It’s great to see my friend Peter Blackwell and his family getting the recognition they deserve for their work managing the hay meadows Bell Sykes Farm at Slaidburn in Lancashire.
The meadows at Bell Sykes are wonderful wildflower habitats and absolutely beautiful as well as being an important and rare habitat. Over several years, Peter has been working with the Yorkshire Dales Millenium Trust, hosting wildflower walks, seed saving workshops and other events to promote the wildflower meadows. The meadows at Bell Sykes were selected as the Coronation Meadow for Lancashire have also been used as donor meadows, to seed other land in the area and create new meadows.
I met Peter several years ago when he came on one of my Learn to Scythe courses and he’s gone on to be a fantastic mower and key player in northern scythe events as well as winning the Quality Cup at the Somerset Scythe Festival 2018.
I am teaching a Learn to Scythe course at Bell Sykes on 3rd August 2019. If you would like to come and learn scything at a fabulous location in Lancashire and see some of the farm, please email me stevetomlin8[at]gmail.com for details.
Toni & Ken look after a couple of acres near Nantwich in Cheshire. Toni contacted me wanting to learn to scythe so they could cut their meadow and make hay by hand for their donkeys.
I travelled to meet them and we spent a fantastic day scything in the meadow together while they learned how to set up an Austrian scythe, honing the blade and cutting the long meadow grass.
If you’d like to learn to scythe at your own venue, I can come to deliver bespoke training on a 1-to-1 basis or for a group. Please email me for more details.
Here is some lovely feedback from Toni, the day after the course:
Just got the nets in having turned the hay twice today. It’s bone dry so can be netted this evening and then we’ll feel we’re making progress and do some more tomorrow after we’ve checked our blades and honed once more!!!!
It was a great day. Totally exhausting with both the brain and body tired but we both woke up this morning to another gorgeous day and set to turning the hay – a huge amount, it’s filled 8 nets so we hope to get the baler made in the next 2 wks as well need to free up some haynets!!!!
Will let you know how this mad scheme goes. At the moment we’re feeling a little overwhelmed so it’s one day at a time!
We both thought your training was great. Your life sounds fascinating and it’s admirable that you have carved yourself a unique lifestyle. We will certainly recommend you and your courses.
I love hearing from students and their progress and successes after one of my courses. Rob came on my Learn to Scythe course at the beginning of June and set to making hay and hand baling it. Visit my Learn to Scythe page for details of future courses or to book a private workshop for yourself or your group.
I had to share this photo with you. It’s my first hay bale! I found the plans for the baler on an American website.
The scything is gradually getting better with practice. I am cutting the most lush grass first, which is good for the meadow but is putting me in at the deep end with the scything. There is lots of thatch and patches of Cleavers in some parts of the meadow, which is testing my technique beyond my capability at times. However, it is very satisfying to take my first (very small) crop, and I am hoping that the next batch (assuming we get another sunny spell) will be less lush and so a bit easier.
Your ‘Learn to Scythe’ book was very useful to remind me of things from the course. I retired in frustration on a couple of occasions, read the book and then returned a bit wiser each time.
These first few bales are probably too green and moist to store until winter, but the rain was coming so we had to take it in. It’s very satisfying nonetheless. Hopefully, we’ll get some longer dry spells in the coming weeks.
All the best
It was National Meadow Day today and I had a fantastic day teaching a group how to scythe at Hullard Park in Old Trafford, Manchester. The park has a fabulous wildflower meadow which is in need of some cutting so this workshop was organised to train local people in scything.
There was a fantastic atmosphere all day as people made new connections as well as learning the skills of scything and getting involved in the meadow management. Courses like this are fantastic for building community networks and important for that as well as all the work which got done.
If you’re in the area on Sunday 7th July, I’ll be back in the meadow as part of Old Trafford Open Gardens – come along to find out about scything, meadow management and Hullard Park.
Some lovely feedback from Kevin Tone, Wellbeing Team Co-ordinator at the Wells Rd Centre, Nottingham.
We all agreed that it’s the best couple of days training we have had, we loved it and are completely hooked! We spent all day today in the paddock honing our new skills. Sunburn and hay fever riddled but it was fantastic.
I got some feedback from Keith and Rob today and we all agreed that you have a great teaching style and your clear passion and enthusiasm and you encapsulate the whole ethos and what we are trying to create at Spinney Meadow and you would go down really well with our patient group.
I’m going to look into trying to network with people in the local area that are into scything and organising a day where they can come along to Spinney and cut the grass with us and patients and hopefully get you along as well as the VIP for the day (or two). Thanks again Steve I will be in touch.
Peening is a process of cold-forging and used with an Austrian scythe to thin the blade at the edge so that the bevel angle is finer. It’s a maintenance task that lots of people don’t enjoy or are nervous of trying. The peening jig greatly simplifies it and, with a little instruction, it’s a relatively straightforward task.
At The Wells Road Centre in Nottingham Kev, Keith and Rob got a brilliant demonstration of the benefits of regular peening during their course. We spent the first day learning about setting up the scythes and getting to grips with honing the blade and the mowing technique. The ditch blades they were using were all brand new and cut reasonably well. I then gave them each a try with my own blade and revealed the reason it seemed to cut so much more easily and neatly: peening.
After a short explanation and demonstration, the guys were all keen to get peening their own blades and Keith had even built a set of peening benches specially for it. They did a lovely job of peening the scythes and then we went back out to the grass. I wish I’d caught the smile on Rob’s face as his blade swished across the ground, effortlessly cutting the lawn around the centre. Keith and Kev were straight off to mow the meadow with ‘completely different’ scythes.
If you’ve been putting off peening or want to be sure of getting the best results, I am running a special peening workshop in Lancashire on 11th October. Come and learn the skills to confidently peen your scythe blade and transform your cutting. Email me stevetomlin8[at]gmail.com to book your place.
Being outdoors, physical activity, group work and seeing the results of your efforts are all hugely beneficial to your mental health and scything with others fits the bill perfectly. So I’m incredibly pleased to have been invited to teach a learn to scythe course for the staff at the Wells Road Centre in Nottingham. The centre offers inpatient services to adult men and women with mental disorder and part of the facility is Spinney Meadow, a wonderful outdoor space with woodland, orchards, meadow, polytunnel, lifestock and wildlife.
I spent two days with Kev, Rob & Keith who manage the space and help patients experience working with nature in a safe, calm environment. Considering it’s location by a busy road in a large city, it’s a testament to their efforts that I found myself forgetting all that while I was there and became immersed in the meadow.
Over the two days, I taught the guys how to scythe both to mow the meadow grass and also how to deal with rougher grasses and weeds around the site. There was also an emphasis on how to teach and pass on the new skills to the patients they work with. They were fantastic students as well as lovely company to spend time with. All three of them were very competent with tools and quickly got the hang of scything. The real surprise came on the second day, more of that in the next post…
The scythe is a brilliant tool for volunteers and I’ve taught groups involved in managing community orchards, meadows, allotments and conservation sites across the UK. Scything is safe, quiet and allows everyone to work at their own pace.
Last week I was invited to Lancaster to teach a group involved in the maintenance of Miss Whalley’s Field above Lancaster. It’s a fabulous urban site with flats on one side and an amazing view over the city. We concentrated our efforts on the orchard, cutting the long grass in between the trees.
If your group would benefit from learning to scythe, send me an email for more details.
Some photos from a course on how to carve wooden fan birds that I taught recently at the Woodland Skills Centre in North Wales. Fan birds are a tricky craft to get right but I have been developing my special techniques and teaching methods over the years so that beginners or improvers can achieve success and I get to see more happy faces like these.
If you can’t get to a course, you can buy instructions for how to carve fan birds along with finished fan birds from my Etsy shop Alternatively, sign up to my newsletter to find out about future courses.
David came on my fan bird carving course earlier this year. He’d previously done some spoon carving but wanted to learn to carve fan birds to expand his skills after seeing me demonstrate fan bird carving at Elvaston Wood Festival in Derbyshire. Working from a fresh log, we split out blanks and then carved the feathers before riving and folding them out to form the wings.
In the afternoon, I plan the course so there is time for people to work at their own pace and consolidate what they’ve learned. It’s always lovely to see how the students help each other which also reinforces their understanding; here David and Richard are discussing the finer points of shaping the feather hinge.
During the day, David made the three fan birds pictured at the top of this post, each one a beautiful bird and an improvement on the last. He said he intends to carry on with the craft so I’m looking forward to seeing his future birds.
If you’d like to find out about my fan bird carving courses and learn this craft yourself, sign up to my newsletter for details as they are set. If you can’t make it to a course, you can also get instructions on how to carve fan birds and packs of prepared billets or simply buy some of my birds from my Etsy shop.