The Sunday of our Cumbria Scythe Weekend was a group mowing day for members of the ‘North West Mowing Group’. This is mostly folk who met when I was teaching at the Scythe Festival in Elterwater last July. We meet up during the mowing season on an informal basis to share the pleasure of working with the scythe and enjoy good company.
The aim for this day was to cut one of the meadows at Sprint Mill, near Kendal for hay. Many people use their scythe for trimming the garden, controlling weeds or tidying so this is a chance to practise on a meadow scale but with a few others to share the workload. The grass was in brilliant condition, the weather hot and the view out over the hills made stopping for a breather all the more pleasurable.
Once I’d sorted out a plan for the day and started people off, I went back over to the orchard with Gill Barron and Beth Tilston to finish the mowing there and turn the grass we cut during the course on Saturday. After being occupied all that day with teaching it was a treat to be mowing myself and I was looking forward to being part of the ‘team’. The grass was already drying well in the hot sun hay and fluffed up a treat on it’s way to making hay.
By the time we got back to the meadow the team was well under way and a third of the grass was already cut. When mowing in a team, the first person sets off with their swath and, once they’ve got a safe distance ahead the second person starts to follow. After a time, the next person goes and the mowing is staggered. It’s thought that the song ‘One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow..’ is about team mowing and indicates when the first mower (‘one man went..’), second mower (‘two man went..’) and so on, should start. Since the rows were quite short here, we opened up extra swaths across the meadow to start two and even three team during the day.
The field filled up with mowers and the sound of scythes sweeping through the sward (does anyone know the collective noun for mowers?). We have very open, non-competitive atmosphere and everyone is happy to help each other and share what they’ve learned. A few non-mowing friends had heard about the day and were quickly introduced to the scythe and given some instruction to get them involved. It’s no substitute for a proper training course but enough to start people off and give them the bug.
Of course, there was plenty of time for talking through the day with discussion of plans for meadow restoration projects, Ian & Susan’s mowing in Denmark and the possibilities of building on the success of this weekend and developing it into a festival for the public to see and learn more about using a scythe.
After the last of the grass was cut and spread out to dry we went down to the mill for a welcome cup of tea with homemade jam and bread. We calculated the meadow to be 0.75 acres and discussed the idea of making hay at the end of the summer on a 1.25 acre meadow elsewhere on the holding. The question of how to bale the finished hay is still to be answered but I’m sure I’ve seen a hand-baler somewhere so I’ll follow that up.
After everyone else had gone home Gill, Beth & I finished the day off by collecting yellow rattle seed from the other meadows for sowing in the autumn. A brilliant weekend that I can’t wait to repeat.