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28 October 2014

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The West Country Scythe Festival
The West Country Scythe Festival

West Country Scythe Festival

By Stephen Stafford
The art of hand-mowing was celebrated in style at the first West Country Scythe Festival - with experts and novices all having a go at the traditional way of cutting grass which dates back centuries.

Leaving the Bank Holiday traffic on the A35, head along some winding country lanes and the familiar growl of modern farm machinery was replaced with the tranquil slicing of hand-held sythes at the first West Country Scythe Festival.

West Country Scythe Festival
The West Country Scythe Festival

Staged at Fivepenny Farm near Wooton Fitzpaine, the event attracted scythe specialists from as far as Cumbria, Merseyside and South Wales as well as local people interested in learning the skill. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of spectators were happy to lie on the freshly mown grass and enjoy the bank holiday weather.

Click through our Photo Gallery from the West Country Scythe Festival

Farm labourers hand-mowing with scythes were once a common sight in West Country fields but as more farm machinery was introduced, the practice almost died out in the UK. 

West Country Scythe Festival
Scything in progress

However, festival organiser Simon Fairley insisted that the event was about more than just showing museum pieces. He explained how scythes have practical use in today's countryside:

"There's been a revival in interest in scythes, people find them much more pleasant to use than strimmers but it is a skill that takes sometime to acquire.  With more people buying up organic small-holdings, they find them a congenial tool for certain jobs, rather than having to pay for large farm machinery to do the job.  It doesn't use fossil fuels, and it doesn't take much resources to make one."

The highlight of the festival was a competition to find the best mower in the West Country (and probably Britain, as no-one was aware of another competition of it's kind.)

With plenty of eager support, the competitors attacked their five-metre square of uncut grass.  The judges were looking for speed, but also style in evenly shaving the grass close to the ground and neatly piling up the grass in rows, without bruising it.

Competitors spanned all ages and abilities - the oldest pushing 80.  One had just recovered from a kidney transplant and another was pregnant, but it didn't stop any of them swinging their scythes with plenty of enthusiasm.

Peter Vido
Peter Vido

The eventual winner of the Mens' competition was Steve Friend who finished his patch in 2 minutes 13 seconds, ahead of Robert Ridges on 2 minutes 48 seconds.  The womens' competition was won by Jenny Carter whose 11-minute time was made up for by a high quality of cut.

Canadian scything guru Peter Vido made the trip to Dorset especially for the festival to train people in the art of good scything and wow the crowd with his own precision technique (including a 360 degree, over-the-head scythe movement!).

He explained how there is much more to it that just cutting grass: "It's about an alternative way of looking at the way we live - it's a vehicle to inspire us to think about what we use the body for and why we replace it with machines.  Doing things the fast, easy way isn't always the most satisfying.  It'll not make you richer in a material way, but it'll make you richer in all kinds of other ways."

Peter bases his scything style on Chinese Tai Chi principles: "You are using your body in a way that makes you feel good, the way you move with the scythe.  If it's a sharp blade, it's pure pleasure."

Scything is widely practiced in the rest of Europe, where advances in scythe manufacture have produced tools that are lighter and nimbler than the traditional English blade. Champion mowers on the continent can scythe 100 square metres of grass in two to three minutes.

A two-day course was also held as part of the West Country festival, not only teaching the skills needed, but also how to instruct other people in scything skills. And with Dorset on the 'cutting edge' of the Scythe renaissance, the organisers are hoping to make the Scythe Festival an annual event.

last updated: 30/05/05
Have Your Say
What did you think of the West Country Scythe Festival?
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Danny Price
I' ve been trying to find a maker of traditional scythes and was amazed and delighted to read about this festival. So I'm not the only "nutter" about. Can you tell me where I can get a scythe? Thanks.

emily and ari
we went to the festival and it was fun and the people jyoti and dai were lovely and kind we think it should happen every year .

Ryan Williams
I think thar scythe is a cool tool and i would like to know how to use it and all the tecknecks on how to use it.

I think This Competition is a hottie!!

Anthony Jefferson
I have scythed as a teenager in the mountains of northern Spain when the farmers were still using it until the mid-1980's. It was perfect and calming effect on any steep terrain that you continue slide in rhythm as you walk along the rows in the fields.

Stuart Aylett
Thanks to everyone that turned up! it was a great day! hopefully there will be another one again soon! thanks simon for organising it!

Kim Squirrell
What impressed me most was watching seventy and eighty year olds demonstrate their physical skill to great appreciation from the crowd. We don't often see older people centre stage in our culture.

chris wickenden
I would like to either buy a new blade or invest in a modern scythe. Could anyone help me find a supplier?

Joe Leighton
It was great . I did the coconut shy. I think my Mum should have won the womens competition.

Annick Wilson
It was a wonderful day. Many things that I saw there I hadn't believed possible before

Mel Thatcham
my father was a scytheman and this brought back a lot of memories

mark flanagan
it was brilliant - a great day and well supported

Karl Aylett
I thought it was great and that my dad (stuart aylett) did a great job of setting it all up!

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