FOR the second year running, German carver Michael Tamoszus took the coveted top spot at the Scottish Open Chainsaw Carving competition at Carrbridge. His carve, titled ‘Girl with a Lantern’, impressed the judges in a year that many present felt saw the standard of carving once more go up a notch. This was Michael’s seventh year attending the event and the third year in the last four that he has been placed in the top three positions.

Forestry Journal: Michael Tamoszus and some of the many Carve helpers.Michael Tamoszus and some of the many Carve helpers.

Once more, it was Pete Bowsher who he pipped to the winning position, with Pete being awarded second place. This year saw Pete going head to head with his son Sam, who now has his own carving business, Chip off the Old Block Chainsaw Carving, for a bit of added spice to the competition.

To complete the symmetry with last year, Martin Kalman from Slovakia was placed third. Martin did the double last year, winning Best New Entrant and being placed third. This year he took the third spot again and won the Carver’s Choice prize.

The weather was not kind to the organisers for this year’s 17th Carve Carrbridge, with the rain persisting all day. Carvers are a hardy bunch and so too are the spectators who turn out to support this event each year.

Forestry Journal: ‘Girl with a Lantern’.‘Girl with a Lantern’.

Many of the carvers had thought ahead and pitched gazebos across their tarp positions. Others simply ensured that they had a good supply of waterproof gear so they could change at lunchtime. From the original entry of 32 carvers, 24 were drawn from the hat to compete – 15 from the UK, two from Germany (including this year’s only female carver, Sylvia Itzen), and one each from Argentina, Canada, USA, Slovakia, Spain, Poland, and the Czech Republic.

They came from many different backgrounds, including formal art-based settings, hobbyists and others from a forestry or arboricultural career. Most, but not all, of those who carve have their own full-time businesses earning a living from their work. Carve Carrbridge is an event where the main competition is held over a four-hour period, where the carvers are tasked with producing an end carve using only chainsaws. No other power or hand tools are permitted.

Forestry Journal: Carve is a competition using chainsaws only – as Pete Bowsher demonstrated.Carve is a competition using chainsaws only – as Pete Bowsher demonstrated.

The competition began at 10am. The carvers had a two-hour morning session followed by an hour’s break for lunch, then a further two hours in the afternoon. The finished carves were sold by auction at the end of the overall competition with the money raised staying with the original carver. After the main competition, a Quick Carve event saw carvers produce a small carve in 30 minutes, auctioned to raise funds for the local Carrbridge community.

The logs that are used at Carve Carrbridge are supplied each year by one of the event’s sponsors, BSW Timber Group. Dave Mills, mill manager at the nearby Boat of Garten sawmill, confirmed it was back to the favoured Scottish Sitka spruce after last year’s Douglas fir.

Forestry Journal: Sylvia Itzen, the only female carver this year.Sylvia Itzen, the only female carver this year.

“Some of the carvers found the Douglas fir a little hard on their saws, so I thought this year I would give them a break,” he said. “This year, 30 of the biggest logs we could find, some with diameters of up to one metre, have been sent to Carve, so I hope the carvers can be even more creative than usual with these logs.”

Dave and BSW Timber Group have been supporters of the event for a number of years. He said: “It is a fantastic timber-related event that is supported by many from across the sector, from employees to suppliers, competitors and customers, so it is highly relevant to what we do. On top of this, the event raises something like £15,000 every year for local good causes, across a number of our areas, so as a member of the local community myself, I feel I have a personal responsibility to support this event which takes place in our patch. I also thoroughly enjoy it.”

Forestry Journal:  Pete Bowsher and his ‘Hillbilly Carver’. Pete Bowsher and his ‘Hillbilly Carver’.

Event coordinator Gavin Gerrard explained what Carve Carrbridge is all about. He said: “We’ve always said that Carve Carrbridge is an event for all the family and we’re delighted to see the carvers have taken this quite literally, with brothers, fathers and sons going up against each other. Carve is a massive event for Carrbridge and would not be possible without the dedicated band of volunteers, many of them making it a family affair too.”

The Badenoch and Strathspey Pipe Band and the Woodland Orchestra provided musical entertainment during the day. The Woodland Trust and the Scottish School of Forestry were also represented as well as chainsaw and forestry equipment suppliers.

Those wanting to take a break away from the event could wander around the Carving Trail in the village and spot the many carves found in gardens and other places. Many of these were produced at Carve Carrbridge over the years.

Forestry Journal: Josh Dagg working on his ‘Wolf on all fours’.Josh Dagg working on his ‘Wolf on all fours’.

As the competition moved towards the lunch break, some of the carves were beginning to take shape. There were six benches in different stages of development, a Gruffalo, a carving of a horse with a boy, some animal carvings and Michael Tamoszus’s carve, which looked like it had shades of similarity to the excellent ‘Girl in the Wind’ from last year.

I had a chat with Ian Williams, just on lunch beak, and he confirmed that carving under a gazebo was usually fine until you stepped outside and got a dose of rain down your neck. Ian, from North Wales, was taking part in his fourth Carve and is a former firefighter who started carving as a hobby but now does it full-time. He explained the carve he was working on was taking longer to perfect because Carve Carrbridge only allows the use of saws.

Forestry Journal: Ian Williams, who explained that Carve Carrbridge presents greater challenges because of it being a chainsaw-only competition.Ian Williams, who explained that Carve Carrbridge presents greater challenges because of it being a chainsaw-only competition.

“I love Carve, but it is a massive challenge to make an end carve in four hours,” he said. “The bit of the carve I was working on just before lunch took me 30 minutes to do. At other competitions, where other carving tools can be used, I could have done this work in 10 minutes. That said, I know if I can complete this carve here at Carrbridge in four hours, I will be able to do it anywhere. The atmosphere is fantastic and I love being here.”

Lunchtime conversation in the bowling club pavilion, where the volunteers provide tea, coffee, juice, burgers and a seemingly endless supply of home-baked cakes, inevitably revolved round the weather. Sylvia Itzen was clearly enjoying the event, working on her carve of a woman, and her solution to the rain was simply to change her jacket to a new, dry one.

Forestry Journal: James Ross presents Michael Tamoszus with his First Place prize.James Ross presents Michael Tamoszus with his First Place prize.

My lunchtime companion was James Ross, described on the Carve Carrbridge website as a ‘prolific local photographer, who has documented village life in Carrbridge for many years’. James, who has for at least 14 years been the official photographer for Carve, agreed this year to present the prizes to the winners. This meant I was asked to take the pictures of the prize-giving ceremony, as he was going to be otherwise engaged – no pressure then, following in the footsteps of a Carve legend.

Over a nice piece of carrot cake we had a chat with Josh Dagg, the Canadian carver, on his fifth visit to the competition, about his carve. He confirmed that it was a ‘wolf on all fours’ made from two large logs, and that he wanted to produce something that he felt had not been done before. A quick check with the ‘oracle of Carve’, James Ross, confirmed that he was correct. No wolves on four legs had been seen before, but there was a ‘cougar on two’ in 2009, by the American Bob King.

Josh told us about the rain impact. He said: “It affects your thought patterns, because you are conscious of it, and I find it interferes with you thinking ahead about what you want to do next and where you want to be with your carve. I am sure that it will be having an impact on all of us but we just need to keep carving.”

The rain continued into the afternoon session but so did the carvers in working hard to get to the finish. The tea tent reported record takings of nearly £1,700 on the day, due to the cold, wet weather. The contrast in sales success could also be seen in long queues at the van selling hot chocolate and drinks, compared to the ice cream van, which was overwhelmed with customers at last year’s event – but not this year.

During this session, the six judges got to work with their assessments. Led once again by Rosie Reid, a local artist, they could be seen with their clipboards walking around the arena. Stephen Blair, who assists at Carve and is a local tree surgeon, was one of the judges and he told me that it was hard marking on ‘technical quality’ “because each time you go back to a carve it has even more work carried out on it, making you question your scoring”.

Forestry Journal: Marcos Marino Seoane, who won the Best New Entrant award.Marcos Marino Seoane, who won the Best New Entrant award.

Once again, Neil Stewart, from the Scottish School of Forestry, was judging. During the day, he had to rescue the gazebo he had been using after the wind got up and blew it into a neighbouring field. The wind at one stage also caused some of the internal arena fencing to blow down. Doug Jeffrey confirmed that the tidy-up next day would be challenging because of the waterlogged nature of the field, but it would still go ahead as usual.

Bang on 3.30pm, the klaxon sounded and the carvers stopped carving. There was not much time before the Quick Carve got up and running, but during a quick chat David Roberts, who trades as Dervish Carvings and had been carving closest to my vantage point, confirmed the rain was only a problem when he ventured outside the cover of his gazebo.

Walking around the area in this manic half hour is an amazing experience, witnessing how lumps of wood are turned into saleable small carves in just 30 minutes. As I did this, I saw Igor Kucera from the Czech Republic carving his trademark spider and Jonny Stableford working on a bear emerging from a tree stump. There were the usual bears, owls and rabbits as well as the odd Highland cow. However, this year there was also a carve of an axe being worked on alongside one of the ‘Sword in the Stone’ and a carve of two hedgehogs.

On the ending of the Quick Carve, there was time for the carvers to catch up, draw breath and congregate under one of the gazebos. Another gazebo was positioned with the prizes, including the famous Claymore, awarded to the winning carver. I grabbed a quick chat with Pete Bowsher, who told me he felt there were up to 10 carvers in the running for the top prize and the standard was high.

Pete’s view was soon confirmed when the judges took an age to decide on their winners. It certainly took much longer than usual and left Graham Allsop with plenty of free airtime to fill on the mike, keeping the crowd both informed and entertained, before he was handed the results.

Best New Entrant this year was Marcos Marino Seoane, who is an official carver for Husqvarna in Spain and Portugal. A popular winner of the People’s Choice, with his carve ‘O’ Wee Timorous Beasties’, was Black Isle carver Iain Chalmers. Iain has won this award on a number of occasions and in the past has lifted the top award three years in a row. As previously noted, Martin Kalman’s ‘Horse and a Boy’ was third, Pete Bowsher’s ‘Hillbilly Carver’ second, and Michael Tamoszus took top spot with his carve ‘Girl with a Lantern’.

Forestry Journal: Umbrellas for the crowd but not always gazebos for the carvers.Umbrellas for the crowd but not always gazebos for the carvers.

The auction took place after the awards ceremony, with regular competitor Gary Shand taking the top prize with his piece ‘Highland Techtar’. Gary has been coming to Carve since 2008 and was placed third in 2015, with his iconic Groot carve from the film Guardians of the Galaxy.

Commenting on Carve Carrbridge 2019, Gavin Gerrard said: “The weather was pretty awful this year, but it failed to dampen the spirits of the competitors or indeed the people who flocked to see them create amazing masterpieces.”

Carve once more proved to be a winner both with the carvers and the crowds and I am sure they will all be back again for next year’s competition which will take place on Saturday, 5 September, 2020.