Over the course of the Meadow Connections weekend 2017, we collected people's memories of hay time from near and far. It was lovely to hear what experiences people had had both recent and in the past as adults and as children...
Childhood memories during the early 1950s
Being trusted to load the hay onto the hay wagon all on my own and it staying on whilst being driven back to the barn over humps and bumps and on sloping ground
The fabulous smell of new mown hay
Working so very hard when rain was forecast to get the hay into the barn well into dark. Helping, when our hay was all made, next door who still used the cart horse called Peter. I loved to lead him round the field.
Pet hates... having to give up my large rake when a big beefy farm labourer joined us and then having to use a half size one.
Frances, on a Lancashire Hill Farm near Burnley
Hay Making at Valehead Farm, Kinver 2012-2014
From reading the displays, doing some scything and hearing stories of people making hay before mechanisation, I understand that my experiences of making hay are probably quite 'soft'!
We made meadow hay on around 20 acres, using a tractor with drum mowers, tedder, acrobat for rowing up and a small baler. I remember the long debates over the weather forecast - shall we cut? The set-up of the me=achiness, repair and maintenance, the final decision to go for it, the butterflies and insects flying up all around us as the mower goes through. The rising at dawn to turn the hay - tedder throwing it around. The planning of where to row up to allow for efficient baling - also to protect the hay overnight from dew or when rain looked like coming in.
Then baling days! Long, long days, all hands on deck... Raking the windrows neat, tidying the ends... kids, friends and family visiting, all raking. Baler moving through, chomping up the hay and plopping out neat bales. Car and trailer in the heat moving slowly around while we stack the bales high - way higher than I can throw them - I got the job of standing on the top and stacking (the one time in my farm training that being a slight female meant I couldn't do the job the guys could).
Into the barn and another round of bale throwing - stacking the beautiful smelling bales into a mountain - checking it's safe and sturdy and not going to fall. Lifting awkward bales to squeeze another into place beside them.
Racing the light to finish the field before total dark, then piling into the pick-up to get to the kebab shop before it closed at midnight. Beer never tasted so good. Then deep, deep sleep and start again!
Exhausted, itchy, sunburnt, blistered and totally happy. I loved haymaking!
I hope to start again sometime soon - with my scythe!
Haymaking in the 1970s
I loved this time of year, hot sunny days, riding on the trailer piled high with bales. Rolling the bales into heaps to be collected. Stacking the bales in the barn, the lovely smell but oh so scratchy on bare arms!
Lots of helpers turned up but few stayed, too much like work for townies!
Huge suppers with the farm's produce and lots of tea and chat.
Late night, being dragged home as I didn't want to leave. Great memories and I wouldn't swap it for anything.
Long may hay meadows thrive!
Haymaking at Kilnsey late 1950s
Memory suggests that it was always sunny.
The grey Ferguson tractor was used for cutting but the transfer from the field to barn was by horse drawn trailer, great fun for us youngsters - then pitchforking the hay into the hay lofts. Sandwiches and a bottle of beer for lunch.
Not sure how much help we were but it was great fun.
Hay making at Wimpole
1995 when I first started to work for the National Trust at Wimpole, hay making was with the small balers, the grass had no flowers so to speak. Later, around 2010, the farm geared up, tractors became bigger, mowers 3 metres wide times two on a 180 horse power Claas. The little meadows were left to become infested with creeping thistle. In the meantime I and the countryside team collected wildflower seed from the local verges and spread them in the unused meadows, 4-6 acres in size. Time began to heal these small meadows, flower rich herbs ousting out the creeping thistle, knapweed seemingly the best. Yellow rattle was also added and after 15 years these small meadows are mowed with scythes and the flower rich mown hay spread on other large meadows. Now the Wimpole estate abounds with wildflowers but the farm still manages to farm in the modern way too.
Hay making at Sprint Mill, Cumbria
Making hay is a time of rhythms and patterns. Early mornings of scything the orchard while everything is quiet and cool then the regular spreading and turning of the grass to make hay. I love methodically turning the grass into rows and the way they catch the evening light. Each day is quiet working with scythe, rake and fork until there's a danger of rain when our friends and neighbours rushed to come and help cock up to protect the crop.
I've made hay in France, Czech Republic, Transylvania as well as in fields across the UK. Each time is special in its own way.