The weekend of June 23rdand 24thwas the Wimpole Estate scything festival, this year held as part of the Wimpole History Festival. The meadows out by the folly looked fantastic, the weather was set fair and to top it all Simon ‘The Champ’ Damant had regained his national scything crown
Everybody was looking forward to a glorious weekend of mowing and traditional rural skills. However, in order to make these events pass off smoothly, entertainingly but seemingly spontaneously, a lot of hard preparative work has to be put in. Simon and his team of volunteers had spent the whole week working hard, marking out plots, putting up tents, carting up equipment and tools, building an outdoor kitchen and collecting copious wood for the greenwood workers.
In fact the scything started very early, before 6am apparently (I was asleep ed.) with Kevin, Michael and Nigel all deciding to mow a whole acre each, which would have been the amount referred to in the nursery rhyme “One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow”: a typical day’s work for a Victorian mower. As they mowed on after lunch the greenwood group’s great and glorious leader, Jim ‘the bargain’ McVittie set up his scythe selling stall, the craft area was set up and notices put up in an attempt to guide the public to our rather secluded location
…but not even this was the start of the preparations as several months previously, the Wednesday night splinter group of the Estate’s greenwood workers known variously as the Harston shed and dining club or the Wympole Strippers, Steamers and Benders Association, had decided to build a throne in which to crown the scything champions. Given the ancient traditions of scything and forest life, a design was hastily produced on the back of an old grant application (well it is Cambridge ed.) of a leaf-shaped structure, which the designers believed might pay homage to the ancient greenwoods and might have been found in Tolkein’s Lothlorien. The design arrived at was inspired by some small chairs seen at Bradfield Woods, when we visited there in the winter. This one, however, was going to be altogether bigger, more substantial and, as it turned out, a ‘right bugger to move about’.
It was created from the cheek of a single large ash tree from the estate wood yard and from some other appropriately over-sized lumps of Wimpole estate ash lying around Cobbs Wood farm: cheeks are the first part taken from the outside of a tree when it is planked so contains the curved outer face of the tree and are generally considered of little use. A few problems were encountered during the build, such as the getting the auger out of Jim’s back, when we accidently left him in the chair during mortice boring and the fact it needed 3 people and a couple of sledge hammers to get the supporting arms in under tension: it was meant to be able to be quickly disassembled for storage but that idea rapidly hit the dust after the assembly process!
The final construction contains no screws or nails, being held together only with wooden pegs and wedges held in with glue. It is, in fact to our surprise and due to its ‘rudder’ at the back, remarkably stable and indeed comfortable although it is certainly not designed for slouching in or watching a match that goes to extra time and penalties without a cushion being added (the world cup was on when this was first drafted ed.).
The one acre mowers finished their task in between 9 and 12 hours and promptly collapsed and along with some other recently arrived mowers and a handful of greenwood workers headed for their tents as the evening closed in. Food was cooked and people sat around chatting and watching the sunset.
I read a few chapters of Roger Deakin’s “Wildwood”: if you haven’t read it I strongly recommend you should ). We all wondered if our leader’s McWeather forecast would be correct and Saturday would be bright and sunny with some light cloud or whether there would be a repeat of the famous Burwash Manor Apple Day fiasco…