On Sunday I ran the first of my mowing courses at Sprint Mill near Kendal in Cumbria. The course is designed to introduce people to mowing with a scythe or provide a refresher for those who would like to be reminded of the techniques and improve their skills.
After weeks of unsettled weather and heavy showers, we were fortunate in having a completely clear, sunny day. I arrived early to mow a space to start in the orchard on my own in the early morning. I had time to relax and calm myself before the day, enjoying the quiet and the gentle exercise of mowing.
Seven people came along to learn, some complete beginners and some with a bit of experience, with a range of ages and backgrounds.
The first session of the day is to introduce everyone to the components of the scythe and go through the process of setting up the snath and blade. The scythe should be a very comfortable and ‘body-friendly’ tool to use, not putting strain on muscles or joints and to achieve this it is important to understand how to adjust it for your own build and technique.
After a short break we walked over to the orchard, passing by two beautiful traditionally-managed meadows full of red clover, yellow rattle and a multitude of grass species. As we walked we discussed the idea of having an expert teach a day on meadow plant identification and management, something that I’ll continue to look into.
The orchard is a perfect setting for a course, the grass is in good condition and the ground flat enough for beginners to work with but there are fences, other obstacles and of course, the trees themselves to work with. This is the kind of situation that many people are mowing in for themselves and it gives them more learning opportunites than an empty meadow.
I always take a few minutes to explain the principles of the ‘tai chi’ movement and lead people through a simple exercise to loosen their body and feel that motion. I get each person to again check their setup and then guide them into mowing. The grass was in much better condition than when the NW group mowed it last autumn and soon everyone was busy mowing. At this point I move around the group, offering advice, answering questions, making suggestion on changes to the set-up based on their technique but at the same time letting each person have time to learn for themselves. We also worked together on sharpening in the field using whetstones and two different methods.
After lunch we returned for more mowing and to collect up the cut grass. Our hosts, Edward and Romola decided that the best solution for the grass would be a compost heap rather than spreading it out to dry. Half the group continued to mow while the other half raked and forked a huge amount of grass into a large springy pile, swapping roles after a short time.
Rhuari had an English pattern scythe with him which he had been trying to use before the course. Although in the morning he had learned to set up and use one of the Austrian scythes and been impressed by its lightness and efficiency, he was keen to try his own with his new knowledge of mowing technique. We checked the setup and tried it out but it was immediately obvious that the blade needed a lot of work in sharpening. He was mowing very well with the Austrian scythe so I’ll be interested to see how he gets on with the English variation in the future.
With time pressing on, we returned to the Mill for a demonstration of peening using the jig. There is a lot to fit into a course like this and, through talking to people who’ve been on introductory courses, I’ve decided that to also teach peening means having less time for mowing and overloads folk so the information doesn’t stick. I added in an impromptu demonstration of repairing a blade using a file and the peening anvil to fix a small dent in Tony’s blade.
Everyone seemed to have had a great day. They were impressed enough that, of those that hadn’t already, lots of folk bought a scythe kit to continue their mowing and were invited to join the events organised by the NW group.
The next course will be 2nd July also at Sprint Mill. To book a place email Steve Tomlin.