Tarka Trail


Caring for our carvings

Wooden carvings of a young couple courting on the Tarka Trail near Torrington

Anyone familiar with the stretch of Tarka Trail between The Puffing Billy station and Watergate will most likely be familiar with the intriguing and beautiful wood carvings that sit watching the walkers and cyclists go by.

They have in fact, sat watching the comings and goings along the trail for 23 years now. However, time and weather have started to dull the once vibrant characters and while ageing wood can have an appeal of it’s own, the carvings were reaching a point at which they risked becoming damaged, so some loving care and repair was required.

The carvings were originally commissioned as a millennium project back in 2000, joint funded by Devon County Council and Sustrans, the cycle charity that looks after the country’s network of cycle paths. The artist commissioned to create these wonderful pieces of art was local artist John Butler, who after a varied career in the arts, took up woodcarving in his thirties and still operates from his workshop in Bideford.

Wooden carvings of a young family with child on the Tarka Trail near Torrington

In fact, it was John who raised concerns over the current condition of the carvings and then very kindly offered to repair them and give them the loving care they need and deserve.

You may be interested to learn that the carvings were made from wooden sleepers, left over after the railway track was removed in the 1970’s. The wood is called Jarrah and is a very hard, tough wood from Australia, perfect for supporting the points on railway tracks.

We spoke to John and asked him about the inspiration behind the carvings, he told us…

“The figures symbolise three stages of life. The first is The Courting Bench with a couple holding hands, the second is The Family Bench and the third is The Memorial Bench where the woman has been widowed.”

Wooden carving of a widow on her own on the Tarka Trail near Torrington

The repairs include some new slats for the benches and some stabilising of the figures. Helping John was Martin Caddy. Hopefully the recent repairs and maintenance should ensure the benches and the carvings will be around for another twenty years at least.

Why not visit John’s website to see some of this other fantastic carvings: http://www.johnbutlerwoodcarver.co.uk/

Photographs were kindly provided by Michael Dendle of Crowtree Cards



Caring for our carvings