Swailing

Alright. Hands up, who knows what Swailing is?

Almost certainly Norse in origin. (Icelandic: Svaela meaning heat with thick, dark smoke). Swailing describes the age-old art of managing overgrown heathland and clearing the ground of dead vegetation so that new growth can appear, by means of prescribed burning.

swailing1

Or as we knew it in Rochdale, where I was brought up, the simple union of Pennine breeze, dried grasses, moss and Swan Vestas. Swailing was treated by us kids as a perfectly acceptable robust outdoor activity during the summer months. Indeed, it sat quite comfortably alongside other healthy practices such as nesting, breaking into disused industrial buildings, walking up reservoir overflow pipes, testing out old mine workings, getting underneath old chimney stacks, swimming wherever we could and playing day-long games of ‘Walley’

swan_vesta

I can’t believe that my former self engaged in such wifull acts of vandalism. All I can say in my defence is that we never left a fire burning out of control … and it was the 70’s. We must have been a dead giveaway to our parents; returning home, at the end of the day, stinking of smoke, grey, sooty faces with white eyes and black moustaches showing where we had rubbed under our noses.

I had always assumed that ‘Swailing’ was local dialect, which described a perculiarly ‘Rochdalian’ thing to do, but in fact it is in general circulation and used to describe this ancient process throughout the country..

Swailing.

Don’t do it.

It’s not big and it’s not clever.

Andy Daly 2016

 

 

 

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