Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a fascinating one-day course with Tristan Gooley, the Natural Navigator. The course was called A Beginners’ Guide to Natural Navigation, but it involved a lot more than just finding your way without a map. I had already read his book in the past, but the course covered things in a lot more detail.
I loved the fact that he took the risk of quitting his day job to become a full time natural navigator. His enthusiasm for his subject was very clear. He knows all about how to use GPS, which these days is a highly accurate form of technology. But let’s face it, it’s not very exciting, is it? (In addition, as I have mentioned before, a GPS device can fail at any time. What will you do if it breaks, or the battery runs out? What will you do if your phone’s GPS relies on phone reception to get a signal, and you get stuck somewhere with no reception?) Such technology also stops us from enjoying our walks, and stops us being aware of our surroundings. I loved his statement that “When you’re staring at a screen, you’re not looking at the world.”
You may think you know a lot of natural navigation facts already, but let me ask you a question: in which direction does the sun rise and set? If you answered that it rises in the East and sets in the West, this is only actually true at the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. In fact, in the Northern Hemisphere, at the Summer Solstice, the sun rises in the North-East and sets in the North-West. At the Winter Solstice, it rises in the South-East and sets in the South-West. It varies not just according to the time of year, but also your location in the world. This website will show you in more detail.
Although most of the things we learned were practical skills about navigating by the sun, stars, trees, flowers and even puddles, there seemed to be a much deeper message about people being disconnected from nature and missing some of the most obvious things that are right outside our front doors – not just out in the countryside or out at sea, but also in the middle of cities. This was no “fluffy” course, however. Everything we learned was backed up by facts – mainly scientific facts about the Earth’s rotation, the celestial sphere, and the way that plants react to their environment. We also had a lesson about economic policies which have subtly changed the way that farmers plant crops in their fields, in addition to ways in which religious beliefs have influenced the alignment of buildings. Churches are usually aligned almost (but not quite) East to West.
During the second half of the day, we were shown more and more photographs and asked in what direction the photographer was facing. As we picked up increasing numbers of visual clues, we became more confident at analysing them and making our decisions.
It was an enjoyable day. I look forward to getting out there and using my new-found knowledge, not just to help me go in the right direction, but also to appreciate more of the little details that can be found all around us.