For a few weeks - about six, in fact - in June and July of 2013: (is this still news?) I have been working on a commission for the National Trust for Scotland. Through a firm of Stirling architectural joiners, Sash and Case, I was asked to carve the lines of a poem by Kathy Jamie into the ringbeam of the Bannockburn Memorial. This monument marks the site of the battle in 1314 where King Robert the Bruce's army defeated the superior might of King Edward the Second's forces. 

The whole monument and visitor centre has been given a major re-vamp and is due to be opened on June the 24th, 2014, the 700th anniversary of the battle. 

The ring beam is about 10 feet up on the A-listed concrete Rotunda wall and is of laminated Douglas fir. It was installed to replace the original 1965 beam, which had deteriorated over the years. The typeface chosen is Times New Roman and the characters are 200mm high. 

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This is the Rotunda, at an early stage in the renovation, with the beam in place but before carving has begun.

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 These are the first two lines of the poem:

"Here lies our land: every airt 

  beneath swift clouds, glad glints of sun".

 'Airt' means 'direction' in Scots dialect.

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And this is the other end of the line, not quite completed.

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And finally, cutting in progress.

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This is me (right) with the poet, Kathie Jamie.

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And with David McAllister, Director of the Bannockburn Project and Kathie at the press photo shoot. Pictures by Whyler Photos, Stirling. 

- oOo -

And now, at the end of another year, I have a few projects on the bench. The arrrival of our first grandchild - Ruaridh Robert Douglas - meant some family jobs: a piece for the nursery wall, for instance, and the rocking horse has begun to take concrete, or rather Oregon pine and tulipwood, form. There’s a bit of preparation to do on the tulip as it has a bit of a cup to the boards.

Then there’s a portrait head for one of the Crafter’s great-grand-daughters. She has a form of blood cancer and the head is to be part of her campaign to help raise funds for treatment. 

There are three commissions at the enquiry stage. A war memorial refurbishment, a piece of architectural carving and some boat name boards. The war memorial has been hanging around fro a couple of months now and I’m not holding my breath. Next year (only just next year, as today’s the 30th of December) is the centenary of the outbreak of WW1 and there is some money for memorial restoration, so who knows?

In the midst of all this, I have begun teaching a leisure class at Perth College. The first session ended just before Christmas and there should be another 10 week block starting in January. It is fun, the College is a very humane sort of place and the students are all keen . The whole is very friendly and there is a ‘club’ atmosphere about the class.

So here’s looking forward to 2014: may our days be merry and bright!


Well, 2014 is thoroughly mature as I write this on the 17th of July. My year to date has been well-filled; several small commissions and one fairly major one, name boards for a beautifully refurbished 42 foot trawler yacht. The pics follow below.

Most of our time has been taken up with long-distance childcare as our daughter-in-law has a job in Oban on the west coast. A joy but gets in the way of bench time.

No war memorial job yet but it still spoken of, so, again - who knows?


Carved in old-grown teak, gilded and finished with many, many coats of Deks Oljie No.1 and No. 2. 'Destiny’s Child' was the name given to the yacht’s dinghy.


And here it is, in it’s place on the transom.


It’s a brave carver that tries to predict events. I thought long distance childcare, though a joy, was inhibiting of productivity. While not exactly inhibited, productively speaking in one sense at least: the arrival of twins in July of 2015, has certainly extended the childcare remit. Annabelle and James arrived on the 23rd and are thriving. 

The proud parents have bought an old railway platelayer’s cottage that needs renovation. That has grown legs as well - and I can hear voices raised in the cry “Could have told you that”. 

However, commissions continue to arrive and be completed in the intervals at the bench. They have included a sensory display for the Alva Glen Heritage Trust, a local (to me) group that takes care of and improves an area of woodland and water. The brief was for a group of textured panels, mounted together so as to allow access for wheelchair enabled and partially sighted people to explore the shapes, visually and by touch. 

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The panels were themed according to the environment of the Glen and highly stylised. The lighter coloured panels were carved in sycamore and the others in yellow pine. 


Entirely unconnectedly, another environment group has asked for a similar installation for a former industrial site. The old factory pond and the surrounding area have been landscaped and, together with some woodland, form a public open space. The group wish to erect a display depicting the flora and fauna and incorporating an image of the tannery that once occupied the site. Their committee meets again on the 11th of January and should pronouce on my design. The war memorial project is starting to show green shoots but has gone quiet since the go-ahead was announced and a major job for a Glasgow National Health Trust has stalled until after the Winterval. Funny how projects commissioned by committees always seem to take forever…


Now that 2016 is in full flood - and I choose my words with care - in the middle of February and the War Memorial seems to be a gone goose, a satisfying trickle of commissions still comes in. 11th of January’s meeting resulted in approval for the other wildlife panel. The Glasgow job is in the workshop being prepared for carving. Such a pity that the client wants the boards stained black but at least the grain texture shows through and the finish is a fine glossy black. It’s still a pity to cover up the oak’s quarter-sawn loveliness.

September has dawned and the final, final delivery date for the Maryhill Health Centre’s last panel is agreed. There are no photographs of the work, as there is not enough room in the workshop to frame the large boards. Coupled with the tendency of the rather fine black finish to reflect light from every which way, photography has prove to be a challenge I can’t quite overcome. I’ll take pix on the 22nd.


One commission I particularly enjoyed was for a wedding cake stand. It featured, in addition to the bride's and groom's names and the date, a tandem - a bicycle made for two. The marriage was stylish though. 



And here we are on the 22nd. I took the pix! Right after Rowen and I delivered the last, final panel to the Maryhill Health Centre. A bright, modern and very attractive building, staffed by pleasant and helpful professionals. The two smaller panels are mounted one on each side of the wall of the Sensory Garden. “Your Health” is on the outside, facing the road where passers-by can read it; the other, “Curative”, inside. Also inside is the panel bearing the three short poems. It was meant to be at the foot of the stairs between levels inside the building but the conractors omitted to construct the niche for it and the management did not want to have a pice of oak weighing the same as a well-grown 10-year-old child projecting into the fairway. Health and safety doing its job: were it to be dislodged havoc might well ensue.

Its final final final position has not been finally decided on but will be in the Sensory Garden with its fellows. Probably.


This is the street view, to borrow a phrase from Google Earth™. Note the inserted bricks below the panel. Another contractor’s error, despite my working to fractions of a millimetre. Mustn’t grumble…



And this is the interior. The garden is a very peaceful space, planted with scented herbs which will mature in time. And very likely thyme.

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Donny O’Rourke’s words, apprporiate to the setting

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 I am proud to have been elected to the the Hammermen, an Incorporated Trade of the Seven Trades of Stirling. This is an ancient craft Guild, affiliated to the Guildry of Stirling. The Trade Guilds fell into disuse after the grant of Burgh status to the towns of Scotland and the regulation of trade standards by the local councils. Stirling’s Seven Trades have been revived as a result of the town’s elevation to City status. The Hammermen now acts as a charitble foundation and helps young craft apprentices develop their skills with grant towards specialist courses, tools and so forth.

As a new Brother, I felt it appropriate that I should contribute to the dignity of the Trade and offered to carve a plaque, representing the badge of the Hammermen, for use at formal meetings. The Deacon agreed and, with my apprentice carver, Rowen Baird, we decide that it should be, at least partly, a ‘prentice piece for Rowen, who had received a set of carving tools courtesy of the Hammermen. It was presented at the Walking of the Marches at the end of September, 2016. Here it is:

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And finally, folks…


The other bird that came home to roost, so to speak, this week was the Labyrinth for the St Andrews Quakers. Two benches made by an itinerant artisan with words by George Fox, an early Quaker sage carved into them and placed in a labyrinth of paths. The benches provide a quiet spot, entirely appropriate for contemplative folk like the Religious Society of Friends and indeed anyone seeking a moment away from everyday worries or just somewhere to rest. 

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Her’s a bit of fun to brighten the dark February days:

Between the odd jobs that form most of the jobbing carvers’ work, I took time out to make an Advent train. 23 tiny drawers and one big one fitted into a loco and two trucks. From its first appearance on the 1st of December, it was a palpable hit. How refreshing in this world of otherwise wall to wall multi-coloured plastic children’s toys. There were a few of those too.

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An old perennial

Well, Spring has sprung etc. and there is one project that every woodcarver seems to have, either in the planning, in hand or, mostly, in the back of the workshop awaiting the opportune moment … Here’s mine:

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I do know of a wood carver who started to carve a rocking horse when his grandson was born. The grandson’s little sister is now 12 and the horse is still part-carved and behind the sofa …

This one was started in earnest in 2017, I am waiting for better weather (!) because there isn’t enough room in the workshop so I have to carve it al fresco and I don’t fancy carving in the snow. The body and legs are pitch pine from a demolished Glasgow school and the head, neck andleg muscle blocks are tulip wood.