A busy day today, teaching eight students how to scythe at RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Harrogate, Yorkshire. Lots of fun mowing the wildflower meadow in the arboretum but only time to take a single photo.
Yesterday I was at Marbury Country Park in Cheshire teaching a Learn to Scythe course organised by the Saltscape project. It was National Meadow Day so a perfect time to be out enjoying the sunshine and teaching people how to scythe.
The group included Steve & Clive who had come over from the National Trust Erdigg Estate in order to learn the skills and are now planning to use scythes in managing the estate there. Steve commented that our group of novices cut a much bigger area than he would expect if we’d all had strimmers. And we had more fun too!
As well as working, it’s important to stop, rest and chat sometimes. The scythe is a perfect tool for volunteer groups as there’s no noise and people can work at their own pace or stop when they want. Each member of the team contributes but can also enjoy talking as they work.
Our backdrop was some of the industrial landscape which the Saltscape project celebrates and lead to the formation of the canals and lime-rich meadows in the area.
And I couldn’t let Hannah Petrie, the Saltscape Project Communications Officer leave without a lesson. Thanks to you & Saul for organising such a brilliant day.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rob says there’ll be a website soon but in the meantime you can follow his work on instagram: @redwoodchairs