After a three-year absence, the Scottish Open Chainsaw Carving Competition returned in the flesh once again. It didn’t disappoint. 

THE first Saturday of September once more saw the roar of chainsaws echoing from and crowds flocking to the Sports Field at Carrbridge as the Scottish Open Chainsaw Carving Competition returned in the flesh. 

The return of this major competition was much anticipated by carvers and the public, but also by villagers. Many of them form part of the large force of volunteers who help organise and run this event, which has also contributed funds to support many village projects and initiatives over the years. 

I had caught up with Gavin Gerrard, the event coordinator, on the week of the event as I wanted to find out from him if there had been an impact on the village as a result of Carve Carrbridge not running since 2019.

“The lack of the income from the Carve has limited what we have been able to do in the last couple of years, so it is great to be able to get it back up and running again.

Forestry Journal: Asterix in Scotland from Guillaume Andelot.Asterix in Scotland from Guillaume Andelot. (Image: FJ)

However, perhaps the most important benefit of the Carve for us is the way it brings the community together for a common purpose and connects us with our many friends in the carving community.”

A ‘Virtual Carve’ in 2020 saw carver Sam Bowsher winning the coveted first prize and the famous Claymore Trophy, with his carve ‘Ready to Roam’, while the other main prize of People’s Choice’ went to Welsh Carver Ian Williams. 

German carver Michael Tamoszus won the event when it was last held at Carrbridge and he would have been attempting a hat-trick of wins in the COVID year of 2020. Michael’s late withdrawal from this year’s event meant the hat-trick of straight wins would remain elusive. Local Black Isle carver and stalwart of the show Iain Chalmers picked up the People’s Choice. The Carvers’ Choice award, chosen by the carvers themselves, recognised Martin Kalman from Slovakia as the winner; Martin was not carving at this year’s event.

The gates opened at 9.45am and the carvers, led by Sam brandishing the Claymore, were, in the normal tradition, piped into the carving arena, with the competition starting bang on 10am. The thoughts of the contestants turned to the plans for their carvings; each became immersed in their own little world, using the chainsaws to cut, shape, and work on their end goal.

Gavin’s hopes and aspirations for this year’s event were to see everyone coming back together and having a great day. Most of all, he was hoping the legendary ‘micro-climate’ that Carrbridge is famous for would come good. As it turned out, he certainly got his wish and by the afternoon session the sun was shining, with the crowds flocking in. It is estimated that around 3,500 attended.

Forestry Journal: Sam’s Utterly Otterly wining carve.Sam’s Utterly Otterly wining carve. (Image: FJ)

Around 4.30pm, after once again much deliberation on the part of the judging panel, Sam Bowsher was announced winner of Carve Carrbridge 2022, picking up a prize £500 – sponsored by Stephen Blair Tree Surgery and Grounds Maintenance – and the Claymore Trophy. Sam’s carve was called Utterly Otterly, and showed otters at play in an intricate and delicate setting.  At 24, he was competition’s youngest-ever winner, albeit he did win the’ Virtual Carve’. 

Sam’s win was the first by a home-based carver since 2015 when, by a strange quirk of fate, his father Pete Bowsher won the event. Pete was quick to point out to Sam that he had won the event eight times! 

“It was an absolute pleasure to win Carve Carrbridge!” Sam said. “I had really hoped to win but it still came as a surprise. I was happy with my carving; I love carving otters, but once the four hours were up and I had a look around I, and all the other carvers I spoke to, couldn’t call it! 

“It was great to be back doing the first proper Carrbridge since pre-Covid. My dad’s comment to me after I got the award was: ‘Come back when you’ve won it six more times!’”

Sam beat newcomer Guillaume Andelot, from France, by one point, such was the high standard of carving this year. Guillaume picked up a £400 prize – sponsored by the Cairn Hotel – with his carve Asterix in Scotland. He also picked up the Best New Entrant Award and a further £200. The Best New Entrant Award has gone to an international carver every year since 2017.

Forestry Journal: Sam Bowsher’s carve with half an hour to go.Sam Bowsher’s carve with half an hour to go. (Image: FJ)

Third place and a £250 prize – sponsored by Dulnain Bridge Garage – went to Welshman Chris Wood, who had sported a top hat during the competition. Chris was another of the event’s newcomers and his carve Wolfer was based on the mythical Shetland creature called the Wulver. Chris was runner up in the 2020 ‘Virtual Carve’.

The carvers and the public chose the two remaining awards. The Carvers’ Choice and a bottle of whisky, from Tomatin Distillery, went to English carver Jonathan Sherwood for his Rooster. Jonathan was the recipient of the Best New Entrant Award at Carve 2016 and his carve was certainly worthy of recognition by his fellow contestants.

This year’s People’s Choice was once again – for the third time in eight years – won by Iain Chalmers, this time with his ‘Bear Necessities’ carving. He was rewarded with a £200 prize. 

He said: “It was brilliant to be back at Carrbridge and some sort of normality again. It has been too long in isolation! Great to catch up with the other carvers. I am not sure how many times I have had the People’s Choice over the years but it is the one that I always aim for. Do something the people will like!”

Carve Carrbridge has always had a great representation of international carvers, but, with Michael Tamoszus’s withdrawal and with Ukrainian carver Volodymyr Kravchuk not able to attend, the numbers were reduced this year. Irishman John Hayes was another who had to pull out at a late stage.

Forestry Journal:  Sam being interviewed after the event about his success. Sam being interviewed after the event about his success. (Image: FJ)

“We have a really great line-up of carvers again this year but I think it is fair to say travel is not as easy as it used to be, not helped by the significant rise in costs,” said Gavin. “A few old friends of the Carve were not able to make it this year, which was a real pity.”

The Carve Carrbridge organisers chose the colours of the Ukrainian flag for the Carve Carrbridge 2022 t-shirts the participants wore this year. So although Volodymyr could not make the competition, there was still a show of support for him and his nation. On the international front, then, there were only two carvers, one from France, and the other from Denmark, while the ‘four nations’ were well represented by three Welshmen, six Englishmen, and eight Scotsmen. This year’s carve saw six first-time carvers at Carve Carrbridge.

Representing the international contestants were Frenchman Guillaume, nicknamed ‘Le Grizzly Sculpteur’, and Peter Hausgaard Gregersen, a former teacher now full-time carver, flying the flag for Denmark. 

Until Heather Crompton’s entry, it looked like Alice Buttress was to be this year’s only female carver. Alice is an artist and potter, who operates a family craft business in Carrbridge. This was her 17th year of competing. Alice reminded me she was 71 years old but happy and proud to tell people that! In addition, she had achieved her ambition to still be carving at Carve Carrbridge in her seventies. Alice this year appeared in the BBC Scotland Loggerheads TV series. The series saw two teams of woodworking experts compete against each other to create something unusual and creative from freshly cut wood against the clock in locations across Scotland.

Forestry Journal: People’s Choice – Iain Chalmers.People’s Choice – Iain Chalmers. (Image: FJ)

Heather, based in Huddersfield, works predominantly in wooden figurative sculpture having studied art at college. Her carve of the day was in keeping with her style of creating unique sculptures and carvings. 

Alice was not the only carver at the event that had been appearing on the small screen this year.

Sam Bowsher and Chris Wood were two of twelve chainsaw carvers who appeared in the Discover Canada show Cut Above, pitting their wits and skills against one another in a 12-part series, which saw them carving against each other and the clock, looking to avoid elimination and to win a large cash prize in the end.

On your marks 

The one thing about Carve Carrbridge is that it is always exciting and entertaining watching the carvers at work. Some work from memory, others from sketches, and yet more mark out the log with spray paint to outline where cuts need to be made. One thing is for sure: once that hooter goes, there is a real intensity and effort put into each creation.

Once the event starts, the carvers are in the capable hands of Doug Jeffrey, the carvers’ coordinator, and Graham Allsop, the MC for Carve. Graham admitted to being a bit rusty and nervous at the start but was soon into his stride updating the crowds as to the progress of the event and the day’s entertainment. For Doug it was just good to be back, although he did explain that since the pandemic, organising such events was more challenging. 

Forestry Journal:  Best New Entrant – Guillaume Andelot. Best New Entrant – Guillaume Andelot. (Image: FJ)

The logs, once again, this year were Sitka spruce, supplied by the BSW Timber Sawmill at Boat of Garten. Dave Mills, the mill manager, has been a sponsor of the event and a judge as well.

“Having been a regular supporter of the Scottish Chainsaw Open Carving Championships, I was honoured and privileged to be asked to be part of the judging panel and present the prizes for the 2022 event. Having missed the last two years to COVID, this year was extra special to all of us, whether a carver, a member of the judging team or a member of the local community, and somehow it felt natural to be back together to put on a great show. The weather was mercifully dry, and once again the standard of the carving was just outstanding.”

It only took 45 minutes of carving to start to get an idea of what some of the end carves might look like. A horse, bears, owls, an eagle, a wizard and a pair of clasped hands soon began to take shape. 15 minutes later, an Asterix figure could be added, along with what I and James Ross, the Carve official photographer, thought was a peacock but turned out to be a rooster, a lion, a lady figure and some interesting benches, such is the speed that the carvers operate at.

The first two hours flew by and it was soon time for the hooter and a well-earned lunch break for the carvers. The first carvers were back in the arena after a short 30-minute break and with 15 minutes to go to the restart all were preparing for the remaining two hours. Meanwhile, the weather had improved dramatically and the sun was shining strongly. Buses continued to ferry crowds from the parking locations to the event throughout the afternoon.

At the start of this session, it was still unclear to many what Garry Shand was carving.

He was certainly using the entire towering 8ft log. The end carve was a Tree Spirit/Ent carving. Ents come from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth fantasy world and are a species of beings that closely resemble trees. It was also, by this time, becoming known that Chris Woods carve was based on a Shetland mythical creature.

Craig ‘Steeley’ Steele, a carver who in the past has carved benches, tackled King Neptune in a departure from the norm. 

“I did try something out of my comfort zone especially for that four-hour event!”

This session is where the judges really start to focus on each carving and start to compile their scores and comments on each. The chief judge once more was Rosie Reid, a local artist; two more art specialists, Justin Prigmore and Anne Rae, joined her. The rest of the panel comprised industry specialists and sponsors. Dave from BSW Timber, Will Anderson of Seafield & Strathspey estates, local tree surgeon Stephen Blair and Neil Stewart of the Scottish School of Forestry – UHI Inverness.

All too soon the two hours passed by and the hooter sounded for the end of the carve. The Badenoch & Strathspey Pipe band entertained the crowd, the carvers prepared for the Quick Carve event, and the judges spent more time reviewing each creation. The Quick Carve gives 30 minutes for the contestants to produce an item for auction, with the funds raised going to the local community. It also gives the judges time to add up scores and work out the prizewinners.

Dave offered me a judge’s perspective after the results were announced.

“Every year I’ve been involved in judging this competition we all seem to find it harder and harder to separate the top contenders as the standard just keeps on improving. This year Sam Bowsher’s ‘playful otters’ was a classic example of how the standard of carving just seems to be getting better. As a judge, it is fantastic to watch the carvers at work and see how their creations develop over the four hours of the competition.”

Probably because of the current economic situation, the prices bid this year were on the lower side compared to some that I have seen at past carves. Nevertheless, the carvers were rewarded for their efforts and Carrbridge gained community funds, which have been lacking over the past two years.

As always, I like to leave the final words to some of those involved with the event. 

Dave added: “A huge thanks must go to the organisers of the event at the weekend; there are lots of volunteers who are behind the scenes who never get the plaudits, but from my perspective it was a huge success, I genuinely enjoyed being a part of it, and I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.”

Forestry Journal: Auction in progress.Auction in progress. (Image: FJ)

Carver Ian Williams said: “It was fantastic to be given the opportunity to carve again at Carrbridge; there is no other competition like it anywhere.” 

‘Steeley’ agreed. “The event was superb as always and there was an even bigger buzz for the carvers, having waited for three years. The crowd seemed bigger, arrived earlier than usual and although the prices were not the usual high, we all thoroughly enjoyed it. They really do know how to run a top quality event, where we are superbly looked after and treated almost like rock stars”

The final word goes to Alice. 

“Myself and all the other carvers love Carve Carrbidge and along with the villagers we are all delighted to have the competition back in the village after a three-year break due to the pandemic. There is a wonderful buzz in the village during the competition and, being run totally by volunteers, it raises welcome funds for many village projects. The great day is finished nicely with a wonderful Scottish flourish in the shape of a ceilidh in the village hall.”