The Zen of Scything

I’ve never watched Poldark, I’m not sure that I ever will.  But one single episode of the series very quickly became the subject of local gossip.  Rather than give a wordy explanation, I’ll give you a glimpse of what all the fuss was about:

The scene also caused controversy.  The first was due to the sexism of treating man as object by those swooning over Aidan Turner’s toplessness.  But you’ve got to admit that he does sport a very fine set of pecs and abs.

Ehem… moving on.

There was another reason.  I heard it first on the windy hillside of a Slaithwaite permaculture farm.  Why is that when the BBC create an episode that would go viral, Aidan Turner wasn’t taught how to scythe properly?  So, I had to look for myself.  Abs and pecs aside, all sexiness goes when you see his sweaty, puffing, hacking action.  I was, like others who’ve discovered the zen of scything, very disappointed.

The Zen of Scything

Scything is like t’ai chi both in its action and in its efficient use of energy.  You cut the meadow, you don’t hack at it.  In so doing, you don’t break a sweat.  Imagine yourself standing, relaxed with your feet about shoulder width apart.  Your arms and hands are held out in front of you and there just happens to be the two handles of a scythe placed in them.  The heel of the scythe blade rests on the ground, you don’t even have to lift it.  You gently grip the handles, then turn your body, keeping your arms in the same position all the time.  The only thing that moves is your hips.  The action creates an arc around you of cut grass/weeds/anything unlucky enough to have got in your way.  You take a step forward and repeat, an inch of grass at a time.  After a while, you get into a rhythm, there’s a satisfying swoosh of the blade through the grass and you can start daydreaming or listening to the buzz of insects and the song of birds around you – moving meditation.

It’s spiritual:

“You may well refuse to lend your scythe, even to your best friend.

“But, more than that, if you are gripped, you will enter into a relationship between you, your tool, your colleagues and your land, which will unveil new depths season after season. There is a magic in mowing which, puts the rhythm of the body and the dynamics of a community in touch with the breathing of the earth.”

The Austrian scythe guide by the

I can’t say I’m good at it, but I’m getting better, and while I’m not quite at this level of oneness, I can see why some mowers could be that obsessive.  It’s a form of labour I didn’t expect to enjoy, and although I’d love to be as lean as Mr Turner, I can take pride in knowing that I don’t scythe as clumsily.


One:  650 Kcal an hour

For the fitness minded, scything strengthens core muscles and one estimate is that it uses up 650 calories an hour.  Its health benefits have been likened to yoga, pilates and t’ai chi.  I may have made it sound easy, but you don’t realise you’re working so hard until you’ve stopped and then wonder why you feel so tired and HUNGRY!

Two: Scything Championships

People get together and mow a patch of field with their scythes with the aim of doing it faster and to a better quality than their competition.  Currently, Simon Damant and Andi Ricard are the male and female scything champions in the UK.

Three: Scything Teams

The mowing of a field used to done by teams.  There has been some revival in this.  The team would move forwards in a line and be accompanied by rakers who would turn and remove the harvest as the mowers cut.  Some teams would be nomadic, taking work where they could during the harvesting season.

Four:  Austrian Scythes

Several different types of scythe have been used over the centuries, but now the most popular is the Austrian scythe which is lighter than other alternatives.  It is the Austrian scythe that I have used.  Perhaps Aidan’s was heavy.

Five:  Peening

When mowing, the scythe needs sharpening with a whetstone every 20 minutes or so.   However, from time to time the blade will need peening.  This is an art-form in itself.  It entails the use of a hammer and anvil.   Peening redistributes the metal very slightly, a bit like a very hard modelling clay being hammered carefully into shape.

And Verd wants a machete…. pfft…


6 thoughts on “The Zen of Scything

  1. hi Safar, sounds a bit like Sword culture, becoming one with your sword, etc. Aiden is much more easier on the eyes than one Tom… Tom.. you know who I mean, our fishy friends favourite :). I’d rather be doing my zen thing on the helm of a boat, at one with the waves, but each to their own. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s something so graceful and rhythmic about cutting grass this way. It’s amazing how we’ve mechanised so many tasks and have devised other ways of working up a sweat!


    1. The 9-5 routine and the 24/7 society has changed our perception of time – hence our ‘need’ for labour-saving devices. One thing I’ve liked about the transition from wage slave to who knows what, is the development in my relationship with time and feeling joy in simplicity. We spend our lives searching for something and yet, what we seek is right there in front of us – and is also quickly slipping away.
      I’ve always loved this scene:

      “The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your whole life looking for one and it would not be a wasted life.”
      I’m beginning to understand its meaning at a deeper level.

      Liked by 2 people

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