The Prince and the Barefoot Mowers

Prince Charles loves scything according to the Daily Mail. In the article, Debs Goodenough, Prince Charles’ head gardener, says:

‘Some people even do it barefoot – although not the prince, I have to stress!

Over the years, Phil has experienced comment and surprise when mowing barefoot out in public. Here at the Trust we both generally choose to mow barefoot when conditions allow.

Barefoot mowing in the meadow

Mowing barefoot allows you to feel the ground under your feet much more clearly and how the mowing stroke is adjusting your balance and poise. This awareness makes it easier, for us at least, to work on our mowing technique and develop it to be as efficient and effective as possible.

It also feels nice. On a cool dewy morning I’ll often go out into the field in my boots for fear of cold feet. Within minutes of beginning mowing I have usually kicked off my clumpy boots and am enjoying the feel of the soft, cool damp earth under my feet.

It’s not as dangerous as it sounds either, as your bare feet are well away from the cutting arc of the blade. In fact mowers are unlikely to injure themselves whilst actually mowing; minor injuries are much more likely when sharpening (which is why some people choose to wear gloves, but we can go into that controversy another time…..).

It is possible to injure others with your blade when mowing in groups, so it is important to think about setting up group mowing in a safe and orderly fashion and advise mowers to keep a good distance from those mowing ahead of them. Injuries from scythes are included in these historical records of Everyday Life and Fatal Hazard in Sixteenth-Century England (look for the Discovery of the Month, July 2012 for a particular example). No need to add modern examples! When we are mowing with groups of beginners we advise shoes / boots. As people gain in experience they can choose for themselves what they prefer.

Ants, unhappy after unexpected loss of their roof.

There are a few unexpected hazards to look out for when mowing barefoot. I didn’t notice that I had sliced the top off an ant’s nest until a few minutes later, when a number of angry ants were climbing up my ankles and biting me. I might still have got bitten if I had been wearing footwear, but being barefoot meant they got access to unprotected flesh a lot quicker!

The cut ends of hard stalks can be annoyingly painful to step on, as can plants such as creeping thistle. I would never mow bracken bare foot – the cut ends of the bracken plants can be hard and sharp enough to cut your feet – and a bramble patch is not a wise place to try either.

Having said that I very rarely hurt my feet when mowing in the meadow, the slow low shuffle your feet take during the stroke seems to protect them. It can be more uncomfortable when going out barefoot to work the hay later in the day – the aftermath left by the scythe can be quite prickly, especially when it is hot and dry. I find my feet toughen up to fairly quickly  and for me the benefits of bare feet outweigh the disadvantages. And if it gets too much there is always the option to slip on a pair of sandals.

In the hay field without footware