Yesterday a small group of the North-West mowers met up at Sprint Mill, just north of Kendal. Edward and Romola, our hosts, have been working their unique smallholding together almost entirely by hand for nearly 20 years. Deeply connected to the land, they are committed to making the most of the natural resources and developing it and its place in the community.
Sally, Ian and I were greeted with fresh coffee and cake before heading off with Edward and Romola to the orchard for our day’s work. A combination of wet weather and an enormous job-list meant the long grass in this corner had been neglected and was now lying bent over in all sorts of directions between the apple, damson and cob trees.
Mowing grass in this condition is a challenge and requires more thinking than a clean upright sward. The best approach is with the grass laying away from you so the scythe can reach underneath, cutting it cleanly rather than brushing over the top of it. Easier said than done, this can result in a meandering dance through the sward as you and your scythe search for the best route. In the Vido family’s addendum to “The Scythe Book” by David Tresemer, Faye Vido puts it thus:
“Creating a path with this tool, awareness becomes the key concept… considering the land, judging the lean, reflecting on the plants, examining the edge, musing over angles, noticing the stubble, contemplating movement, meditating on the breath…”
Awareness, judgement, musing, meditation are all present but, for the beginner, also a certain amount of frustration. It’s a brilliant learning experience and one I try to encourage people to see as fun. As the day went on we all got used to seeing the lay and adjusting our style from short trimming cuts to wider sweeping swaths in response to the grass. There’s a satisfaction in this work, knowing that you and the scythe are working together not just between yourselves but with the grass as well.
Hidden amongst the sward were numerous damson suckers thrown up by the mature trees. Edward and Romola use these to plant up their hedgerows which are full of fruit and berries. A motor mower would simply take these out indiscriminately but a careful scythe user can easily spot them and trim the grass around to leave them intact.
On a beautiful autumn day with good company it’s hard to think of a better way to spend your time. Edward’s comment that “it’s wonderful to pause and listen to the sounds of the scythes and people chatting away as they work” summed it all up.