Learn to Scythe at Meadow Connections Festival

Two day learn to Scythe Course

Lower Winskill Farm, Langcliffe, Settle. North Yorkshire. BD24 9PZ

Friday 7th – Saturday 8th July

10-4.30pm each day including breaks for refreshments and a delicious lunch

Come and learn to scythe with internationally recognised expert Steve Tomlin on Friday and Saturday. Steve learned to scythe in 2001 and has since gone on to teach hundreds of people across the UK including Paul Heiney for ITV’s Countrywise and the estate team at Highgrove. His lively and engaging courses cover how to mow with, sharpen and maintain your scythe safely and effectively, giving you the confidence and enthusiasm to continue on your own.

There really is an art to scything effectively and Steve teaches the “Tai Chi” style of mowing, using your body weight to do the work so that mowing becomes effortless and even meditative. There is no need for sweat and muscles! It is accessible to all and a truly versatile tool.

The course costs £160 and includes lunch on both days, a bring and share barbecue on the Friday evening, a celebratory dinner and ceilidh on the Saturday evening and basic camping at the farm on Friday and Saturday night (Thursday camping is also available for those who are coming from afar – please email to enquire, thank you). It also includes entrance into the farm open day and Northern scythe championships on Sunday.

The course is part of Meadow Connections Festival 7th – 9th July which is a three day long celebration of upland hay meadows set on a beautiful farm in the Yorkshire Dales. The limestone bedrock of this area gives the meadows and pastures on the farm a distinct and rich fauna and there will be talks and workshops over the weekend which hope to engage and teach people more about these increasingly rare habitats.

For more information and to purchase tickets please see www.meadowconnections.co.uk or contact Ruth on 01729 822694 or meadowconnections@gmail.com

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English scythes at the Somerset Scythe Festival 2017

English scythes at Somerset Festival 2017
Although the Austrian scythe dominates the UK scythe scene these days, there are still a few people who use the English style scythe. It’s a heavier tool and difficult to find an old one which fits but if you can then it can be an excellent tool.

At the Scythe Championships this year Mark Allery, the reigning champion, decided not to race and instead loaned his scythe to Owen Thomas. Owen made an admirable performance in the finals though not enough to beat Terry Standish who took first place. Hopefully Owen will be getting some training and advice from Mark and be back next year.
Mowing with an English scythes at Somerset Festival 2017

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Somerset scythe competition 2017 final – video

I was lucky enough at the Somerset Scythe Festival to have a ringside seat for the finals, a 5m x 5m square of thick agricultural grass to be mown as quickly and as neatly as possible. I was positioned right next to last year’s champion Kevin Austin and with a view of George Montague behind him. The video gets a bit shaky as I zoom in to see Andi Rickard finish in third place just ahead of Simon Damant in an amazing final.

somerset championship
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Somerset Scythe Festival 2017 Championships

Somerset Scythe Festival 2017
I’m just home after an extended trip to the Somerset Scythe Festival 2017 which is always one of the highlights of the summer. I’ll publish a few posts with various photos from the weekend but first, here are this years champions.

The competition has become increasingly open in the last few years which adds to the excitement of the day. A lot can depend on which plot you draw and tactics play an important part these days. 2017 was undeniably the year for George Montague who mowed his 5x5m plot in an incredible 40 seconds. Second place went to Kevin Austin, who raised the cup last year, with an impressive time of 1 min. It’s always great to see the cameraderie in the men’s competition is as strong as their drive to win.
Somerset Scythe Festival 2017 Somerset Scythe Festival 2017

Andi Rickard took the women’s cup and, in the process, 3rd place overall with an amazing performance. Beth Tilston, pictured here mowing while Kevin watches, took second place with Ruth Pullan moving up into third place. I’ve now lost count of how many times Andi’s won, who will ever beat her?
Somerset Scythe Festival 2017 Somerset Scythe Festival 2017 Somerset Scythe Festival 2017

This year the Quality Cup was taken by Richard Brown who, as well as being an excellent scythesman, is a very knowledgeable botanist and works for Emorsgate wildflower seed company. He has been racing in the scythe competition for over a decade now and was justifiably pleased with his award
Somerset Scythe Festival 2017 Somerset Scythe Festival 2017

You’ll have noticed that there are barely any photos of the champions in action. Make sure you’re here for the next post is all I’ll say.i

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Scything at St John’s Church

Scything wildflower meadow in churchyard
Today I have been teaching a group of volunteers at St John’s Church at Sharow near Ripon in North Yorkshire. The Church has been developing it’s site, including an award winning conservation area in the grounds. The scythes and training will enable them to manage the land independently and without damaging the gravestones.

Beth arrived to join us just as the rest of the group had finished setting up their scythes. This gave us the opportunity to consolidate their learning by having them act as instructors and we help her through the setting up process together.
Setting up an Austrian scythe

At the start of the day I overheard Emma and Rose commenting that they were glad to see another woman on the course. The Austrian scythe is equally suited to both men and women of all ages; technique is far more important than strength.

Scything wildflower meadow in churchyard Scything wildflower meadow in churchyard

Everyone had their own slightly different style but were soon cutting neat swathes through the grass and working well together as a team. The video below shows the group mowing after just 30mins of practise.

I can come and teach your group to scythe at your own venue. For details and costs, please read the Group Scythe Workshops Information sheet (pdf) or email me stevetomlin8[at]gmail.com

St John's Church Sharow
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Scything at Beamish Museum

Learn to scythe at Beamish Museum
The Austrian scythe is a thoroughly modern tool but it was great fun to be asked to teach a Learn to Scythe course for some of the staff at Beamish Museum in County Durham this weekend.

The weather was hot and sunny and the course coincided with the museum’s Georgian Fair so our novice scything team got plenty of onlookers and made a great addition to the other activities going on.

Learn to scythe at Beamish Museum Learn to scythe at Beamish Museum

I really enjoyed the cameraderie and joking among the staff which would surely have been the case among a real scything gang of the era.

Learn to scythe at Beamish Museum Learn to scythe at Beamish Museum

Haymaking season was well-known as a time when men and women would have chance to meet and spend time together in the fields to gossip and court. Our season, even though it was only one day long, was no exception.
Learn to scythe at Beamish Museum

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Scything while the sun shines

How to sharpen a scythe

On Friday, the hottest day of 2017 so far, I was teaching a group how to scythe in Derbyshire. The course was organised by Derbyshire Eco-centre as part of their programme of events but hosted by Gus & Fash on their beautiful smallholding nearby.

We used the shade of the barns while we set up the Austrian scythes to fit each person and adjusted the blade to work as efficiently as possible. Then we did some preparatory practise and the students learned how to sharpen the scythe by two different, safe methods.

Sharpening an Austrian scythe Learn to sharpen a scythe

We were scything on a slope but that is no problem for the scythe and we also cleared nettles as well as mowing the lush new grass while enjoying the sounds of the birds and views over the countryside.

Mowing with an Austrian scythe
Scything on a slope

My next Learn to scythe course on 2nd June is fully booked but you can still get on a place for the course on 22nd July at Sedbergh, Cumbria. Simply email me stevetomlin8[at]gmail.com to book your place.

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Gorgeous American style windsor chair

Painted windsor chair
A big part of what makes handmade items so special is the relationship you have with it. That might be because you’ve met the maker (online or in real life), know where the materials have come from, received it to mark an occasion or simply through the patina that comes with years of use.

My good friend Robin Duckmanton has only been making windsor chairs for a few years but already he is making some of the most stunning work I’ve seen in the UK. Last year he asked if I would trade one of my ash splint pack baskets for a chair and I jumped at the offer. At the time, I didn’t know what he would be making but knew it would be special and, as you can see in these photos, it is.

Painted windsor chair

Painted windsor chair
Robin works completely by hand so all of the turning is done on a pole lathe and the seat is carved using an adze, travisher and, most importantly, huge amounts of skill and time. It’s statuesque, elegant and yet strong and every bit as comfortable as it is beautiful.
Painted windsor chair

Painted windsor chair

Rob says there’ll be a website soon but in the meantime you can follow his work on instagram: @redwoodchairs

windsor chair

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Splitting wood with a froe


One of my favourite things to carve and a great project for learning carving techniques is a butter spreader. Popular in Scandinavia, they are much less well known in the UK than they ought to be.

The key to making them easily is to split the wood only just bigger than the finished article so you’re not having to carve away too much and you make the most of the timber. A special splitting tool called a froe is useful to have but you can split timber successfully just with an axe and mallet.

This sycamore, on a recent spoon carving course in Wales, just wanted to be spreaders and split beautifully into a dozen perfect blanks.

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Spoon carving workshop in Wales

Spoon carving workshop

My craft course season is well underway for 2017 and this weekend I had a brilliant time teaching eight lovely people how to carve wooden spoons at the Woodland Skills Centre.

As always, we start out with freshly-cut, greenwood logs – birch and sycamore this time – and craft them into fabulous cooking and eating spoons with a cheeky butter spreader thrown in too for knife practise.

On a two day course like this there’s lots of time for beginners to develop the skills and try out more challenging carving techniques as well as learning how to sharpen the hook knives and axes. Thanks all, I had a brilliant time and look forward to seeing your future spoons.

Spoon carving course Spoon carving workshop Spoon carving workshop Spoon carving workshop Spoon carving workshop Spoon carving workshop

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