History was made at the landmark 20th edition of Carve Carrbridge when Lkhagvadorj Dorjsuren claimed the event’s first-ever quadruple – and he came all the way from Mongolia to do it.  

IT was perhaps fitting in this 20th year of Carve Carrbridge that a new entrant, Lkhagvadorj Dorjsuren from Mongolia, carved his way to immortality by completing the quadruple!

‘George’, as the programme notes referred to Lkhagvadorj, produced an amazing piece called ‘Hairy’ of a Highland cow and calf. It was clear from very early on that Lkhagvadorj was creating something very special from both the crowd and the other carvers’ reactions.

Anticipation was building by the time master of ceremonies (MC) Martin Allsop started to announce the winners of the various awards, with Lkhagvadorj being invited up to accept the Best

New Entrant, People’s Choice and Carvers’ Choice accolades. Carve Carrbridge official photographer, James Ross, told him not to move too far away from the podium where the awards were being made from after getting the first award, so convinced was he that Lkhagvadorj would pick up more.

Forestry Journal: Sam Bowsher, 2022 winner, leads the carvers into the arena to start the 2023 event.Sam Bowsher, 2022 winner, leads the carvers into the arena to start the 2023 event. (Image: FJ/James Hendrie)

When it came to the top three awards, Sam Bowsher was announced in third place with his stunning carve ‘Live, Giraffe, Love’, then Jonny Stableford was placed as runner-up with another wonderful carving ‘Ya wee Dancer’; Jonny’s jig and dance of delight both to and from the podium to collect his award showed his delight. The scene was then set for Lkhagvadorj’s crowning as champion, to loud cheering and applause.

Lkhagvadorj needed help carrying all his prizes to pose for pictures next to Hairy, brandishing the famous Carve Carrbridge claymore. He was full of smiles, and clearly delighted at his success. Perhaps though, as a newcomer, he was not fully aware of just what he had done. Carve stalwarts Pete Bowsher and Iain Chalmers, as well as German carver Michael Tamoszus, have previously achieved a treble of awards, but not even these great carvers had managed the quadruple.

Being interviewed after the pictures were completed, Lkhagvadorj confirmed that, unbelievably, this was his first-ever four-hour carving event and that he was more used to 10-day carving competitions. 

“It’s a very special feeling, this being my first trip to Scotland and the UK, winning this competition. When I knew I was coming to Scotland to take part in Carrbridge, I researched Scotland on the internet because I wanted to carve something typically Scottish, so it had to be Highland cows.”
Runner-up Jonny Stableford, who has been carving at the event since 2010, went one place better than his 2012 third-place finish by picking up second place this year.

“I don’t particularly enjoy the competitive part of the event,” he said. “There are so many very skilled carvers there I often think I am outmatched and I usually just carve something that I think will sell. What is more interesting is that I hate the human form and avoid it like the plague. I worked from a single clip-art screenshot and absolutely zero practice! I pretty much had it roughed out by lunch, which was a good place to be, giving me the afternoon to put in details and make any adjustments.

Forestry Journal:  Lkhagvadorj Dorjsuren being interviewed after the awards presentations, explaining that he researched Scotland online and decided that he needed to carve Highland cows! Lkhagvadorj Dorjsuren being interviewed after the awards presentations, explaining that he researched Scotland online and decided that he needed to carve Highland cows! (Image: FJ/JH)

“The fact that I was quite happy with it when the finishing siren went off meant I was not too bothered about anyone else’s opinion. When my name was called out meaning I had scored higher than last year’s winner and world-famous TV personality Sam Bowsher, I think the rush of joy went right through my body and into my feet. It is not nice to gloat, Sam is a very talented carver, and his piece was beautiful, so I know I must have done something right and if the one person who beats you is not only a world-class carver, but took four awards, then it’s a truly deserved win for me!”

Meanwhile Sam, who was about to head out to Canada and then the USA for other carving events, was pleased to be placed in the top three.

“I’m delighted to have been awarded third place at this year’s carve! Obviously, another win would have been great, but to make it onto the podium from a field full of great carvers is a great feeling.” Sam also won the Virtual Carve event in 2020, so three podium finishes since his first event in 2019!

Carve Carrbridge is an event that has become well and truly established on the carving circuit since it started in 2003. Gavin Gerrard, the event coordinator for the past 17 years, has overseen its success and growth, supported by a hard-working team of volunteers, as well as the residents of this Highland village, who have embraced the event and offered a warm welcome to the thousands of visitors that attend it each year. For its 20th edition, Gavin and the team stuck to the “tried-and-tested approach of previous years, while looking back at all those that have played a part in getting the event to this milestone”.

He was delighted with Lkhagvadorj’s success. “If you are going to travel halfway across the world to attend Carve Carrbridge, what an amazing result for George to win not just one category but four!” 

Forestry Journal: Sam Bowsher’s Live, Giraffe, Love carving at lunchtime.Sam Bowsher’s Live, Giraffe, Love carving at lunchtime. (Image: FJ/JH)

A total of 18 carvers took to the arena at this year’s event, down from the normal numbers with three late call-offs, with the issues around travel and insurance now affecting the numbers of international carvers that are able to attend. Lkhagvadorj and Sylvia Itzen from Germany were the only international carvers, while Sylvia, Alice Buttress, and Lisa Langley made up the three women carvers this year. Lisa, Lkhagvadorj, and Kaspian Askham were the three first-timers to the event.

Gavin’s wish before the event was for good weather, for everyone to have a good time and to leave with great memories, and I think it is safe to say the crowd that turned up, which looked as big as ever, certainly did. 

He was, however, concerned about the issues around the low numbers of international carvers that are now able to make it to Carve Carrbridge, particularity those from the USA where the insurance issues seem most pronounced

“As an open competition, we continue to welcome applications from and participation of international carvers.

Forestry Journal: Ya Wee Dancer end carving.Ya Wee Dancer end carving. (Image: FJ/JH)

“The major challenge for international carvers has been meeting the required level of public liability insurance required by our public entertainment licence. This needs to be purchased in their home country to cover them internationally and unlike previous events, we have been unable to find a UK insurer to cover this liability.”

Hopefully, this is something that a solution may be found for in future, as international carvers certainly add to the event. 

Litter and waste on the day was taken away for recycling, along with event waste, while the wood offcuts left from the competition were offered to local people for fuel. The organising team, through its parent charity Carrbridge Ahead, has indicated it has an “ongoing commitment to tree planting to mitigate the carbon cost of the event”. After the Main Carve and Quick Carve, the auction saw three carvings fetch over £1,000. The proceeds of the Main Carve remain with the carvers, but the £5,000 raised from the Quick Carve remains with the local community.

It seems that the standard of carvings rises each year, and this year was no exception as the winning carves proved, but there were a whole range of other creations that delighted the spectators. Eagles, owls, and Highland cows were on display. As were benches, a mouse, an angel, a mermaid, and even a man looking for the ‘elusive capercaillie’. The quick carve saw a number of bears and owls being carved, two hedgehogs, a wolf, a snail and a crooked chair.

Being a judge at Carve Carrbridge must be challenging, but having a group of judges from an artistic and forestry background definitely helps. Dave Mills, former mill manager at BSW Boat of Garten sawmill, was one of the judges.

READ MORE: Carve Carrbridge at 20: Chainsaw carving showpiece celebrates landmark

“Being a timber man, being asked to be a judge for the 20th Carve Carrbridge was a ‘dream gig’. Watching talented carvers work their creative magic on great big lumps of Sitka spruce and unleash their artistic genius is a privilege.”

In his former role, Dave was a great supporter of the event, organising the supply of the wood, and he was delighted that his former colleague Oliver Stephen, mill manager at BSW Fort William, has continued this. 

The main prize sponsors once again were local businesses, including Landmark Forest Adventure Park, the Cairn Hotel, Tomatin Distillery, Dulnain Garage, and Stephen Blair Tree Surgery. 

“I do sponsor the first prize and will continue to do so,” said Stephen Blair. “That is the only part of it that’s business to me. I enjoy being involved in the set-up and tidy-up, and the night in the pub beforehand having a laugh with the carvers. I love their positivity and outlook on life and listening to where they have been and where they are off to next around the world. The carve is a big family of locals, volunteers, carvers, stall-holders and journalists.”

New carvers are attracted each year to carve, and most of their feelings can be summed up in the thoughts of two of 2023’s newbies.

First, Lisa Langley. “Coming up to Carve Carrbridge was an amazing experience. It was the first time I had chainsaw carved exclusively with saws only, so it was a huge challenge. The atmosphere is like no other competition I have been to.” 

Forestry Journal: Lkhagvadorj Dorjsuren 120 minutes into the competition carving Hairy.Lkhagvadorj Dorjsuren 120 minutes into the competition carving Hairy. (Image: FJ/JH)

Kaspian Askham said: “It was a pleasure to be part of the event. It was interesting to see what could be sculpted in four hours alongside such talented carvers.” 

Mike Burgess, who was attending his fifth carve, was happy to have achieved the second-highest auction price for his family of eagles carve and the highest auction price for his quick carve of two owls. 

“Carve Carrbridge is really fantastic to be a part of. I know the carvers look forward to the event each year. For me it is the highlight from the minute I set off to the minute I’m home.” 
Ian Williams, in his sixth year, has a similar view. “I always have a plan for my carving for the event, but that is usually log dependent with regards to shape and size. I was lucky to be drawn out early for the log draw; I got what I wanted. On the day, I was at the ground at 7 am. I have never seen so many people arrive at the event so early; the atmosphere was amazing; that always helps the carvers go that much further.” 

Dave Roberts certainly agreed about the crowd interaction being special. “The fantastic weather led to a good turnout and people lining the fence six or eight deep. 

“This has the effect of not only bouncing back the noise of the saws, but also bouncing back the energy into the ring. It energises the carvers and I think its shows. The quality of the work was fantastic, especially the winning piece, an astounding piece by Lkhagvadorj, whom we all call George, who deserved to sweep the board by winning all the top prizes.” 

Tim Burgess and Alice Buttress have participated in many of the past 20 carves, and both were full of praise for the event. 

Forestry Journal:

Tim first. “Carve Carrbridge is probably the best conducted annual chainsaw carving event in the world.” 

Alice, at 72 years of age and in her 18th Carve Carrbridge, was not only pleased with her own carving, ‘Welcome McMoo’, but the whole event. “The 20th Carve turned out to be another great event; great weather and friendly atmosphere. Added to this was the appearance of some new carvers, particularly ‘George’ all the way from Mongolia who amazed the public, judges and carvers.” 

Final word to James Ross, who has been recording Carve Carrbridge with his pictures since 2004.

“After a very quiet start I felt it went very well, with some amazing carves. The weather could not have been better too. It is a huge pity that there were not more international entrants, but I am fully aware as to why that is. I also missed a few familiar faces; hopefully they may return at future events. What I have noticed over the last few years is that the winning carves have some ‘movement’ to them.” 

I posed a simple question to James. Where did Lkhagvadorj’s Hairy carve rank in his mind over the years he has covered Carve Carrbridge? His reply: “Number one!”

Carve Carrbridge 2024 – Saturday 31 August.