Forestry Journal looks back at all the action from the Beith-based carving competition Garnock Valley Carves 2023.

THIS year, Garnock Valley Carves celebrated its fifth year of running and Norrie and Rose Brown, who had a vision to bring a chainsaw carving event to the town of Beith in North Ayrshire, were once more at the helm, leading the organising team of local volunteers. Their idea for this event came from a trip they made to Chetwynd in British Colombia, a town famous for its carving event and trail. Carvers Pete Bowsher and Craig ‘Steeley’ Steele agreed to help from day one and they were amongst a field of 13 at this year’s event.

All were UK-based, except Sylvia Itzen, who had travelled from her home country of Germany. Sylvia, alongside Andy O’Neill and Shane Greene, was a first-timer at Garnock Valley Carves, though she did travel to Beith in 2020 to take part in that year’s event, which was cancelled at short notice, due to COVID. Sylvia and Steeley did carve in the Beith Community Garden, though not competitively, in an unadvertised COVID-controlled demonstration event. Alice Buttress was the other lady carver this year.


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Sylvia’s carving, ‘Timber Bench’, won first prize and she was voted ‘People’s Choice’, emulating the feat achieved by Pete Bowsher in 2019 and James Elliot in 2021. Sylvia’s bench was a quite amazing carving with the recognised tools of the trade of a forester – a chainsaw, axe and crosscut saw – incorporated. It was certainly a carving that captured the crowd’s attention from early on as she worked on it, and she was delighted to win.

“It’s great to have won the competition and to be back here again,” she said. “I did come during COVID times and everyone was so friendly and welcoming. It has been the same this time. This is a lovely area with fantastic people and it is a great event to carve at. I have carved a similar bench before, but for this one I decided to go much bigger. There were many good carvings today and it must have been difficult for the judges. I know just how hard it is, having been a judge myself at events back home in Germany.”

Forestry Journal: Dave Roberts doing some preparatory work on what was to become his lion carving.Dave Roberts doing some preparatory work on what was to become his lion carving. (Image: FJ/James Hendrie)

Second place went to Welsh carver Ian Williams with ‘Meerkat Manor’. Ian had told me at the start of the day that he intended to carve meerkats and it was fascinating to watch his piece develop over the four hours allocated for the main event. Ian took up chainsaw carving full time after a 30-year career in the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, having previously carved as a hobby, and was so pleased have picked up this award.

“I was excited to be travelling back to Beith for what is a very strong, up-and-coming event in the UK,” he said. “While this event is in its younger years it has attracted some big names from the carving world, and I think after this year it will continue to attract even more. I was very lucky to be judged second overall. I have never been so pleased. My emotions were all over the place as I wasn’t expecting it. This was my first-ever placing in a competition. I’m looking forward to next year’s event already.”

Third place went to Pete Bowsher, whose carver’s bio, which was clipped to the fence around the arena, started with the words: “They call me Chainsaw Pete and the grandfather of the chainsaw carving world. I am not a grandfather and I am not the oldest carver here today, but for a small beer I would disclose who that lady is!”

Forestry Journal: Sylvia takes a well-earned break.Sylvia takes a well-earned break. (Image: FJ/James Hendrie)

Pete is definitely well respected within the community, having carved across the world since he carried out his first public piece at an event in 1988. His carving, ‘Bear Buddies’, was of a big bear with its arms around a smaller bear and it attracted a lot of interest when it came to the auction.

Pete’s bear will eventually end up on display at a hospital and he was pleased it had been so well liked by the purchasers.

When I spoke to him on arriving at Manse Field, Pete had one thing on his mind. “I just want to get started,” he said. “Us carvers come to the arena when the field is empty and we are still there at the end when it is empty again. Getting carving is the best thing for us.” Pete also told me the story of how he had lost a fuel cap for one of his saws at the Carve Carrbridge event the previous Saturday but that amazingly it had been found in the arena there and delivered to him, at Beith, by Alice Buttress – what were the chances of that?

Planning for each event starts as soon as the previous one has finished and for the fifth Garnock Valley Carves, Norrie and his team decided to keep building on the successful formula of previous years – great carvers, stallholders and a wide array of activities to suit both adults and children, making it a family day out. GVC is supported each year by a number of sponsors including the Christian Action Group, North Ayrshire Council, Ayrshire Tree Surgeons, Alter Landscapes, Hill House, and W & J Knox.

The main sponsor is Jim and Anne Pierce (J & D Pierce) who have supported the event from the beginning. This year they were unable to attend and it was their daughter Julie Rose who opened the competition.

Forestry Journal: Carving over. Roll on 2024!Carving over. Roll on 2024! (Image: FJ/James Hendrie)

“It was a privilege to be considered and an honour to have the task of opening the Garnock Valley Carves 2023, a job usually carried out by my Dad,” she said. “I was very nervous, as I was not sure what exactly to say, as this was a first for me, but following some much-required words of encouragement and wisdom from him, I had a fair idea.”

Julie praised the carvers, the organising team and the spectators for all contributing to what she was sure was going to be a very enjoyable day. Thomas McBride then piped the carvers into the carving arena and at 10am the roar of chainsaws finally sounded out across Manse Field.

Julie added: “The organisers Norrie and Rose are amazing. They have some great support around them, but the majority of the work they do by themselves. Hats off to this wonderful couple, who were so very kind and welcoming, and who hide their stress levels well. The organisational skills to pull off an event such as this are off the chart; commitment, dedication, and a vision brought to life the recipe of the day. I can understand why Mum and Dad are so keen to support Garnock Valley Carves.”

Forestry Journal:  Alice Buttress and her ‘Highland Coo’ carving. Alice Buttress and her ‘Highland Coo’ carving. (Image: FJ/James Hendrie)

Crowds were treated to some terrific carvings created through the morning session and then again in the afternoon session. Walking around the vacated arena while the carvers went for a well-earned lunch, it was clear to see just what each was creating. Many interesting pieces were starting to take shape, including one by Simon Archer based on the ‘Owl and the Pussycat’ poem by Edward Lear. There was also a seat being created by new carver Andy O’Brien, which Alice Buttress would later describe as: “A beautiful artistic seat with a cascade of leaves, owls and other animals.” 

While the judges deliberated over the places after the main carve was finished, competitors got on with the 30-minute quick carve. Hedgehogs, bears, owls, a Highland cow, and other wonderful pieces were created in this short period. All too soon it was time for the presentations and auction. 

Pete Bowsher had to dash back into the arena to collect his award after popping out from an ice cream. His carving also achieved a great price at the auction but he told me he is always quite philosophical about auctions, pointing out that sometimes there can be neither rhyme nor reason to the prices achieved. This was borne out by Jonny Stableford’s carving, which was first up, failing to reach the reserve price he had set. For him: “First up in the auction can be hit or miss. This time it was a miss. However, the highest bidder agreed to pay the reserve price. It only went down the road to Kilbirnie.”

So as the sun set on Garnock Valley Carves 2023 it was time to gauge reaction. Organiser Norrie said: “This year we had a new senior team who did a really great job on the day. With the usual last-minute rush in the morning, we opened to the public on time. As we are not part of a competitive group of events, and also due to the size of logs this year, we suggested to all the carvers that they make as early a start as they wanted to.”

Forestry Journal:  Ian Williams with his ‘Meerkat Manor’ carving. Ian Williams with his ‘Meerkat Manor’ carving. (Image: FJ/James Hendrie)

“The standard of carvings increases year on year and this year we had some new carvers who all seemed to enjoy the day. We have to thank our many sponsors, stewards and dozens of various helpers, in particular our new senior staff who switched into top gear and made it all happen. They all make this day so special; without their help, it would not be possible.”

Mike Burgess commented: “The weather held out for us and the size of those logs did not disappoint. As ever, a big shout has to go to Norrie and Rose plus the whole team involved. As a carver, we are so well looked after. I must say the clear-up on Sunday was impressive and it shows that this show will go from strength to strength. I hope to be involved again next year, fingers crossed.”

Forestry Journal:  ’Kissing hedgehogs’ from the quick carve. ’Kissing hedgehogs’ from the quick carve. (Image: FJ/James Hendrie)

As the local Ayrshire carver, acknowledged by Norrie as a great supporter not only of the event but also to the organisers, I wanted to leave the last word to Craig ‘Steeley’ Steele.

He said: “The most important points are that Norrie just turned 85 last month and is still running the event with the utmost determination and efficiency and is still striving to improve it. A fantastic fifth year with three new carvers. Decent crowds considering the competition from other events. Anybody from the crowd I spoke to said how fascinating and thrilling they found it. I think it is the last show of the year for most of us UK carvers, which is unfortunate, but a great one to end on. Great event, fantastic organising team, and brilliant group of carvers, who get to spend some quality time together around a fire at night once the sawdust has settled.”