Entries tagged "south"

Deducing Direction from Dog Defecation


This is not an April Fool's post. Instead this is about the most extraordinary piece of research that I have come across in many years of being on the lookout for such things. I am hugely grateful to Martyn Walker for drawing my attention to it. In a past post, I mentioned the story about researchers discovering that cows align themselves north-south more commonly than any other direction. I never suspected that research in this field could grow more surreal. Researchers have found that dogs defecate more commonly along the north-south axis than any…



I took this photo in Chichester the other day, at midday. Chichester has four main streets, North, East, South and West. (A fairly appropriate home city for me.) You can probably eliminate a couple of those quite quickly, but which of the remaining ones is it? It's not a great photo, taken on my iPhone whilst walking, but there are a couple of good clues. I'll update with an answer in a few days. Update, spoiler alert: We are looking due south on North Street. The clues are: the midday sun plus…

Prickly Lettuce, A Compass Plant


Prickly lettuce is known to some of its navigating friends as the 'compass plant' and to its Roman friends as 'lactuca serriola'. In truth it is only one of many plants with the compass plant nickname (Silphium laciniatum in the US is another one), but it has earned it. In open ground, the leaves of the main stem are aligned north-south, offering the least surface area to the midday sun, but the maximum area to the weaker light of the start and end of the day. (This is a similar logic to the N-S alignment…

Analemmas and the Equation of Time


If you stood on the same spot and took a photo of the sun every day during a year's worth of good weather, at exactly the same time each day... ...You might expect to see the sun moving up and down in the sky. But sideways? In fact it would trace a figure of 8 in the sky. This shape is called an Analemma. This has nothing to do with 'daylight saving' or any of the other artificial clock changes. It is caused by two factors. The first is well known and understood by…

Back from the Arctic


Yesterday I arrived back home after sailing north from Scotland via the Faroe Islands into the Arctic, finishing at Reykjavik. I used the trip to study the relationship between the environment, the distance to land and other factors like depth. I'd like to thank my Mate and only crewmember, John Pahl, for volunteering for such an unlikely voyage and for being such an invaluable help throughout the trip. There's lots to report both here and in the articles I will be writing, but in the meantime I've just got time to share what felt like a great…

Tree Lichens and Royalty


  -------------------------   In these four pictures we are looking at the same beech tree. See if you can work out which way you are looking in each picture. If you hover your mouse over each picture it should give you the answer. If it has been a bit quiet on the blog recently, it's because it has been a very busy time for the last…

Which Way Are We Looking?


The last astro quiz proved so popular that I thought we'd do another. This fantastic photo was taken by the expedition photographer, James Walker. Thanks, James, for permission to use it here. Do check out James' website, there are some stunning images, but only after you've had a go at answering the questions below. Which way are we looking in this picture? Bonus: roughly what latitude was the photo taken at? Good luck! I'll post the answer here in a few days. Photography tip from a pro: The tomb in the…

Snow and Ice Patterns


I'm just back from some micronavigation in the Black Mountains in Wales. I should get a chance to blog in more detail in time, but for now I just wanted to share a couple of nice clues I found in the light snow and ice I walked amongst. The first photo shows the first snow I encountered on a climb out of the Vale of Ewyas. We are looking east in this picture, the only snow to have survived the thawing warmth of the day are the thin strips hiding in the shade on the south…



Last night I caught a few minutes of a programme on BBC4, called 'Unnatural Histories.'As so often seems to be the case, a short stroll from the mainstream channels uncovered rough diamonds.In the programme, an aerial shot showed us clearly visible patterns in the earth, patterns that were partly concealed at ground level by dense undergrowth. The narrator explained that we were looking at 'geoglyphs' in the Amazon rainforest. Geoglyphs are shapes that have been deliberately formed in the land by the hand of man.Like many pilots, I have come to love the way it is possible in the air…

Greek Island Embarrassment


OK, it's confession time. Again. I'm just back from a week's holiday with my wife on the Greek island of Kefalonia. It was our first holiday without the kids for about seven years, which felt bizarre from start to finish. This is the only, admittedly weak, excuse for the navigational lapse that ensued. In Fiskardo, at the northern end of Kefalonia, we hired a small day-boat and spent many mornings motoring up and down the east coast of Kefalonia. We pursued the not very stressful business of hunting quiet bays and seeking secluded beaches for a swim.…

Monkey Puzzles


Natural navigation is at its most fun when it is a puzzle and a test of our senses. Have a look at this photo and get ready to test your powers of observation.This is a photo of a monkey puzzle tree that I have been growing in our greenhouse since early this year. I have taken it out of the greenhouse for better light for this photo. Greenhouses are great places to study the effect of sunlight on plant growth because all the wind effects are cancelled.Now see if you can tell in which direction this photo was taken. Are…

Finding South Using the Stars


Finding South Using the Stars In the northern hemisphere Polaris, the North Star, tends to get all the attention when it comes to finding direction using the stars. There is a good reason for this: it is easy to find and is very accurate. In the southern hemisphere the Southern Cross is used to find south and Polaris is not visible. But what about finding south in the northern hemisphere? The easiest thing is still to find Polaris and then look in the opposite direction, but what if we want a method that actually shows us south itself.…

Moon Shadows


Last night I divided my time between two very different arenas of the modern human experience. I watched dross on TV, including some Jonathan Dross himself, but then I found the antidote to such inanity. I nipped out regularly to put markers down in the snow, as I watched the moon's shadows march west across the white. I took some photos of the results of my moon shadow stick, together with a perfect north-south line, which I will be using on my Beginner's Guide to Natural Navigation courses. Yes, that is a bit of a tease, but…

Southern Ripening


There is no better way to get a feel for botany than to grow something from seed. By the time a plant is even a few feet high it is displaying such a myriad of often complex developments that unweaving them can be fiendishly difficult. Watching a plant grow from day one it is much easier to spot these developments taking place. Nothing could be more satisfying than watching a fruit ripen towards the end of this process. This Santa Fe Grande Chilli has ripened more quickly on its warmer, southern side. Another instance where my chilli plants…

Great Nebulae and Emerging Expeditions


We are bearing down on stargazing-season. It is getting dark early enough in the evenings, staying dark long enough in the mornings and doesn't yet freeze you for the privilege. This morning I enjoyed a view of Orion, Sirius, Leo, which has just marched ahead of the dawn sun now, and a few other players. I took this photo of Orion's Sword hanging down to the left (eastern) side of a large beech tree and dangling down towards the south, as it does. The 'smudge' in the middle is the Great Nebula in Orion, also known less romantically…

Finding South with Orion's Sword


My thanks to Kevan Hubberd for sending in the idea about using Orion's Sword as a way of finding south. Orion's Sword can be seen in the image to the left as the short vertical line of 'stars' under Orion's Belt. The Sword does indeed point to a spot on the horizon that is close to due south when the Sword is near vertical (as in this image), but it is a less dependable guide when it is well off-vertical, ie. when it is lower in the sky. Technical bit for natural navigation zealots…

Grass and Grass


The heat seems to have abated a little, but the sun has left its great big footprints all over the countryside. The baked earth is cracked and fissures run along paths and the edges of the fields, more on the northern side than the southern.The grass of our garden lawn is doing its best to betray both the sun's arc and the motion of the trees' shadows during the course of the day. The lawn is a patchwork of varying shades of green and brown, but it is not…

Great Lettuce!


There is a good photo of the Great Lettuce, Lactuca Virosa, with its leaves aligned north-south on the Adur Wild Flower website. If you do use this to find your way then make sure you don't eat too much of it as it is reputed to have psychotropic qualities. You are likely to head off in the right direction, walk in a circle and then find yourself back in the same spot, shouting something like, 'Great Lettuce, Batman!' I digress.

Happy Summer Solstice


Happy Summer Solstice everyone. Sunrise and sunset will be closer to north than east or west at this time of year for most of Scotland.This photo is taken looking southeast. The setting sunlight can be seen bouncing off the northwestern edges of the clouds.

Navigating with Nature


One of the keys to navigating with nature is appreciating scale. It is vital that we do not spend too much time focusing too narrowly or widely. In this photograph, taken in the South Downs on Monday, our eyes are naturally led to the fallen tree. It would be very easy to miss both a bigger clue to direction and a smaller one.The heart of the tree is marginally closer to our side of the tree, which hints that we are south of it, looking north.If we peer through the undergrowth and bare tree branches we can see that the…

Colours and Contours


The rape flowers are coming into bloom over the South Downs, but they don't all bloom at the same time.The crop tends to be on a field that will get a good amount of sunlight anyway, often south-facing, but even within the fields there are subtle shade differences. The flowers tend to appear first in the south-facing dips in the land. This is probably because they are getting plenty of sun, but being sheltered from the cooling winds. As a general rule, nature moves faster the warmer things are.

Find Your Way with Sheep


It's 8.15am this morning out on the Downs and this sheep's shadow tells us that we are looking south. Her wool, or 'sheep fur' as some would have it, is blowing from the same direction as the sun and gave me a constant reference all morning.On a completely unrelated note, there is an article about the RGS in today's Telegraph that I have somehow appeared in.

Go South


Twilight at either end of the day is a good time to look south this month. At dusk Jupiter is the first night object to appear, narrowly but clearly, above the southern horizon. This morning at sunrise Sirius was the last object to disappear, again it was due south. I took these two pictures at 6.30am, one looking east showing the red dawn. The other looking south. It is not a fascinating photo of Sirius but it does at least show that there is nothing…

Shadow Seeker


For the next six months the sun will always have some south in it when viewed from Britain. It will rise south of east and set south of west until the 20th March 2009. Its shadows must therefore always have some north in them. This picture was taken at 9.35 this morning, by which time the sun is fast approaching south-east and my shadow is well on its way to north-west. Random fact for the day: sun compasses were still being issued to the military for the first Gulf war in 1991.

Dawn Today


The Natural Navigator's day often starts with a quick check that the sun is rising roughly where it should be - blog readers will be the first to know if it doesn't! As this picture shows it is not always a chore and the time that our youngest is getting up each morning certainly helps make sure I'm ready. This will be the last week this year when the sun rises north of east and its change as it heads south each morning (and evening) is at its fastest at this time of year.

Smoke and Sun


This is a picture I took about half an hour ago and it is one of those that might be dismissed by those not trained in the dark arts as a 'typical English country scene'. With closer inspection it yields navigational fruit aplenty. The foreground shadow confirms that the sun is no longer visible from this viewpoint, but the direction of the early evening sun is easy to detect from the long shadows in the middle ground. We are therefore looking south. The smoke from the two fires reveals that the wind is light and variable. In…

Bovine Headlines


Navigation may fill my working hours, but even I couldn't pretend that it is a high profile topic. Last week however a story about cows pointing north and south started appearing everywhere, there is a good summary on the BBC website. On Saturday the Times newspaper ran a main news story and editorial piece describing how GPS navigators are not getting the full experience and are being denied the benefit of the rich detail of traditional maps. They put it well, 'Turn left on to the A303 for Andover, ignoring the ancient stones: those without a…