Entries tagged "sun"
It is an exciting time of year, there is a lot of vernal energy pent up, all coiled and ready to leap over the barrier of recent low temperatures.
The wildflowers have been biding their time, but the next six weeks will force their hand.
From late spring to mid-summer it can be a case of clue overload as the wealth of new flowers draws our eyes in all directions. This makes early spring a good time to savour the few clues that are around. Almost everyone can recognise a primrose or a daffodil, so a good…
The Economist have just published a letter I wrote to them regarding a recent academic article on Viking sunstones.
In the following letter I put forward what I believe to be an original argument on this popular subject. I have no way of proving this theory, which puts me in good company with the scientists who like to come up with new theories on this topic on an almost annual basis. I do at least know what it feels like to hear salt and ice fall from my beard, which may mark it as a little different.
It is that time of year when nature likes to get out her frost compasses for us to admire.
I took this photo last Friday in the middle of the day.
We are looking due west.
The southern sun has thawed the areas it can get to, but unlike other suns, it cannot refresh the parts it cannot reach. (My apologies, I think a retro marketing slogan tried to creep in there.)
The frost shadow on the sand itself is quite straightforward, but the shadows and frost on the logs are more interesting, particularly when…
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…
In the desert of western Peru there are the remnants of a civilization that still holds many mysteries.
Archaeoastromomers are able to deduce a few things about the ancient complex at Chankillo, from the alignment of 13 towers.
The towers form a north-south line, but this is not that unusual in ancient buildings. The thing that sets these towers apart is the fact that they span the annual range of sunrise, from winter or June solstice (northernmost tower) to summer or December solstice (southern tower), when viewed from a certain point.
There is a good view…
A couple of days ago I got off the train in London Victoria station at about 6.40pm.
I knew the place I needed to get to was only about a kilometre from the station and I was looking forward to a nice little urban natural navigation exercise.
As always, one of the first things I did on stepping outdoors was to glance up. It was a very confusing moment indeed and I temporarily lost my bearings completely. Why?
There are two clues in the photo. The first is probably almost as straightforward as you first think…
Navigation is about knowing where you are as much as working out how to get to where you want to be. A lot of the fun may lie in finding direction, but natural navigators also need to be tuned to the clues that help us to establish exactly where we are.
For thousands of years, humans gained an understanding of their latitude from the height of the sun and stars, but there are many clues beneath the sky. From general notions, the smell of the sea from land or the scent of a Caribbean island after crossing an…
Walking through a narrow, predominantly damp and shady deciduous woodland yesterday afternoon I was suddenly greeted by sunshine on my right cheek and a group of Early Purple Orchids by my left foot.
The two experiences were almost certainly related. The break in the trees, at a spot where the path had swerved towards the edge of the woodland, had allowed sunlight into the otherwise dark dank green. There had been no orchids for a hundred metres and there were no orchids for the hundred metres beyond that spot. The only environmental variable that I could tell had…
One of the most rewarding things about natural navigation is that it shuns any attempt by the seasons to quieten things down. There are many interests in the natural world that are closely shepherded by the seasons; foraging, birds and wild flowers will have their peaks and troughs, but some things are immune. Geology will reveal many of its fascinating faces regardless of whether it is February or August.
But natural navigation is a little different to all of the above, because it keeps its interest throughout the year, without too many troughs, and unlike geology it does…
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…
Happy Winter Solstice One and All!
Here's an interesting solstice fact for you: the Earth is actually receiving more solar radiation at this time of year than at any other time. This is because the Earth does not orbit the sun in a circle, but in an ellipse. In the northern hemisphere winter the Earth is at its closest to the sun, a point called 'perihelion', but in summer it is at its furthest point, or 'aphelion'.
The Guardian have published a little article on the timing of the winter solstice.
However, my favourite solstice…
As promised, here is a more detailed update on my short time in Oman last week. My main reason for being there was to train the Omani Outward Bound instructors. In the short time available I wanted to give them a decent understanding of how to use nature's clues to find their way in the desert. Just as importantly, I needed to give them the techniques and knowledge they could pass onto their future students.
We started with theory indoors at the offices of Outward Bound Oman, with the help of planetarium software and makeshift whiteboards (paper…
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.…
Thomas Manning (1772-1840) was an eccentric academic and the first British traveller to reach Tibet. After donning a heavy disguise and much perseverance and patience he finally met the Dalai Lama, who was only seven years old at the time.An excerpt from his account of his travels is a good reminder of how much better connected the travellers of old were to the incestuous relationship between the sun, time and direction.We hurried into the town where we were to changehorses, but our haste was fruitless. There we were obliged to waituntil our baggage came up long, long after us, and…
I have just been watching a beautiful full moon rising above the trees in the east. It was shrouded in layers of cirrostratus for a few minutes, but then rose above them.
In winter full moons rise north of east, in summer they rise south of east. They rise further from east the nearer we get to the solstices. The full moon always behaves in the opposite way to the sun, in time and direction, as it is opposite the sun in its cycle.
I was just 'tweeted' by Anne who had spotted what initially appeared to be an unusual light phenomenon appearing in some cirrus clouds. I think it is just a small arc of a standard 'primary rainbow', but part of me desperately wanted it to be a 'fire rainbow' which I have never knowingly seen.
Fire rainbows (see photo) are very rare and form in cirrus ice crystals at high altitudes; their coloured arcs are near horizontal and parallel to the horizon. Fire rainbows can only come into being if the sun and atmospheric conditions meet…
Happy Equinox All!
At nine minutes past three this morning, GMT, the sun was overhead the equator. To celebrate, here are a few things that you may or may not know about the equinox. Only one of them is not true.
The sun will rise due east and set due west for everyone today.
The direction (bearing) of sunrise and sunset changes by more each day at this time of year than at any other time.
On the December side of the equinoxes the sun is always overhead the southern hemisphere, on the June side…
The past few days have seen me bouncing between meetings in London - pinging between Kensington, White City and Theatreland. Throw in a Tube strike on the Tuesday and the stage was set for some urban natural navigation.The sun, trees, churches, clouds and satellite dishes all played their parts, but there are so many lesser known roles in the epic production that is 'City Navigating'.As if to prove this I received a message a couple of days ago from someone who had read the book and got in touch with some intriguing urban ideas. Clem McEwen drew my attention to…
BBC Devon have a delightful story about the sculptor, Marcus Vergette, on their section of the BBC website.Marcus is sculpting a series of 'tidal bells' that will ring out at high tide around the country. There is no mention of springs or neaps in the article, so I'm presuming the bells are being placed low enough to ring at a neap tide (the narrowest range between high and low).In the book I touch on the fact that humans have become very adept at approximating tidal behaviour, but it is still impossible to predict tidal times or heights…
I love the idea that the moon is trying to tell us where the sun is hidingIn this photograph, which I took a few days ago, the moon is chasing a recently set sun and has begun its own journey down towards the western horizon. You can see the sun's bright light reflecting vividly off the right-hand, western side of the moon. The light gets brighter towards the edge, until it reaches a burning white at the edge itself.It is almost as though the moon is trying to say, 'You're getting warmer!'
Trees are the easiest plants to read to find direction, but one of my chilli plants is also doing a fine job. It has been growing in a greenhouse and so shows only the effects of the sun and no combing from the wind. It could not be much clearer.The plant is dramatically heavier on its southern side and it is also displaying the 'Tick Effect' across its stems - more vertical growth on the northern side, more horizontal on the southern.
Another very enjoyable Beginner's Guide to Natural Navigation course at West Dean College on Saturday. There were sailors, walkers, a forager and an army officer among the ever-varied student backgrounds. My thanks to all for coming.
Last night, shortly after 10.30, I took this photograph of the moon rising above the woods and emerging from behind thin clouds. It looks very much like a full moon, but is actually one day after full, a waning moon. It does highlight the difficulty of judging the phase of the moon accurately.
From an aesthetic perspective there is no…
A couple of weeks ago I promised to write up the story of my afternoon with the Bedouin. The article can be found here.
Sorry if you are trying to buy a copy of 'The Natural Navigator' - Amazon have sold out again!After selling out, restocking and two reprints in the past three weeks, the book is now temporarily out of stock again on Amazon. Another massive thanks to everyone who has bought a copy so far.You can still order it from Amazon. Or there are still quite a few bookshops that have a copy (worth phoning before), or online while stocks last at these places:The Book DepositoryWaterstonesFoylesThe photo above is of the hill to the east of my home,…
There is a really good attempt to give a flavour of the whole subject of natural navigation in an article in the Independent today by Tim Walker. Tim came for a walk in London to sample natural navigation urban-style.Anyway, flower pot time. Take a look at this photo that I took yesterday just before lunch. Note the wet ground in the shade and how the shadow of the pot has moved 'up' leaving a wet area in its wake. The shadow is moving west to east, away from the camera. As it is close to the middle of the…
Happy Spring Equinox!My plans this morning, as announced in the Telegraph, were to head to the top of a hill and catch the sun rising due east. Sadly, the air is cooler than its dewpoint... the humidity is greater than 100%... there is a low level of nimbostratus... however you want to put it: the weather is not very good and the visibility is terrible.Had I been able to see the sun it would have risen due east. The vernal and autumnal equinoxes being the only two days of the year when the sun rises due east.Something that you…
'Courting bustards' is not an excellent new profanity, something that would sound good with rasping voice and sent in the general direction of a parking warden putting a ticket on your car, it is actually a reference to the romantic habits of the male great bustard bird.Researchers from the IE University School of Biology in Santa Cruz, Spain, have found that the male bustards align themselves with the sun when trying to attract a female. Their white feathers, the bustard's equivalent of an Armani suit/Ferrari/pair of Reeboks - delete as applicable, show up better when aligned to catch the sun's…
I went for a walk in the South Downs yesterday afternoon. The air was cold, there were still chunks of ice lining the north-facing side of chalk ruts in the path. The sun was up for the first part of the walk and made direction-finding easy. When it fell below the hills to my southwest it gave different opportunities. One of my favourite dusk techniques is to use the light reflections of cloud edges to gauge where the sun must be behind higher ground. This photograph from 4.30pm yesterday shows this effect quite clearly. The sun is reaching the far…
Another enjoyable Beginner's Guide to Natural Navigation course at the RGS yesterday. In attendance: a patent attorney, paraglider pilot, academic, film maker, doctor, retiree, vet, town planner and optical assistant to name a few.
Among the off-piste topics that we discussed there was talk of whether we sleep better aligned North-South than we do East-West and also the idea that the expression, 'follow your nose' may have some science behind it: humans have iron oxide in their sinuses which may account for some experiments that have shown a magnetic sense of direction in humans.
Lest I forget,…
...with a little help from the sun.An interesting article on the BBC website today about the seasonal habits of Puffins.The most interesting thing other than learning more about the puffins' whereabouts was the method they used for understanding where the birds were at any one time. Using 'geolocator tags' that logged the time of sunrise, sunset the research team were able to deduce their location.'The loggers work by measuring light levels, recording when dawn and dusk occurs each day.With this data, researchers can calculate day length, when midday occurs, and the daily longitudinal and latitudinal co-ordinates for the individual…
Nothing tickles me more than stumbling across an obscure reference to an arcane relationship between humans and the natural world. The tickling sensation is particularly acute when the reference is historic and it concerns celestial objects.On New Year's holiday in Strathconon in the Scottish Highlands I waded merrily into Simon Schama's, 'Citizens, A Chronicle of the French Revolution'. The subject matter was rich enough and when generously layered with Mr Schama's oppulent language it was a feast worthy of the Christmas period.Following on shortly from the sentence, 'The arrival of the Palais-Royal as a quotidian carnival of the appetites…
...and he was high in the sky, which reminded me of one of the simplest and most beautiful of natural navigational celestial techiques. Orion is a great help in finding East or West, but there is a method for finding direction that works even if you have no idea what object you are looking at in the sky. It takes time to apply accurately, but it can be used anywhere in the world and applies to all the stars, the moon, the sun and all the planets - even if you have no idea which one you are looking…
On holiday I did try very hard not to think too much about navigation, but wherever I am I cannot resist checking that the sun is behaving itself appropriately considering my latitude and the season. At 7 degrees north, Phuket is in the northern hemisphere and the tropics and because the sun is now well south of the equator the short midday shadow is cast towards the north. Nearer June this same pencil would cast a shadow in the opposite direction at midday, to the south.This photo was actually taken eleven minutes after local midday, which is logical since it…
At eighteen minutes past ten tonight, neither the north pole nor the south will be pointing towards or away from the sun and the sun will be overhead the equator. It is the autumnal equinox and the sun will spend the next six months overhead the southern hemisphere. During this time it will rise south of east and set south of west.To celebrate this I headed up to one of my favourite spots last night, Halnaker Windmill, and took this photo. The clouds and light were doing extraordinary things, one of which I am still investigating and will hopefully…
Another cracking dawn. There were four Roe deer in our neighbouring field, but sadly they scarpered before I got to my camera. I don't actually have a brilliant lens for wildlife, so you have been spared a photo of four brown smudges in a brown field.Only a few days of this solar season left, the autumnal equinox is on 22 September. This means that in the UK there are only four more days when the sun will have any north in it at all for another six months. At times like this, close to the equinox, the point on the…
Regular blog readers will know that I am a bit of a fan of Robert Pirsig's book, 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'. I'm just about to finish the sequel, 'Lila', which is also a bit of a positive mind-bender (that is if you have some alternative views, and possibly a negative one if you consider yourself a conformist. Come to think of it, a conformist wouldn't buy the book, and if they stumbled across it would be unlikely to start it and if they did start it, would be extremely unlikely to finish it.)Pirsig takes on…
Nice article on the Beeb website about the Saturn equinox. A succinct definiton of 'equinox' in the article too:'Equinox is the moment when the Sun crosses a planet's equator, making day and night the same length.'I forgot to mention that I delivered the manuscript of my book to my publishers, Virgin Books, three weeks ago. It is an exciting moment, a good line in the sand, but far from a terminal one. Work will continue on it until about November probably.
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.
The two pictures above show two sides of the same bridleway signpost on the South Downs Way. The arrows both point east and there is a clue to this in the photos. It is not in the lichen growth, which unusually is quite similar on both sides, but in the colour of the arrows themselves. The blue of the south-facing (but east-pointing!) arrow has been bleached more by the sun. The three main weathering clues are sun, wind and rain. The first will usually be greatest on the southern side, but…
As we approach the summer solstice the sun has so much north in it that no side of buildings, trees or other exposed areas will stay in the shade all day.This is a northern roof getting a good late afternoon roasting. The moss, which in mid-winter is a plump dark green is in full retreat at this time of year. It is well-established and will survive until the sun starts moving south again in three weeks.
A walk along the edge of Nutbourne marshes on the weekend was an early taste of real summer. A sunny May day often feels hotter than a midsummer one to me, perhaps because I have not yet acclimatised. There were thousands of midges and flies, swirling up from the drying seaweed to complete the sensation.These two pictures show the same field and only two minutes of walking passed between each shot. It is late afternoon and one of these is taken looking north, the shadows falling to the east and right of each furrow ridge.
When taking this picture of the moon last night the shutter speed was much slower than I had planned. The resulting photograph struck me as a reminder that it is the sun's light that we see when looking at the moon.
I try not to let politics enter my mind too much when out walking, but sometimes it helps to be aware of some of the tinkering that the political animals are up to. In the interests of the environment farmers are discouraged from working the land right up to the edge of woodland. They can set some of this land aside, typically a strip up to 8m, and be compensated for it through the government's Entry Level Stewardship scheme. The farmers are finely tuned into what is and is not productive land, they know from experience the parts of their…
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.
This morning's sun was a strong enough clue, but if we wanted to know which way was southeast then these aircraft contrails are pointing the way to the continent.It looks like a particularly busy morning for aircraft, but this is just a reflection of atmospheric conditions. The hydrogen-rich jet fuel has mixed with oxygen, reacted in the engines and formed, among lots of other lovely and not so lovely things, water. In certain temperatures and humidity levels this water freezes into ice crystals. The high cirrus clouds that we normally see are also composed entirely of ice.The length of time…
I can remember sitting at a restaurant in the small and perfectly formed fishing village of Trehiguier in southern Brittany last July. I had my back to the sun, which was setting behind the row of houses behind me. I watched the crisp edge of a chimney corner move upwards and to the right as the sun slipped down and to the left behind me. My poor wife had to watch me gauging the sun with a fist and then outstretched fingers and then listen to me predict when the chimney shadow would reach our table.Last night my wife was…
This isn't about the Force, although I did read recently that a lot of Scottish policemen have put 'Jedi' down as their religion on their work forms.More days than not I spot an example of the sun influencing nature in a way that is new to me in some way. In general terms it is fairly old news that a place that receives no direct sunlight will appear different in some way. It is in the detail that the novelty is to be found. The more obvious signs might be that it has different plants growing and an abundance of…
Possibly the worst blog post title that I have yet come up with, and there have been a few...Our cat, Murphy, can be seen reflecting the direction of the last of the suns rays here.The tree shadows in the distance have broken free from the woodland in the background too for the first time this year at sunset.In the spirit of randomness to which this posting has succumbed I thought you might like this puzzle, set by a friend and former NN alumni.Do not be alarmed if my postings continue to be sporadic, poorly constructed, lacking in theme, good…
My research into this subject constantly leads me, very willingly, back to the thin line that runs, curving between philosophy, religion, science and nature. If such a line exists - discuss!I would go so far as to say my work would be very awkward if my personal jury had come in unanimously in favour of any hard views in any of those areas. Sometimes there is a deep longing to know more about things that I know I likely never will. It is hard to articulate this sensation perfectly, but it would perhaps be summed up well by saying that…
I've been experimenting over the past few nights, as we approached the full moon, with a technique that I've been working on that combines two others. It is possible to find direction using the moon in a number of ways: by its shadow, by using a tangent to its crescent and by understanding its phase relationship with the sun. A very indirect method, that I have not come across anywhere else before, is to use moonlight reflected off cloud edges to reveal the direction of the moon, then to use an understanding of its phase to determine direction. Like a…
A walk in the woods yesterday revealed some natural and unnatural clues.This primrose, the only one in the area, was unsurprisingly in a south-facing spot. The thick bed of south-facing moss that surrounds it on the beech roots should not surprise us. Moss grows in abundance close to the ground where moisture levels remain generally high, even in south-facing places. The technique of trail blazing, marking trees to show others the way is ancient, but the chalk markings on this beech tree were a little disconcerting. Apologies, the picture is out…
This morning brought with it a nice thick radiation fog, which the sun will probably burn off soon. There is not forecast to be much wind today, but even a breeze deals with radiation fog, usually anything over 12 knots.No visible sun, no discernible wind, these are the conditions that remind us that the trees reflect their environment over a long period. They act as a giant USB stick of data about thousands of days of sun and wind. All we need to do is tune our senses and look for it. The thin branch in the bottom left of…
President Obama was visibly furious with his British escort team after his secure cavalcade accidentally drove into the tiny Devon village of Clovelly. The armour-plated vehicles were too wide for the narrow cobbled streets and became wedged. Locals of the picturesque, but sleepy fishing village were woken by the sound of police motorbikes and two helicopters overhead. One resident told us, 'Mr Obama was clearly upset, but we gave him a nice cup of tea and some homemade biscuits and that seemed to settle him.' Mrs Avril, from the tourist board thought that it was due to the lead driver…
In this photo you can see the dew that the sun has not yet burnt off. The shadow itself is mostly moving right to left in this picture, leaving the thin band of wet wood in the shade all the time. This thin band is a rough east-west line at all times of the year, but quite an accurate one at times like this, close to the spring and autumnal equinoxes.The small patch of moisture that is in the sun reveals the direction that the shadow is shortening, a crude north-south line as we near the middle of the day.
Regular readers may recall how my chilli plants demonstrated an aversion to wind and cold. Yesterday I spent a full and enjoyable day with some of the team fromSire Technology, who were braving the Pathfinder course.
The day consists of an intense morning of indoor training followed by a good leg stretch in the South Downs. Part of the morning is spent going through a few exercises aimed at awakening the senses and raising awareness. I was delighted therefore when, during the afternoon's practical exercise, Barry from Sire pointed out something that I had…
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.
Time and navigation have a cosy relationship, as John Harrison, inventor of the chronometer that cracked the longitude problem in the 18th Century would attest. The sun, earth, moon and planets and stars have at times been seen as cogs in a huge clock.
So many natural phenomena take their orders from these bodies and tide is one of the best known of these. I took this photo of the tide running past a cardinal off Jersey this weekend. The cardinal is an easterly one, signalling that the safer water lay to the east of…
Trying to be positive when there have only been a brace of sunbeams all August so far, I have been tinkering with the overcast shadow method. The theory being that plenty of light filters through the overcast clouds and that a thin blade can be used to average the source of this light, ie. the sun. It is better than nothing, sometimes, but it is important to be aware that the shadow will be thrown opposite the brightest light and there are no guarantees that this is where the sun is. Uneven cloud or tree cover are just two…
This morning, as our Land Rover rolled onto the Brittany ferry, or MV Bretagne as she likes to be called, I had a cunning plan. I would use the pretence of work to escape the mayhem that was sure to ensue on our return from our summer holiday. While our young boys tried and generally succeeded to convince their mum that two hours of singing clowns and suspect magic were preferable to another game of 'destroy the duty free shop and then pillage the canteen', I would slip out onto the deck with a notepad and pen.
Early this evening Mrs G and I escaped for a quick wander aboard Golden Eye, my Contessa 32, in Chichester Harbour. One of the lovely things about the harbour is that when time is short or wind is in short supply it is possible to enjoy a potter on the water that is more akin to a gentle river cruise than a sail.The 20hp diesel pushed us gently west into a low sun. A moon that was a day off first quarter hung to our left and the line down its midriff, the line between light and dark, pointed neatly…