Saturday, 2 July 2016

The Natural Navigator at Forty Hall Farm

For those that don't know of the Natural Navigator, he's called Tristan Gooley and, in a simplictic nutshell, has an eye for spotting navigational aids that nature and the Earth provide to our eye.

A while ago he was also kind enough to contribute a piece to the Scout Association's book The Outdoor Adventure Manual which I was involved with, and sent me a pre-sale copy of his Walker Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs book which I did a  review of.

I'd been wanting to meet Tristan in some way, shape or form and  finally did so at his National Maritime Museum talk in late spring which centred around his newly released book How to Read Water.

Recently I've been driving all over the place to the likes of London (for Tristan's talk), Bedfordshire, Wiltshire, Kent, Sussex and Dorset for courses, 1-2-1s and visits during my sabbatical, so it's a pleasure to have a leisurely jaunt for a change to Forty Hall Farm   for a organised day of natural navigation with Tristan Gooley...It almost calls for a Pimms!

The benefit of a easy and familiar journey (it's 60% of the way to the Bushcraft Store for me) is that I know where to go without the danger of getting lost, which is perhaps a potential embarrassment considering the course content. 

Once parked up it is quite amusing to see that the manicured lawns around the house are, quite literally, divided by a black wrought iron double gate (for vehicles and people) from the more down to Earth working farm.   


And it was in a building within the farm that nine of us, from different backgrounds, converged on for our day of natural navigation.

Tristan said that the day was to be in two halves; the morning was to be some 'classroom' theory with some outdoor practical stuff after dinner. He started off by telling us that we were strange as we had committed to learning about a fairly specialist subject, although he said that it made him a freak. He also pointed out that there aren't that many outlets for learning this sort of stuff so we were probably the only ones doing natural navigation at that point in time. He moved between a wet wipe board and a power point, the latter he described as a device to stop him going off at tangents.


Some dinner was provided in the shape of sandwiches and salad by the farm (with tea and coffee via an urn). Once we had finished we headed out and covered flat grassy area, woods, farm fields and finished up around the large pond/ small lake by the house. The site is 130 acres, managed organically and even has a vineyard.

We stopped just as soon as we'd started on a small patch of lawn where he explained something to us, and this set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. 

Some of the information was theory  but some physical clues were pointed out and picked over too. I recall a lady talking on the radio about her hobby of making items for dolls houses and how she views everyday items. Most would look at something like a toothpaste lid and not think twice about it, but this lady perhaps would look at it and automatically think something like 'What can I use this for in a dolls house, maybe a lampshade?', and Tristan is the same in that he's looking to see what directional clues things around us can tell him. 


Interestingly some clues that we were shown we peripheral and Tristan said that not all clues will necessarily give you directions, rather they give you trends and are all part of building up a picture. Weather changes can aid or cause a rethink of clues too.

Whilst out in the wooded area I did notice a Wild Service tree with the Chequers starting to develop. It looks like it will be a good year for them.


We reached the house grounds for the final part and looking at which way Tristan's hands are pointing it is safe to say that it was a point about the sun, this born out by the position of his shadow. And I had a mild moment of deja vu when the subject of water came up. 

We finished up back in our 'classroom' after some more powerpoint and brief question session. I asked if in the future it might be possible to consider publishing a pictorially heavy clues book, as opposed to writing with some illustrations. Sadly it wouldn't viable. Luckily the rain mainly held off and I came away from a top day a little wiser.

And Tristan was kind enough to credit me with a little nugget of wisdom (along with the source of it; Monica Wilde) on his blog.

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