Last year I shared my love of Knaresborough with you all – my happy place where I go if I need to find calm or just to enjoy a walk along the river. As part of that walk, I shared a photograph of a carving and Liz from Exploring Colour asked if I could share more about the carvings in the town. It has taken me a long time to get around to it, but here we are and it seems there is a story attached …
There are three carvings along the Abbey Road (which is more of a woodland lane than a road) and one in the car park at the other end of the river. They are all breathtaking in their detail, all the more so when you realise that they were created by a chainsaw.
My walk starts at the car park near Conyngham Hall. I can find no evidence that the sculpture in the car park is connected to the others. Certainly it it is some distance from the others and less detailed. However, whether it is connected to the others or not, it is an inviting introduction to what is to follow.
After a brisk walk down the waterfront by the side of the river, I cross the main road and enter Abbey Road and a different world. The tourists melt away and the lane is bordered on one side by a steep cliff with a chapel cut into it high above the woodland at the edge of the road, and the river on the other. All around there is birdsong, even at this early time of the year. The houses down here are lovely in themselves and I keep walking, imagining how it would be to live down here with river views, few cars and all those birds. I quickly come to terms with the reality. We would be permanently fishing Daisy out of the river – ruled by curiosity and with no common sense, she can get into trouble without even trying.
Eventually I reach the first carving on the river side of the road – a stunning kingfisher plunging downwards to catch the fish. Each feather is beautifully crafted and, even though I have seen it before, I spend quite some time admiring its beauty.
Then I cross the lane to spy out the other carvings. These are both set in the wooded area beneath the cliff, so I can’t get as close to them. One carving is of a green man, the gentle and wise wood spirit, with a beard as detailed as the kingfisher’s feathers. The other is the one I photographed last year. I have never been sure what this is but I am leaning towards some sort of dragon, maybe? Whatever it is, it is full of character and life.
So what is the story behind these sculptures? When they were created, back in December 2011, they made the national press, as they appeared to have sprung fully-formed overnight, with no clue as to how they had done so or who had made them. The Daily Mirror compared the sculptor to Banksy, that mysterious artist who leaves his artwork in public places to be enjoyed by everyone – at least until they are deemed too valuable to remain in situ. The BBC ran the story too and, although it was long before I moved here, I can imagine that there were lots of theories and stories locally about the beautiful carvings.
The truth came to light a couple of months later, when the artist was identified as Tommy Crags, a tree sculptor from County Durham, who had been commissioned to make the three Abbey Road carvings by the landowner. According to the Northern Echo, Tommy simply forgot to sign the sculptures and was amused to think that nobody knew who he was, when he had been on-site with a chainsaw for several days!
So the mystery was solved but I think it adds to the history of the sculptures and next time I am there to admire them, I will spend a minute thinking of their creator Tommy Crags, who takes diseased or damaged trees and turns them into things of such beauty.