Lesley Tate reports on the recent scything competition held over the border in Lancashire and looks at why the ancient form of hay-making and what makes a ‘good cut’.
THE traditional art of hand-mowing was celebrated at the first Northern Scythe Competition for four years at Bell Sykes, near Slaidburn.
The event included demonstrations from experts, and a chance for anyone to have a go at the centuries old way of cutting grass.
Hand-mowing with scythes would once have been a common sight across the country, but as more farm machinery was introduced the practice almost died out in the UK.
It hit the national psyche last year when actor Aidan Turner took his shirt off to do some hand mowing in the television series Poldark.
The Northern Scything Competition took place in the Bell Sykes wildflower hay meadows n– a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the Coronation Meadow site for Lancashire.
With their scythes at the ready, and plenty of encouragement from the spectators, the competitors set to work on their three-metre square patches of uncut grass.
As well as speed, the judges were looking for quality in the form of an even cut, close to the ground and without any tufts of grass left behind.
William De Hamel from Chorley won the award for best quality mowing, while Peter Blackwell – the owner of Bell Sykes meadow – triumphed in the speed competition with his time of three minutes and 47 seconds. The women's competition was won by Ruth Pullan of Ilkley, thanks to a strong combination of speed and technique.
Earlier in the year Peter and Ruth enjoyed success at the National Scything Championship in Somerset, where they each received Best Newcomer medals.
After the competitions, everyone helped to strew out the cut grass so it could dry into hay – even the resident chickens came to help, hoping to uncover a slug or snail amongst the grass.
Bowland Hay Time project officer Sarah Robinson said: “It’s fantastic to see a revival in traditional skills. Thanks to the meadow restoration and education work I’m involved in at Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT) and the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, lots more people are now learning about the traditions of Hay Time and these hand mowing techniques.”
Meanwhile, people of all ages recently took part in free Hay Time days at Broadrake Farm in Chapel-le-Dale, Ingleton. For some it was a chance to hold a scythe for the first time, while others came to improve existing skills, or simply to mow for the sheer pleasure of it. Some came to help with shaking out and turning the mown grass, to make it into hay ready for baling.
The event was part of the annual Flowers of the Dales Festival which, co-ordinated by YDMT, aims to help people learn more about the landscape, heritage, management and wildlife of the Yorkshire Dales.
Rachel Benson at Broadrake said: “Despite hopeless weather mid-week for several days, we managed to demonstrate the home-made hand-baler and one horse owner managed to fit six bales in their car.
"Scything is much more satisfying than using a strimmer and you can enjoy the meadow flowers and wildlife as you mow. The cut long grass is much easier to move about after being cut with a scythe too. Whether you have a small garden or a big meadow, I’d recommend giving scything a go."
She added:" We’ll be running a series of events again next year as part of the Flowers of the Dales Festival, and look forward to welcoming more people to Broadrake to discover some of these traditional techniques.”
On Sunday October, 16, Steve Tomlin will be teaching a day's course on blade sharpening at Bell Sykes. There are still some places available – for bookings telephone 01200 448000.
The work has been made possible through funding from Biffa Award, Lancashire Environmental Fund and support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.