Highlands & Islands

Old tool far from a blade scunner

Image caption A 18th Century engraving of a scythe factory from that era

One of agriculture's oldest technologies could be on the verge of a comeback in times of austerity and so-called green living.

To many, the scythe is a rusting rustic relic usually seen hung as decoration on the wall of a pub.

After entering and winning a scything competition at Gairloch, Gaelic BBC journalist Teàrlach Quinnell reports on how the tool could be returning to the sharp end of gardeners' must-haves.

It is associated with clumsy, hard physical labour and the Grim Reaper.

But mowing the quieter, quicker and greener way is being rediscovered.

The scythe, still commonly encountered on the continent, is undergoing something of a revival in Britain.

A well-made scythe is anything but a clumsy tool.

Carefully measured and adjusted to fit the individual user, it can be easily controlled, and can even cut quite short grass.

Manicured lawns

The manicured lawns at the Palace of Versailles in France were once cut with scythes.

It is even possible to cut grass around trees, right up to the bark, without damaging them. Try doing that with a strimmer.

A scythe also gathers up the cut grass in a row rather than leaving a mashed mess strewn across the ground, mixed with the assorted severed limbs of unfortunate amphibians that chose a bad place to hide.

The secret to good scything is simple: shaving.

You do not chop with the blade, but slide it smoothly through the standing grass, in an ark around your body, cutting two or three inches deep, but in a wide sweep. The blade need never leave the ground.

Image caption Reporter Teàrlach Quinnell sharpening his scythe

It must be kept razor sharp, an effect achieved by going over it with a hone every five minutes or so.

Scything competitions are helping to raise the instrument's profile.

There are already several in England and one in Scotland, which is held at the Gairloch Highland Gathering in the west Highlands.

The Gairloch competition is in its third year. Twelve people took part this summer, compared to about nine last year.

Anyone can compete, even those who do not bring their own scythe.

Somerset is home to the Green Scythe Fair and National Scything Championships and its strimmer versus scythe event from last year has even been uploaded on to YouTube.

Contrary to popular cliché, it is difficult to cut oneself with a scythe whilst using it.

Sharpening it is another matter and thick gloves are recommended.

In spite of that, it can be a perfectly harmless addiction.

Eyes gleaming

I once taught someone not known for his enthusiasm in the gardening department, to cut his back lawn in suburban Inverness with a scythe.

He enjoyed it so much that, having finished his own lawn, he leapt over the fence, eyes gleaming, to mow his neighbour's back garden. This developed into an arrangement that lasted for some time.

As people try and move towards more environmentally-friendly ways of working, the scythe ticks a lot of boxes.

The tool needs no fuel, is quiet, does not pollute and is less tiring than manoeuvring a strimmer or a mower.

That is apart from the great satisfaction in being able to use one well.

The revival of interest in scything should secure the future for a craft that has all but died out in Britain.

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