“I studied ecology at university. After that I worked with the forestry commission in Aviemore. I got to walk around looking at trees all day! Off the beaten track, I got to see some beautiful parts of Scotland. So I’m thankful for that. I fell in love with the area, the Cairngorms National Park and felt I needed to stay here. I decided to create my own work, something which had been a hobby, woodcarving. I had always done it for presents, gifts for people when I was poor. When you don’t have much money, but you still want to give people you love something from the heart. The only way I thought I could do that was using some skills my grandad taught me back in Newcastle when I was young. I used to go into the woods in the area where I grew up. I would find some gnarly bits of wood and make something out of it. That was part of my childhood.
I think what makes me stay up here is not so much the beautiful surroundings, the mountains and the forests. It’s the people who live up here in the Cairngorms. Because they trust you from the start. A lot of places I’ve lived before it’s quite the opposite. People don’t trust you until you prove them otherwise. Here, people make such an effort to get to know you. That makes you feel so welcomed. It’s a lovely place to live.
The kids I knew growing up, they’re now a lot wealthier than me, I can tell you that! They probably have much bigger homes, take really nice holidays. Yes very different! But it doesn’t bother me. I love it here. It’s a very relaxed pace of life. It’s a bit slowed down, working in the woods. In the highlands in general I think everyone takes a different pace of life. I think it’s so healthy for people. Just to slow down a bit and enjoy what they’ve got. I love that about this area and the people that live here. I haven’t got much spare cash for a flash car but I can say that I enjoy every day.
When you work with wood you have to take things a bit slower.
The sort of woodwork I do is green woodworking. Its a traditional process. It takes fresh wood from a tree when there is still sap. You’re using handtools mainly such as the axe and the knife. A lot of these techniques are Scandinavian. They’re very much in use in Scandinavia but not so much here. I’m not sure why, as we have the same resources. Lots of birch which is a wonderful wood to carve. You’re working closely with the wood. You’re not forcing it to do too much it doesn’t want to. Because I work with handtools you haven’t got all this noise like you do with powertools. It sort of goes hand in hand with living up here and that slow, take-it-as-it-comes way of life. It’s not fast paced, it’s not something that needs to happen right now. It just happens in its own time.
A lot of people who have been to my workshops say that it was the most relaxing thing they’ve done in years. It’s such a lovely thing to say but its also in a way a bit sad. It seems quite common now for modern day living that it’s stressful for a lot of people. I think coming out to the woods and just focussing on what is in front of you, using a natural material and your hands, making something. It gives people space just to let go of the normal things that worry them in everyday life. They come away with a nice relaxed peaceful feeling.”