A midweek course this week at St Nicholas Fields in York, a nature reserve and sustainability centre hidden in the city. Their centre manager Jonathan came and took part in last years Scythe Teachers’ course in Somerset but decided to call me in to train some of the other staff as well as keen locals.
The centre is a former landfill site which was capped with clay in 1993 and, as a result, their meadows are still establishing. Part of the land is dominated by large tussocks of tough grass which had been defeating the volunteers and making them wonder if they’d have to resort to mechanical means.
Although I was confident we could cut the tussocks, it’s not the place to start learning to scythe so after setting up we spent the morning with some more pleasant mowing in a lighter meadow. This gave folk the chance to learn and develop the easy ‘tai-chi’ style of mowing that I teach in some long but softer grasses. There were a couple of left-handers this time which gives me chance to develop my teaching too. If you’re cutting in a mowing team then everyone scythes right-handed but when sharpening it’s usually better to switch to your dominant hand. After I’d showed everyone the principles I worked more with Jennifer to see what worked best I’ll then refine these methods for use on future courses.
I saved the tussocks for the afternoon once everyone had got comfortable with the idea of slicing through the grass with the scythe. Trying to chop your way through such tough vegetation is only going to tire you out with the risk of damaging the scythe too whereas, with a simple adjustment to how you hold and use the scythe, they become much easier and a few people even said it was their favourite part of the day.
Although not officially on the course, I also sneaked in a very quick mowing lesson for Ivana who had organised the day and kindly hosted me in York the night before. A native Czech, she’d told me about her father scything and making hay when she was a child but had never been allowed to mow herself and was keen to try. My hunch that all those years of watching and absorbing the techniques paid off and she took to it like a natural.