Art installation for Newtonmore Village

Village art installation finished

After nearly two years of design and planning and the best part of a year in carving and construction, I was finally able to finish the art installation for Newtonmore village the day before deadline!


The story

I was contacted by a client who I had worked with previously on another, private commission, who lives in the village and is a former English teacher. She told me of Newtonmore’s wish for an art installation in the village square and suggested we might be able to work together to put forward a pitch. The initial idea we had was for me to create the sculptural part while she would provide her own poetry to illustrate various elements associated with Newtonmore and its surroundings.

After tendering a proposal, my design visuals were shortlisted down to a selection of four artists. After a day’s public consultation the four designs were put to the local community to vote on. I’m very grateful that the result of the public vote favoured my design suggestions.

The brief

The brief provided by the Newtonmore Business Association stated –

The main purpose is to create a focal point in the village of Newtonmore that will help promote the village, community and commerce.

Key elements that we wish to be part of the artwork would be:

  • People
  • Shinty
  • Walking
  • Gaelic & Heritage
  • Sense of History
  • Wildcats
  • Centre of Scotland
  • River Spey
  • Trees & Forestry

With so many elements needing to be addressed, this could not be answered with one ‘sculpture’. For that reason the final design is quite complex and made up of a number of elements to meet the very demanding brief. I decided it should be more of a “Landscaping Installation” rather than a single piece. The elements I decided upon include a water-feature stone surrounded by locally-sourced standing stones incorporating Pictish carvings; two 6 meter long benches in the shape of crossed shinty sticks; a new marker stone marking the start/end point of the newly extended Speyside Way and eight, hand-carved wooden panels containing poetry written by the local community. The design ideas and any inspiration for each of the elements of the brief are mentioned below.

Poetry Panels

To address the People part of the brief I returned to our initial idea for incorporating poetry into the overall installation. Not only were the people of Newtonmore made the subject-matter of the poems but the poetry you see on the wooden panels were written by members of the local community, including the school children.

The panels were all hand-carved in local Scots Elm (Wych Elm) from boards I had milled specially from a large trunk that I’ve had for some years. These timber panels are locally-sourced and also answer the Trees & Forestry requirement of the brief. Some of the words within the poetry were picked out and translated into Gaelic.

The lettering was a design I adapted myself from typefaces I thought evoked the Celtic style. Due to the nature of the timber, the amount of approved text and the direction of the grain, this was the hardest and most time-consuming part of the project. I counted 2,150 characters, all hand-carved by chisel.


The game of Shinty is considered to be Scotland’s only indigenous sport. It has been played in Scotland since before the time of St Columbas and in Newtonmore for centuries. For that reason, it definitely needed to be included in my design.

The installation includes two 6m-long benches in the shape of crossed camans or shinty sticks. These are shaped and jointed from a big elm tree that I have had in my stock for some years and had milled specially for this project.


Standing Stones

I regularly pass through Newtonmore and I am always struck by the landscape. The hills feel more prominent and ancient than even close-by mountains. My choice for using standing stones was to illustrate the rocky aspect of the surroundings. As well as this, the nature of the standing stones illustrates the ancient heritage and culture of the area. Standing stones and standing stone circles are common in this part of Scotland dating back thousands of years to before the time of Stonehenge.

To illustrate the local heritage for the art installation for Newtonmore village even more I tried to emulate the artwork of the ancient Picts. The style of my designs has roots thousands of years old but try to symbolise contemporary subjects and key parts of the brief, which can be seen in the gallery below.

  • Heritage – One of the four standing stones has an Ogham inscription. Ogham is a mediaeval language made up of an alphabet of strokes off a central line. This usually reads from bottom to top. Although the language is still debated it is believed that it illustrates the Pictish language in parts of Scotland. The carving I created is a transliteration of the Gaelic name for Newtonmore as well as my initials and the year 2020.
  • Walking – The image below shows an ancient carving of a person from the Balblair stone. I used this image as inspiration for a walker. The club was swapped for a walking pole.
  • Wildlife – Newtonmore, the Highlands and The Cairngorms are rich with wildlife. I chose to illustrate this with a Golden Eagle.
  • River Spey – Instead of using a symbol for water I chose to replicate this design from the Inchyra Pictish stone. It shows a salmon and I like to think the serpent symbolises the river itself.
  • Wildcat – To my knowledge, there are no Scottish petroglyphs featuring the Highland wildcat. However, I did manage to create my own design based on carvings of big cats and even hunting hounds.
  • Visitors – I wanted to include a Pictish design that is more symbolic. Many such abstract designs exist and each has their own meaning. I chose to use this cross in a circle. It can be considered to have its own historical meanings but, for me, it symbolises the visitors who come to Newtonmore by whatever means of transport.

Water Feature

At the centre of the installation is a water-feature to help represent the Rivers that are key aspects surrounding the village.

Speyside Way

In 2021 the Cairngorms National Park will be officially opening an extension to the Speyside Way Long-distance route. In addition to the art installation for Newtonmore Village, I was also commissioned to create a marker stone to celebrate the extension and act as a start/end point. This appears in the western part of the square and has the Long-distance thistle symbol hand-carved on the face.


Centre of Scotland

It may not be immediately obvious to the casual viewer but an aerial view of the installation will reveal that the benches and poetry panels form a heart-shape. This is to represent that Newtonmore is considered to be the Heart of Scotland.

Work-in-progress Gallery


I’d like to take the opportunity here to thank the Newtonmore Business Association and the people of Newtonmore for choosing my design for the Art Installation for Newtonmore Village, but also for their help throughout the whole process.

I’d also like to give my thanks to the following individuals –

Jolyon Havinden (Knockando Blacksmith) – all steelwork and welding.

Merryn Glover – Merryn conducted a series of poetry workshops with the local community and schoolchildren and collated the poetry you see on the carved wood panels. LINK

Splash Gordon – Calum provided all the equipment as well as advice for the water-feature. LINK

CDMM – H&S Consultant. LINK

Lorna Campbell – Structural Engineer.

A&F Grant – Heavy plant. LINK

Josh Walker – Timber milling. LINK

Norman Campbell – H&S and heavy-lifting. LINK

Norman “Brick” MacArthur – Tools and spoil.

David Ritchie & Sons – Concrete. LINK

Highland Galvanizers. LINK

James Paterson Haulage – Transporting stones.

Dewi Owens – Photography. LINK

James Stevens – Photography. LINK

Katherine Forsyth – For approving my Ogham. LINK

Jo MacDonald and Sarah Fraser – Gaelic translation.

Grant Farquharson – Stone moving.

Ballindalloch Estate – for providing some of the standing stones. LINK


And very special thanks goes to –

Denyse Kozub and Lillias Noble – For introducing me to the project and initial design discussions.

Eric Dodd – Eric was my main contact at the Business Association but he was also a huge help behind the scenes.

Bill Murdoch – My 76 year-old Dad who did a huge amount of work behind the scenes including most of the hole-digging, sanding, drilling and oiling. I couldn’t have done it without him.

Andy Strachan – My close neighbour who, on top of a full-time job, was my digger-operator, driller, first-aider, blockworker and concrete-haunching and moosie expert.

Other links

Newtonmore Website. LINK

Cairngorms National Park. LINK

Badenoch Heritage. LINK

Learn more about Ogham. LINK

Ogham Transliteration Tool. LINK