The Natural Navigator

Since the beginning of animalkind, an individual or group’s location and direction have been important questions for creatures on our planet – borne of the need to find food, shelter, water and mates. As with any other trait, evolution has produced some beautiful mechanisms and behaviours such as the  wonderfully long distance migrations seen in mammals and birds.

Humans are no exception and have used the progression and pressures of society and trade, the advent and development of industry and technology to take navigation to a whole new level. Today’s spread of technological development has brought us to a stage where direction and location (and many more things besides) can be found very accurately with the simple press of a button on a handheld GPS device.

In many ways this is brilliant and in others perhaps not so – for example, the  inevitable erosion of skills and traditions that predated it. After all, why use the sun and a complex mathematical procedure to fix your position when you can use your satnav or mobile phone?

With this in mind, I was excited to read about Tristan Gooley earlier this  year, a smiling, bearded writer chap who calls himself  ‘The Natural Navigator’. As you’d expect, he does exactly what his name suggests.

Earlier this week I had a few hours tuition with Tristan, keen to find out more of his world.

I was not disappointed. Starting in the beautiful Sussex town of Arundel, we went on a walk, up out of town and through Arundel park, up and over the downs and through woods, to see what we could find. No maps, no compasses, and definitely no GPS.

Instead we used the sun, the trees, the wind and the moon to figure out which way we were looking, where we were walking and from which direction we were about to get a soaking. Some of it was familiar; some was entirely new  and I left with the impression that all of it was just a tiny fraction of the knowledge and skills that sits between Tristan’s ears – he is a walking, talking navigation almanac – wise, witty and wonderful to spend time with.

Tristan’s recently published book ‘The Natural Navigator’ made it into the Times Top 100 books of 2010 and is leaping off the shelves as people seek to leave the satnav by the wayside and learn some of the history, myth, science and skills of days gone by – if not for the practical dependency on it so much as the pleasing organic sort of glow you get at navigating au naturel.

For more info on Tristan’s courses and his book:

PS To preorder my book ‘A Dip in the Ocean’ click here

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6 Responses to The Natural Navigator

  1. dick and maggie says:

    hi sarah

    couldn’t preorder your book…….>>>>couldn’t connect……


    electrons are nice. and wondrous. but equally are the “old ways.” neat to hear of your bump into tristan. i have been lost in the ocean and in the bush, and how i got out i’ll never know, but it wasn’t by electrons in a box.

    keep posting. you will always be an inspiration.

    dick fast
    atlin bc canada

  2. anita corbin says:

    fascinating stuff…I never used to wear a watch but always knew the time…we can tap into this energy and live in the natural if we give ourselves a breather!

  3. June Bibby says:

    What an interesting walk that must have been Sarah! It’s wonderful that Tristan is introducing people to the ‘natural’ world again for navigational purposes. Not only that it makes one much more aware of ones natural surroundings and the beauty of our planet and universe.
    The book will be a Christmas present to myself and later passed on to other members of the family. Thank you for the introduction!

  4. Tom says:

    I like the title of this post – the ‘natural’ navigator – because it has another layer of meaning. As rational beings we are predisposed to be natural navigators if we study our actions and their consequences during a journey.

    Navigation is a skill that comes naturally through experience. Before setting off on my bike I was pretty awful at navigation, relatively speaking, usually reliant on maps and compasses and the like. But now I rarely use a map except in order to find out the name of a particular far-off settlement. I had a compass just-in-case but really enjoyed the way that reading my surroundings all day every day allowed me to focus on natural navigation techniques which emerged from the experience of travelling.

    I also realised that navigation is often not about finding an exact point, but about reading the signs in order to find one of possibly several places in a landscape that is likely to provide what you are looking for, and that it is very useful to be able to naturally navigate time as well as space, in an outdoor context.

    As a result of being on a bicycle journey, this kind of navigation was equally applicable to man-made landscapes (cities etc) as well as natural ones, which also exhibit very strong patterns that the presence of GPS, maps, signage etc tend to upstage.

    Really thought-provoking and topical post – thanks 🙂

  5. hey splash school patron,
    happy to hear from you and your mauritian school is proud of what you are doing. We found the tittle you describe yourself essential to progress the work this world into new destiny and sustainable athlet are the keys for our children destiny. we like to make the book promotion as save and preserve life is splash safety bat sea, marine & nautical school mission.
    we remain your humble servant.
    god bless
    and kiss your family for us.
    ps we hope to see you soon i,nn Mauritius for price giving day

  6. Barb Smith says:

    Hello Sarah.
    I’ts been a while since i have been able to communicate you you.
    I am looking forward to follow your journey London via London
    journey. You look very happy in your pictures.
    Take care
    Barb Smith

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