Poldark: Could Aidan Turner spark a surge in scything?

By Helen Burchell
BBC News

image copyrightPA
image captionActor Aidan Turner caused a stir when his character Ross Poldark took to topless scything

Poldark makes its US debut this weekend on the PBS network. As Americans discover the show, will they also discover scything?

When Poldark actor Aidan Turner took off his shirt and picked up his scythe, social media buzzed with excitement. But could the "Poldark effect" see more gardeners swapping their mowers for a stick and a blade?

Scythe-wielding has long been synonymous with menacing images of the Grim Reaper but Turner's appearance in the BBC drama could change all that.

The actor set hearts racing as he scythed his way through a field, muscles rippling and glistening with sweat, as his dark unruly curls blew in the breeze.

However, the experts say it really does not have to be that hard and there is absolutely no need to perspire so profusely.

"People don't realise what an art it is," says Simon Damant, the joint national scything champion, who uses the implement to cut reeds at Wimpole Hall, in Cambridgeshire.

image copyrightTwitter
image copyrightTwitter
image copyrightTwitter

"You do get these big blokes who just thunder at it, but if you use the whole of your body from the ankles right the way up - twisting your body - all of it - it's like you're charging an elastic band.

"Then you just let it all go and you can really cut a lot and quite efficiently once you get your body doing that."

While he admits to the odd bit of topless scything himself, he always puts his shirt back on "to prevent sunburn".

Scything is popular with smallholders "who can't afford expensive equipment and find it's really good for cutting maybe an acre or two of hay", he adds.

"But quite a lot of people do it because it's a bit of a workout and it just keeps you fit."

Actor Turner's fans need little convincing of that.

How to scythe

image captionRanger Simon Damant uses scythes in areas inaccessible to other equipment
  • The scythe should remain in contact with the ground at all times
  • Rest the blade on the ground and slide it backwards and forwards in a semi-circular action
  • Move your body though the hips to ensure you are slicing rather than chopping the vegetation
  • Go on a course and learn to do it properly and safely

Source: Steve Tomlin, training co-ordinator for Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland

So perhaps the much-shared image of Turner will encourage more of us to get out of the gym and into the garden. Topless or otherwise.

"I've certainly seen a lot more about scything on the internet since that episode, but it's too early to tell if more people will want to try it," says Richard Brown, chairman of the Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland.

"It's already a really popular pastime with both sexes, but as the scything season doesn't really get going until the spring when everything has started growing again, it's too early to know if that's going to have an effect."

Safety is definitely a concern, however, when working with a 5ft long sharp implement. The Scythe Association's training co-ordinator Steve Tomlin always recommends newcomers attend one of their courses first.

Scythe through Easter calories

image copyrightThinkstock
  • Scything burns off an average of 680 kcals an hour, so 25 minutes of scything will burn off a toasted hot cross bun with butter (about 235 kcals)
  • A full roast lunch with wine and dessert can be anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 kcals. This would take up to three hours to burn off
  • The inevitable Easter egg at an average of 530 kcals could be counteracted by 45 minutes' scything

Source: Jay Banks, personal trainer and nutritionist

"Because the blade is at the end of a long stick it really is safe when used correctly," he says.

"It doesn't kick up stones the way a strimmer does and because it's so quiet you can hear if anyone is approaching.

"The most dangerous part is sharpening or adjusting the blade, but you should wear gloves."

You should also not copy Turner's technique, according to the Scythe Association's chairman Richard Brown.

"He couldn't scythe," he says. "We do a lot of work with film and television companies but evidently we weren't involved with this one."

Turner's fans are unlikely to care but the association's Steve Tomlin is similarly critical of his technique.

"He was only scything for 30 seconds but he was pouring with sweat. Everyone who knows scything knows how easy that vegetation would be to cut.

"I know the director wanted him glistening with muscles rippling but it doesn't have to be that hard."

This article was originally published on 4 April, 2015

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