I have been invited by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Beauty (or ‘AONB’) Partnership to run a two day Learn to Mow course as part of a Hay Time Scything Event on Wednesday 25th and Thursday 26th July taking place at Low Way Farm near Holwick in upper Teesdale.
Once again the course is aimed at anyone interested in discovering the pleasure of working with a scythe for managing their garden, allotment, orchard or meadow. We are particularly hoping that farmers and smallholders from the AONB will come along to learn and practise a traditional haymaking technique to help them manage their own meadows.
I met up again with event organiser, Neil Diment, formerly Hay Time Community Officer with the AONB’s Hay Time project, at the haymaking festival last summer in the Transylvania. Our new Transylvanian friends, including Dr Barbara Knowles from the UK Society of Biology and Mr Gergely Rodics, executive director of the ‘Pagan Snow Cap’ region of Transylvania that hosted the haymaking festival, visited Low Way Farm on a recent UK Study Tour. Neil told me they were the inspiration behind the North Pennines’ Hay Time Scything Event. He felt there was a real opportunity to do something similar in Teesdale, which is pretty much the last stronghold in the UK for the country’s few remaining upland hay meadows.
Working with the AONB, he wants to help raise the profile and celebrate the marvellous hay meadows in the North Pennines and the work of the farmers and smallholders who look after them day-to-day to ensure their survival. “With 8 weeks still to go till the event, ‘our’ meadow at Low Way Farm is already beginning to burst into life after the sheep and lambs have been moved up to the fell. Looking very colourful with the first flush of buttercups, red clover, yellow rattle and pignut – all good upland hay meadow indicators – are also starting to appear.”
Participants on the course will be able to enjoy a stay on the farm and delicious farmhouse cooking to help keep their strength up! As part of the event there will be a display of old haymaking tools, equipment and books and an illustrated after dinner evening talk on the hay meadows of the North Pennines by former Teesdale vet, Neville Turner. For those who then want to sample some real ale there is a great pub, the Strathmore Arms (www.strathmoregold.co.uk), just 100m or so from the farm. The pub is also holding a Real Ale festival, with live folk music, over the weekend after our event 27th – 29th July, if anyone wants to stay on to enjoy the area for a couple more days….
As well as the course we are organising the 1st Northern Open Scything Competition which will be run, Transylvanian-style, on a knock out sprint basis on the Thursday afternoon. Anyone with their own scythe is invited to join those on the course to take part. The event will close with the competition’s informal prizegiving ceremony over a traditional hay time tea, included in the £5 entry fee, provided by Karen Scott in her Farmhouse Kitchen on the farm.
Karen is one of the farmers who has worked with the AONB Partnership’s Hay Time project. I spoke with Rebecca Barrett of the North Pennines AONB Partnership, who told me that she is not only hoping that people will come to Karen’s farm to learn a traditional haymaking technique but will also have an enjoyable day or two in the hay meadows set in the stunning landscape of Upper Teesdale. “This is one of our rarest habitats,” she said. “There are fewer than 900 hectares of these left in the UK and just under half are here in the North Pennines. We’re now in our seventh year of working with farmers like Karen, and our Hay Time project has been successful in reintroducing some of the typical meadow plants which had disappeared in recent decades.”
We’re all hoping that this will become a regular event to complement the Somerset festival so please try to get along and support it this year, either by booking on the course, competition or just coming along for the day. Thanks to a generous subsidy from the AONB, the course costs between £75-£90 inclusive of tuition and meals but with a number of different accommodation options. To find out more, if you are interested in booking a place on the course, or just entering the scything competition, you can book online at www.northpennines.org.uk (click on Events in the sidebar) or call Nic Cullens at the North Pennines AONB Partnership on 01388 528801 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).