Just returned from a hectic and very enjoyable Scything Championship over the weekend. This photo is from last year but turned up in the Western Daily Press on the Thursday before the competition. Anyway. not a lot has changed this year, still the same hat, still the same breakfast stains on the shirt, though I am a lot slimmer now of course.
On Thursday and Friday I took part in a 2 day course aimed at producing more scything instructors in the UK. As well as learning to teach scything the course improved my mowing and more importantly my sharpening. Here Steve Tomlin and Paul Kingsnorth (sorry if I have the name wrong) show that improved technique very well. It was a great course – thanks enormously to Simon, Christiane and Phil for coping with us and doing such a great job.
The course included a lot of variations in techniques and here Phil Batten shows us how to hone a scythe whilst kneeling, a traditional method in some areas of the country.
On Saturday I tried putting my newly learned skills to work by taking part and teaching the beginners and improvers courses. My group of 4 mowers quickly got the hang of the techniques . I think they improved their mowing considerably, here mowing as a team for a while and they certainly did well to put up with me.
Sunday was breezy and cool with sunny periods but despite the gathering black clouds the rain held off until just after the finish of the Championships. With an instructor from Austria and a mowing team from Ireland the event took on an almost International flavour. The championships and the green scythe fair seemed very busy but I was too involved in the mowing, running the heats and competing to be able to get around all of the stalls and demonstrations this year.
The Championship finals are towards the end of the day so there is plenty of time to let the nerves build up. To make maters worse I mowed 7.7m in 1 minute in the heats, less than last year and less than I hoped to achieve as my blade kept digging into the ground. Under the pressure of competition and at full power my stance changes from the normal everyday-allday usage and a different setting of the blade is needed. George and Simon bribed the local blacksmith with homemade cider to adjust their blades whilst some last minute coaching from Simon revealed that I needed a wedge to raise the end of my blade and solved my problems from the heats.
The finals were full of action – though the race was on for second place – as Simon Damant won the overall with a speed of 1:15 seconds to mow his 5m x 5m square. In the event Simon used a 1.1m blade though in the practicing he did do some mowing with this monster 1.35m competition blade.
Second place was closely fought with 5 mowers very close in both quality and time. There was a lot of money on George to take second place – but if didn’t work out for him, of which more later, and it was taken by Andy Coleman in 2.03 seconds and I think with a quality level of 7.5 with Irish mower Dennis taking a hairsplitting 3rd place with 2.02minutes and 7 quality.
In fact the quality had improved so much this year that the judges had to shift the grades up a notch so 7 would have been 8 last year. The quality cup (temporarily lost for the prizegiving but happily now found) went to John Letts who produced an incredible 9.5 level of quality. Amazing. I also have to mention John Fenn who produced a time of 2:20 using the traditional english snathe and an Isaac Nash crown blade (last made in the 1950′s). We all tend to use the Austrian blades and European snathes but John tells me he has mowed 5×5 as fast as 1:10 whilst not under the pressure of competition so it should be interesting next year.
Though I was tied up in the mowing we had a good selection of green woodworkers present on the day, thanks to Peter Jameson for taking the lead on making and repairing hay rakes during the day, which proved a hit with the public.
This is how I thought my mowing would look in the final. But sadly it’s a piece that I cut earlier and under the pressure of the event my mowing quality slipped, though it was still better than last year.
Did I forget to mention that I won a medal? It turns out that Simon helped me fix my blade setting so well I mowed my patch in 1:23 seconds, second fastest time, and only 8 seconds behind him this year a full minute better than my time last year. Though under the pressure my quality slipped. Thereby creating a whole new category of mower – ‘the amazingly fast but crap finish’ mower or ‘fast but crap’ for short.
Many thanks to Simon Fairlie and the team for laying on such a great event. With times and qualities improving every year I am already looking forward to next year. It would be good to be able to bring a team of mowers from the South of England.
I have managed to resist posting all my photos and may instead soon set up a gallery page for them, but coming soon ‘George Takes a Break’, whilst ‘Barn takes it Easy’ carving spoons, so more excitement from the scythe festival to look forward to?
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