Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex

Nature’s Clues and Signs 1 – East Marden


Welcome to the first in a new nature’s clues and signs series.

Over the coming months I will be heading out on a series of short natural navigation journeys. Some will be walks in my home county of West Sussex, but as many as possible will be in new territory.

I will write up a brief summary of any interesting aspects of each micro-expedition, but the main aim is to showcase some of the best outdoor clues and signs that I come across along the way. This series is designed to be a more visual, less verbal partner to my books and to complement the online course.

On each of these journeys I typically spot over 100 clues or signs in nature. Each time I will pick my favourite 5.

Three of these favourites will be published on this blog and available to everyone. Clues 2 & 1 are available to those on the online course, alongside a Quirky clue and/or a Question.

East Marden

My first foray was in the hills near the village of East Marden, West Sussex.

Wild Garlic / Ramsons

As I parked the Land Rover, the unmissable whiff of wild garlic made its way inside the car. I could smell it before opening the car door and with closed windows, it is a pungent but pleasant smell.

The walk started with a quick nibble of some of the garlic leaves. And then it was quickly into the clues and signs.

Over the following few hours, I met dozens of signs and took 97 photos.

Here are three of my favourites:

5. Moss on the South Side of a Roof

Moss on the South Side of a Roof

For some reason there is a widely held belief that moss is a dependable indicator of direction. It can be used to find direction, but that is a more advanced natural navigation skill than many believe.

The reason that moss is hard to use is that it isn’t fussy enough. Lichens are, but moss isn’t. It will happily grow in most places that stay moist. This means it thrives in many shady places, regardless of their aspect.

This photo shows the southern side of a roof.

Have a look where the tree casts a shadow and we find moss growing. On the sunny parts of the roof, there is no moss. Obviously they are both the same side of the roof.

4. Silver Grass Compass

Whenever you notice a silver colour in the grass, it’s worth pausing.

The silvery colour is a sign that the wind has bent the grass over. It is most noticeable when you are looking downwind. But the key is to tune into the trend you see – in what direction has all the grass been bent over?

It will sometimes be the same as the prevailing wind direction, sometimes subtly different and occasionally dramatically different.

But once you’ve spotted it, you have a good compass to work with. Especially when the wind stops blowing, because then this compass stays in the grasses until the next breeze picks up. Even overnight.

On this occasion, it was particularly interesting because the grass was bent over from the northwest, not the more typical southwest.

A distinct silver colour in the grass means there is a wind clue and compass to be found
Once you spotted the trend in the way the grasses are bent, you have a compass

3. Plantains By The Road

The first clue I spotted before my walk even began. I had parked the car in a natural bay at the edge of a small road. There was only room for two cars at most, but it was clear from the mashed up mud and tyre prints that this was a popular parking spot. The reason was clear, it was where a footpath met the road.

At the edge of the bay, where cars sometimes passed over but not often, there were a few tough plants surviving where no others could. These plants were plantains. In this case Greater Plantain.

Plantains have ‘basal’ leaves that lie flat on the ground and cope well with footfall and, in this case, even the odd car. This is their niche, the habitat where they can out-compete most other plants.

Plantains are therefore a sign of heavy footfall or other traffic.

Greater Plantain – a sign that lots of people or animals have travelled over the area

MEMBER’S CONTENT: Clues 2 & 1, plus a Question and a Quirky Clue.

Available to members of the online course as part of The Collection.

To learn more about the online course or to sign up please see this page.