Before Steve returns with news of adventures in the Czech Republic, here’s some from Denmark. Knowing our interest in scything, our hosts in northern Denmark pointed out an old photograph (below) in the local paper promoting a haymaking day using old methods, tools and machinery. Undeterred by our lack of gingham frocks, scythes and Danish language we decided to go along.
The Vendsyssel Historical Museum is set in the midst of lush rolling countryside in Jutland, the northernmost tip of Denmark. It’s a collection of farm buildings and land, with a traditional whitewashed smallholding farmhouse dating from and furnished as in 1900. Old species of animals wander in and out – we met the pigs, the kitten and a chicken sitting on the visitors’ book. Rumpled bedclothes suggested Goldilocks might have just run out and the three bears would soon be home. But it is not a typical open-air museum. The tools and furnishings are old-fashioned but many are reconstructions. The museum exhibits actual work processes so that, as it describes in its visitor information, ‘old methods and skills are not forgotten’. In Denmark, scything isn’t much practised except for management of environmentally sensitive areas. But as in the UK, where old ways of doing things are sparking interest, with unexpected TV hits such as Tales from the Green Valley, Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm, so too in Denmark, where a TV series about a man trying to farm without machinery is a popular hit. It’s called Bonderou, meaning ‘Country Bumpkin’, literally ‘Farmer’s Bum’.
The museum’s Nature Guide is Jakob Kofoed, who arranged the museum’s first haymaking day, and on a warm sunny June Sunday, a small crowd gathered to try out old ways.
The day began with Jakob (on the left below) explaining the rich variety of grasses and plants in the meadows to be cut.
We were made to feel very welcome and were lent two magnificent old scythes from the museum’s working collection. Each had a long Austrian blade, a straight snath, the top handle on a long extension which gives plenty of leverage for the left side of the swath, the bottom handle without an extension. A dry sharpening file fitted on the haft which also had two brackets for fitting grain cradles (below). Jakob gave us a tour of the tool collection in which there were several scythes with cradles – more of them in another post.
Hay racks were built and stacked and a collection of farm machines in apparently immaculate condition were put to use (below). Needless to say the old tractors drew the most admirers, but a steady stream of visitors came to ‘have a go’ at scything and some were able to demonstrate skills learnt years ago.
The grass was gorgeous and the blade cut well. We aimed for the wide consistent swaths we’d been taught to cut by Simon Fairlie and Steve Tomlin. It was though hot work. The sun was climbing higher. We hadn’t adjusted our borrowed scythes, which were heavier than we were used to and with longer blades. An older local man thought all our swinging around was quite unnecessary and gave us a lesson in deftly cutting a narrower swath using only the haft-end half of the blade while keeping cool in the process. The pros and cons to be considered! Perhaps other readers will have opinions on the better strategy.
It was the museum’s first haymaking day and a great success. Jakob is keen to arrange another and to share skills with others – perhaps we’ll be able to welcome Jakob over to a British event or for a British team to visit this remarkable corner of Denmark.
A journalist reporting on the event for the local online newspaper gave the resulting article the headline “Thus it was when Grandfather harvested”. We hope the day interested a new generation in Grandfather’s skills.
Ian and Susan