers, sponsors, stallholders and the public all want to attend. As we see things currently, we will need to look at a first-come selection process for the future, once life is back to something like normal.

"However, we will never exclude Pete and ‘Steeley’, who have been part of the team from day one.”

Nansi Hemmings from Wales, alongside Alice Buttress from Carrbridge, represented female carvers at this year’s event. First-timers included Dan Cordell from Devon and Ian Williams, a former fire-fighter but now chainsaw carver from Wales. The final piece in the planning for this year was dealing with the local authorities over the running of such a large-scale public spectator event with COVID-19 still affecting local communities. 

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Trying to interpret the government’s rules and regulations and getting the organising committee’s legal team to work with council officials to come up with an agreed interpretation of them were the biggest challenges. There was a visit, first thing, before the event began, from council officials to check out the site and preparations, but they were happy with what had been put in place. Norrie did say that all the council staff wanted the event to take place and they had been as helpful as they could be.

As well as the carving taking place on Manse Field, those who attended were able to visit a wide array of stallholders offering arts, crafts and other goods. Local community groups were also represented. The team was indebted again this year to main sponsor J&D Pierce Contracts. Pete Bowsher supplied the wood to be carved and Adam Murray, of Thick and Thin Lumber Company, the slabs.

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GVC allows the use of tools other than chainsaws and this gives the crowd another interesting insight as to the skills of the carvers. The day kicked off at 10 am with the first two-hour carving session. Competitors then broke for lunch before recommencing on the final two hours to complete their carves. A short break then saw them produce a quick carving in 30 minutes. A prize-giving and auction ended the day.

Part of the attraction of these events is the crowd trying to work out just what it is that each competitor is carving. This is sometimes a bit easier with the quick carves, where smaller animals such as owls become a standard sight. The crowd was treated on the main carve to carvings of bears, benches, birds, a wizard and a thistle-decorated chair, amongst others. The competition does have first, second and third placings and a People’s Choice award.

It took the judges a bit of time to sort the places out – perhaps not surprising, given the high standard on display. Judge James McCosh, the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of North Ayrshire, admitted it was difficult trying to decide on the winners. He marvelled at the skills of the carvers but was also complementary about the whole event and the team behind it.

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As the carvers gathered in the centre of the arena, the placings were announced. Third place went to West Lothian-based carver Jonny ‘Chainsaw’ Stableford with a carving entitled ‘Come and Get Yer Tea’. Second place went to first-timer Daniel Cordell for his ‘Huge Bear’ and first place went to Glasgow-based James Elliott for his ‘Honey Bear’ carving. James also picked up the People’s Choice award, completing a successful GVC for him. 

James took to his Facebook page to tell his followers what being placed first meant to him, showing pictures of his carving and commenting: “It was the only Scottish chainsaw carving show this year, so a real privilege to place! As always, humbled to be competing amongst extremely talented Scottish, English and Welsh carvers. Thanks to Norrie, Rose and the GVC team for pulling out all the stops.”

Second-place carver Daniel Cordell had a similar view. Daniel has been participating at carving events for the last 20 years and has picked up 17 awards. He said: “I really enjoyed myself. I didn’t know what to expect from such a small event, having carved at the largest events like the APF and abroad. I was pleasantly surprised. Friendly and welcoming, as well as safely and efficiently set up to run smoothly. Great timber and even dry weather arranged.”

Third-placed carver Jonny ‘Chainsaw’ Stableford offered a view not only on being placed, but also on the overall event itself.

He said: “I have been carving at GVC since it started and it’s rapidly becoming one of the leading carving events in Scotland. It is impressive how it has grown in such a short time, a real credit to Norrie and Rose, and of course the huge team of helpers. Despite the panicked frenzy of a time restriction, I still managed to learn things from the carvers around me.

“Having been caught out in the past, I had planned what I thought was a manageable carving, but when I was shown the ‘30 minutes remaining’ sign there was a bit of a rocket lit to get it finished. Most of the carvers do not really view it as a competition and I was not paying attention when my name was read out at the prize-giving. It is always nice to be able to name your wins when applying for other events, though. I’m already looking forward to next year and I hope I am invited back again.”

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The auction of the carves followed the announcing of the placings and the prices paid ranged from a couple of hundred pounds to nearly £1,200, achieved after strong bidding for Daniel Cordell’s ‘Huge Bear’. Naturally, Daniel was pleased at the outcome, but he was honest enough to share his mixed feelings. 

He said: “Obviously I’m very happy to have the cash in my pocket in challenging times and to feel that what I intended to carve has been achieved in four hours and is desirable to at least two bidders. However, I never feel like bragging, as I am aware some carvers did not receive bids to the value they deserved. Auctions are a bit of a lottery.”

The third GVC was an undoubted success and this is best reflected in a small selection of some of the comments of the carvers who took part, which were made to me after its conclusion. From Alice Buttress: “GVC is a great event run by a very friendly team and it was really good to be carving there again as it is the first competition in two years and the only one in Scotland this year. I have really missed the great camaraderie with my fellow carvers.”

Welsh-based carver Ian Williams probably summed up the feelings of many of the carvers: “It was great to be back in Scotland. It was the first time I had taken part in the event, which has a growing reputation. The event was well attended by carvers from around the UK, who produced some fantastic carves. The event was well organised and ran smoothly.  I enjoyed catching up with colleagues and fellow carvers.”

Sam Bowsher said: “GVC 2021 was a great wee show to kick-start the Scottish carving shows after their COVID-19 break. It was good to see everyone again and nice to carve alongside them. A well-run wee show that improves each year. Unfortunately, I did not manage to place, but I guess there is always next year.”  

His father Pete Bowsher said he was pleased to be back carving. However, as someone who holds down a full-time job in forestry, he said the COVID-19 ‘lay off’ had in some respects been good, allowing him to get a break from the carving show circuit which he has taken part in for such a long time.

The final comment on the 2021 GVC came from Craig ‘Steeley’ Steele, who said: “The day was a great success. The event is extremely well run and all the carvers comment on how well looked-after we are. It was two long years for most of us between doing a carving event to a crowd and it was a thrill to see how much the crowd enjoyed it, but mostly to reconnect with the other carvers. Nansi Hemmings came out of retirement for the day and this was Tim Burgess’s final carving event. The obvious plaudits go to Norrie, Rose and their brilliant team. We all left with broad smiles but feeling a little down to think it is a year to go until the next GVC.”

Next year’s GVC will be held on Saturday, 10 September, 2022. www.garnockvalleycarves.com