Northern Scythe Festival 2023

This year’s Northern Scythe Festival once again took place at Bell Sykes which has a very special series of flower rich Coronation meadows within the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire.


Traditionally managed Northern Dales meadows like these offers some of the best mowing any scyther could ever wish for. Their structure and mix of wild flowers and soft herbs is on its own worth coming for just for the bliss of experiencing it with a scythe. Add to this is the camaraderie (and rivalry) of sharing the experience with other scythers, and the scenic setting, what is not to like.


The existence of these meadows is not an accident but is the product of centuries of sensitive custodianship as hay meadows by generations of farmers; most recently by Peter Blackwell (pictured above) our most esteemed host for this event. Meadows of such quality are rare survivors as they are easily damaged or lost through neglect or agricultural “improvement”. Sadly, the future of these meadows is not guaranteed as there is no assurance that future custodians will be as dedicated and knowledgeable as Peter and his family have been.


So, the highlight of the festival was just the mowing of the meadow itself, and the pinnacle of this was having all 28 scythers arranged together across the field mowing together harmoniously with the meadow, with nature and with each other. Sorry if this sounds corny but it is true.

Competitions


There were also competitions. As well as being lots of fun, these serve to sort out rivalries between individuals as well as test different ideas of scythe and blade type.

Champions


In the individual competitions the Austrian scythe claimed all the championship positions (except the English scythe category itself). Peter Blackwell (our host) and Andi Rickard were clear and deserving Champions.

Peter Blackwell - Men's Champion
Peter Blackwell – Men’s Champion

Andi Rickard – Women’s Champion

Table of results in 5 x 5 m Competition

The table is ordered using my formula for combining speed with quality. You can re-sort these tables yourself to view in speed order or by quality.

NameBladeTimeQuality
Peter Blackwell11001:217.5Mens Champion
Andi Rickard11001:468.5Womens Champion
Danny HodgsonE 9501:446.0English Scythe Champion
Jim McVittie*9501:556.5Mens Veteran Champion
Kevin AustinE 8502:228.0
Colin Close*9502:328.5
Richard Brown8502:288.0
Terry StandenE 8502:207.5
Simon Cooter8501:576.0
Tom Waters11001:555.5
Joe Haywood7502:486.5
Ted Sawyer*?04:078.0
Martin Stevens8003:506.5
Shane O’Reilly*8502:544.5
Martin Waddington6505:307.5
Chris Riley8503:244.5
Jayne O’Reilly*7504:115.5Womens Veteran Champion
Phil HallE 8502:443.0
Mary Ellis*6508:088.5Quality Champion
John Rodan6507:397.5
Norman Bush*8504:484.0
Helene Ducrotoy8507:225.5
Ian Mansfield7510:457.5
Sarah Robinson7510:257.0

Blades in cm, E = English; Time mins: secs; * = veteran

English Scythes


There was a particularly notable presence of English Scythes on the field. So much so that in a shock result the English scythe won the team mowing competition beating all three other teams using Austrian scythes!

Whilst the English scythe did not take the main titles, English mowers ranked well both in speed and quality as you can see from the results table above. It would seem that as people learn to overcome the difficulties of correctly setting up English scythes it is making a real comeback.

Danny Hodgson – English Scythe Champion

The main obstacles have firstly been obtaining an English snath of the right proportions to match one’s height. Danny Hodgson has overcome this by making his own snath with which he won the English category. Secondly, mastering the different sharpening techniques needed for English blades (Terry Standen has generously given tips and advice on this to many owners of English blades including myself).

Veteran Scythers

The veterans’ category also demonstrates how age is no barrier to being a serious contender with a scythe. Whilst youth and vigour are an advantage (as evidenced by this year’s clutch of Somerset champions) the veteran mowers in the table delivered good times and quality.

Jim McVittie – Men’s Veteran Champion

Jim McVittie was veteran champion with a stonking personal best, this being the first time he has mown a 5 x 5 in under 2 minutes and in two swaths. In going for speed Jim sacrificed on quality, only just beating Colin Close with his top quality but a bit slower time. Jayne O’Reilly was the women’s veteran Champion.

Colin Close

Quality


Balancing speed and quality fairly is always a tricky task for the judges.

Power is not the be-all and end-all in scything. In the real world mowing is rarely a race, and never a two minute sprint. Skill, proficiency and delivering a consistent quality of finish with economy of effort are of equal importance. Taking this into account the judges decided to award the quality prize to Mary Ellis.

Rivalry and Scything Skulduggery

In last year’s Northern Championships Richard Brown was just able beat Peter Blackwell to the title with the help of a live and active mole that spontaneously appeared in Peter’s plot.
To prevent a recurrence of this firstly Peter made sure in advance that every mole was removed from the field.

Richard Brown with Rudolf

Secondly, a bunch of conspirators secreted a small soft toy Rudolf reindeer into Richard’s competition plot to sabotage his chances, just as the mole had done to Peter the year before.
It was most perplexing to spot a small furry object with a bright red nose and was definitely put off my stroke. My calls for someone to remove the obstacle was met with chuckling from the conspirators so I smelt a rat and removed it myself. Whilst not my day, I did at least go home with a trophy memento.

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