Mowing on the Black Isle

Continuing our international mowing theme, Christiane & I are just back from the Black Isle, Scotland where we ran a two day mowing course for members of the Transition Black Isle group.

We took a few days to work our way up through Scotland, camping for a couple of nights in Glen Etive and climbing Ben Nevis on a remarkable cloud-free day. From there we drove north along Loch Ness and made a detour to the Macallan distillery for their “connoisseur” tour which culminated in a sampling of the ‘new made spirit’ (71% alcohol!) and 4 single malts including the 30-year old ‘fine oak’. As the driver, I could only nose them and imagine the flavours..

On top of Ben Nevis Sampling the Macallan
a team of beginner mowersI’d been booked to run the mowing course over the whole weekend. This is a real advantage for the students as it gives us more time to practise the technique with the scythe, try mowing in different conditions and have a full session of peening. After setting everyone up we got straight out into the meadow. I always start the practical mowing section of a course with some warm-up and some tai-chi exercises which form the basis of the mowing movement. The grass here was long and tough but motivated by enthusiasm the group quickly got to work and were cutting healthy swaths through the sward.

Sharpening in the fieldFor beginners, one of the most challenging aspects of using a scythe is sharpening and I’ve been working out the best way to teach this effectively and safely. Kneeling with the tip of the blade on the ground makes the process more stable and also enables the student to see the edge and the relation between it and the stone. For this course I’ve also introduced some kevlar ‘cutproof’ gloves as this is a time when I’ve heard that beginners can cut themselves.  I think that with proper instruction and supervision, all aspects of scythe use are safe but the gloves add an extra layer of security. I’m keen to maintain my ‘no accidents’ record.

mowing in the tai-chi styleOn the Sunday we arranged to meet at 7:30 for some ‘early morning’ mowing when the grass is still full of it’s own moisture and easier to cut. The weather wasn’t quite so kind to us with a light shower of rain. The extra weight of this on the grass made it difficult for people to appreciate the benefit. We did see the other advantage of the second day which was the improvement in everybody’s mowing technique as mowing difficult grassthe advice and instructions fell into place with practice. I gave a demonstration to help bring together and show the various aspects of the ‘tai-chi’ style in unison. Christiane showed how to change grip and use the scythe differently to deal with grass which was lying over in many directions and cut around a tree to automatically mulch it.

The rest of the day was spent on a longer look at and practice of peening with the jig and a discussion of haymaking techniques. We had hoped to make hay using the rack system but unfortunately the damp Scottish weather prevented this on the day.

peening peening advice
Many thanks to Penny & Martin for inviting us up and to all the students, I look forward to hearing about the formation of your ‘Black Isle Mowing Group’.


About Steve Tomlin

I am a greenwood worker and scythe tutor. I carve spoons, bowls and other products from locally sourced greenwood. During the summer I teach scything around the UK.
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2 Responses to Mowing on the Black Isle

  1. Penny says:

    The course made a huge transformation in my mowing technique. Before the course I could do a few meters and then I’d stand and pant for a while before lurching onwards. Now, with improved technique and rhythm, and a sharper scythe, I can go on all day. There’s still lots to learn but its all much more pleasurable and much more feasible to manage larger areas with the scythe.

    I think scything’s really cool. I love the sound of it, I love the feel of it and I love the look of it. Highly recommended. Thanks Steve and Christiane.

  2. Martin says:

    As one of the participants on the course, many thanks to Steve and Christiane – we’d been struggling with trying to scythe the rough grass here, and there were lots of tips that have made a big difference already. Still haven’t worked out what to do with a lot of wet cut grass though! Any ideas?

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