This year sees the return of the Scottish Open Chainsaw Carving Competition, held at Carrbridge after an absence of two years due to the COVID pandemic. Many of the pieces created there end up on the village’s carving trail, and we went along to see them for ourselves. 

IT is now five years since the Carrbridge Business and Tourism Association commissioned a carving by Alice and Jeff Buttress, residents of the Highland village, chainsaw carvers, and competitors over the years at Carve Carrbridge. This carving was to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the aforementioned Old Packhorse Bridge. Called The Bridge 300 Carving and carved from old burr elm, this carving is the first to be found on the Carrbridge Carving Trail.

Its position just next to the village car park and off the main road makes it sought out and admired by locals and visitors alike. There is so much to see on this carving, which saw Alice carve the two supporting pillars and Jeff the centrepiece containing the carving of the bridge itself. To add to the overall piece, Alice added a ceramic river underneath the bridge to represent the River Dulnain.

On the larger pillar there is a deer carved into it along with a tree and examples of the local wildlife, including a badger and an owl, while on the other, smaller pillar there are carvings of the village’s buildings and landmarks, such as a train; if you look closely enough, you’ll see a carving of Alice with her chainsaw! It is a lovely carving and well worthy of being number one on the carving trail as it whets your appetite for what is to come.

The trouble with trying to maintain any form of trail is that things change and evolve over the years. In the case of the carvings at Carrbridge, some literally disappear as people leave the village and take their carving with them, but also each year new carves can be added to those on display in the village but that are not captured on the trail map until it is updated. One such carving is the latest ‘feature’ carve next to the village hall, called Petto.

This is a pretty impressive carve carried out, once more, by two Carve Carrbridge stalwart carvers; Pete Bowsher and Craig ‘Steeley’ Steele. It is a carve of a mountaineer, kayaker and a golden eagle, and it was carved as a tribute to celebrate the life of a village resident called Tom Jones. Tom, who, among many other things, was a driving force behind the setting up of the Scottish Open Chainsaw Competition at Carrbridge. It is called ‘Petto’ as that was the nickname the village children attributed to Tom.

The carving symbolises his love of the outdoors and mountaineering, as well as his skill as a canoeist. There are carvings of both a daffodil and a thistle within the carve to represent Tom’s Welsh roots, but also the fact he and his family settled in Scotland. 

In contrast to this carving, across the road in a garden there is the carving of a green-coloured tree frog, one of the few carves that is painted. Further up the street and opposite the Landmark Forest Adventure Park, a caribou carving sits in another garden.

In the car park is a stunning totem pole carve. Yet another carving in the town created by a well-known carver and Carve Carrbridge competitor, Ian Chalmers.

Forestry Journal:  ‘Bridge 300’ carving complete with Alice Buttress and her chainsaw if you look closely enough. ‘Bridge 300’ carving complete with Alice Buttress and her chainsaw if you look closely enough.

Based in the Black Isle, Ian, alongside Pete, has won the coveted Claymore trophy, given to the winners of the Carve Carrbridge competition on numerous occasions. The totem pole has squirrels carved into it and ‘running’ down it, as well as birds, including an owl, and representatives of the wildlife in the area. Ian has also carved a large wooden sofa inside the park, and other carvings in the park’s WonderWood.

Walking through the village, passing the Carrbridge Artists’ Studio, you arrive at a road junction. Here the Carrbridge ‘Wood Spirit’ carve can be found sitting in the grass in its centre. This is another carve that was completed by Alice and is prominent because of its location, its size and its quite distinctive carving.

Wood spirits are literally the stuff of legends and have long since been believed to protect travellers. It is thought the phrase ‘knock on wood’ comes from the tradition of people entering a forest to hunt knocking on a tree to waken the tree spirit to help protect them against any evil spirits that were in the forest. As a result, carvings of wood spirits have been carved onto walking sticks for many years and a carving of a wood spirit kept in a home is said to bless and protect that place.

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Station Road has several houses with large woodland gardens, many adorned with carvings that were carved at the Carve Carrbridge competition over the years and have found a place there. One has a female figure that was carved from a piece of Sitka spruce by Andy McLachlan, called ‘Contemplation’. This garden also contains an earlier carve from 2006, a ‘Unicorn Unchained’ by Nansi Hemmings and giant ‘Wizard’ carved in 2018 by Andy Burgess at Carve Carrbridge.

Forestry Journal: Ian Chalmer’s Woodlands path ‘Wolfs’ Head’.Ian Chalmer’s Woodlands path ‘Wolfs’ Head’.

Further up the road, another house contains a series of carvings by Alice and Jeff. There is a squirrel that Alice carved from a living stump of a tree that was leaning dangerously. Close by is ‘Hamish the Highland Cow’ lying down in the garden quietly minding his own business. This was carved by Jeff in situ from where the tree it is carved from was felled.

I missed the cockerel that is also to be found in this garden on the day I went around the trail, but from what I have read is does have a tendency to wander!

Glencharnoch Wood, which is a 15-hectare wood lying within the catchment of the Rivers Spey and Dulnain, is situated on the western outskirts of Carrbridge. It is bordered by the railway, the village, and the Landmark Forest Adventure Park. It has a number of woodland paths and, although a small wood, it is rich in biodiversity. It is home to red squirrels and the crested tit, both of which are Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species.

Access to it is off Station Road where there is a car park or from the village centre itself. Three waymarked trails wind their way through woodland that contains two predominant tree species, Scots pine and birch, but also has some examples of aspen growing alongside these trees. There is also a small compartment of Norway spruce at its western edges. A lot of felling took place in this wood during World War Two by Newfoundlander loggers. Indeed, in the graveyard next to the car park, some of these North American loggers are buried.

The wood is an important place to find the Scottish wood ant, as well as the hairy wood ant, which apparently form their nests in the pine needles on the forest floor and are described as being ‘nippy’ insects. Perhaps it is not surprising to find out that one of several carvings to be found in this woodland is of ants. Carved by Ian Chalmers, the ‘Antz’ carving is really striking and it is easy to see why it is popular with the young people of the village, with lots to explore on it and in it.

Forestry Journal: ‘Petto’ carving by Pete Bowsher and Craig ‘Steeley’ Steele as a tribute to the life of villager Tom Jones.‘Petto’ carving by Pete Bowsher and Craig ‘Steeley’ Steele as a tribute to the life of villager Tom Jones.

The carving is of a number of ants crawling over, under and even inside a hollow tree trunk. It is quite interesting as you approach it and walk around it, identifying where all the ants are and indeed how many are actually part of the carve. This carving helps not only to provide interest to those young and old following the woodland trails but also helps to raise awareness of the significance of these insects and the importance of maintaining their natural habitat in Glencharnoch Wood.

Ian is also responsible for the ‘Wolfs’ Head’ carving that is to be found in the wood. He carried out this carving at the Cairngorms Nature event on 2011. These carvings are quite distinct. There has been a debate about whether wolves should be reintroduced into the wilds of Scotland over the years and opinion is certainly divided. It is hard to be divided over the fact that this carving is striking and certainly adds something to the woodland and the trails through it.

An owl is yet another carving to be found, along with three oak seats, which have been part of the carvings in the woodland for a number of years. One of these seats is positioned on a small hillock and sitting on it offers a lovely view across the woods and a chance to be still and perhaps silent for a moment to take in the beauty of the surroundings. The others just off the path perhaps offer the chance to grab a quick breather from your exertions.

The Woodland Trust commissioned the carving of another bench, which is to be found in the woods, and it has an owl on one leg and a pixie house on the other. The Glencharnoch wood is a fitting place to find some terrific woodcarvings and, in these natural surroundings, these carvings certainly do not look out of place. 

Forestry Journal: A colourful tree frog takes the sun in a garden at Carrbridge.A colourful tree frog takes the sun in a garden at Carrbridge.

Many of the carvings on display throughout the village are ones that have been carved at the annual carving competition and purchased by residents at the end of the competition by auction. Some gardens and residents have more than one carving on display and some are quite hard to find unless you look carefully. As well as the carvings, I have mentioned there are quite a few others that I have not seen and these range in shapes, designs and sizes.

There is a wolf carving in one garden, while a sheep graces the garden of another; there are carvings of birds of prey, dragons, bears, local wildlife, as well as practical bench carvings that allow their owners a chance to get use from their purchase. 

With the return of the Scottish Open Chainsaw Carving Competition to Carrbridge, there are sure to be more additions in the future!