A Guest Blog by Christian Turek
“Complete freedom is not what a trail offers. Quite the opposite; a trail is a tactful reduction of options.” Robert Moor’s quote epitomises how I felt about the world when growing up. There are certain routes, rules and systems we must abide by, we are told from a young age, that will give us the platform toward a “successful career” and “happy life”. Growing older and actively seeking truth you start to realise that most of our systems are broken and what is offered through them does not connect with our inner truth, effectively disconnecting us from the real world – the natural world.
Landscapes fascinate me, the views of distant wilderness have always stirred a sense of wonder in my soul. Staring out at a vast expanse I could not help but imagine walking directly through it for days or weeks, taking in the intricate detail of the flora, fauna, fungi and scenery, every step of the way. But the question that stuck with me was, how does one get lost without actually getting lost? In come my mate Harry, who 4 years ago suggested I read this book – The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley. Little did I know that this book would transform my life and the way I experience nature! He explained the premise, that you can read the signs, clues and patterns of nature, learning methods to understand why landscapes are shaped the way they are, allowing you to navigate without the need of a map, GPS, compass, or any other technological medium. After a few weeks of obsessive reading, I realised that this was the blueprint I had been seeking for the types of adventures and quests my subconscious was crying out for. There was only one way to test the theory of the book…
April 2021, West London. On a wet Thursday afternoon I was packing the final items for the most anticipated trek of my life. I had decided the best way to test the theory was to throw myself in the deep end and set off on a 5 day hike alone across the Snowdonia mountain range, with no navigational aid aside from my senses, nature, and Tristan’s book in my pocket. I drove up to Swallow Falls, the north-eastern part of the Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park, leaving my car parked in a quiet village opposite the famous waterfalls. This was my starting, and hopefully, return point! Bag packed with meals, snacks, a water purifier bottle, a lightweight tent, mattress, sleeping bag, clothes, and swimming gear. Phone switched off, watch off my wrists, it was time to immerse myself in the magic of the natural world.
I wild camped close to where I left the car and despite a rough night with just a few hours’ sleep, was feeling excited and ready to go in the morning. After admiring the cascading waters from all angles, I hopped over exposed basalt rock to cross the Afon Llugwy river and headed north up a steep incline of a mixed forest. My rough plan for the trip was to complete an anti-clockwise loop from my starting point, heading north / north-northwest (NNW) initially. I got to a clearing in the forest, felt a sudden increase in temperature on my cheeks and looked for some navigational clues from the budding activity of young saplings. The evidence showed an abundance of vegetation on the sunny side of the clearing. Heading further north and through thick forest, I reached a small road next to a stream. The road was east-west in direction so I knew I had to plough on through the undergrowth despite progress being slow. This was an early reminder of why such a trip appealed to me in the first place – letting go of ambition, the need to reach a certain destination, hit x amount of miles per day or ascend a specific peak…this was about going with the flow, intuitive direction, creating a unique and unintentional path that can’t be recreated and will lead you to the wildest places.
Walking for another hour being guided by the deciduous trees, I stopped for a rest and snack on top of a ridge line. After meditating, I decided to have a nap. The rest was exactly what nature ordered! Rejuvenated, I continued NNW, passing by derelict barns and beautiful celandine wildflower meadows until I reached a lake. It was time for lunch, some avocado, beef jerky and quinoa flakes. The rest of the day was spent walking through forests filled with ash, red alder and birch (ideal trees to examine effects of the UK’s south-western prevailing wind), and as the light started to fade I found a small trail to follow, eagerly looking for a suitable camping spot. I noticed a knee-high fence alongside the path. Curious, I decided to hop over and check what was there under the sedimentary rock cliffs. What I discovered blew my mind! Somehow tucked away on untrampled ground, was the opening of a huge 150m wide cave. Without hesitation, I went inside and was struck by the depth of this cave, around 200m. Browsing around in awe of the slab formations, I found a fire pit someone built from rock. It was an idyllic setting for my first fire of the trip and I was well prepared with a couple of large smoked sausages and homemade sourdough bread. I ate with real joy, grateful for finding such a gem on my first full day. Going back out, I unearthed what looked like a small medieval structure completely covered under thick and fluffy pincushion moss. Eventually I came across flat ground for camping, looked up at the clear night sky, located the Plough star pattern and from there found Polaris (North Star). Making a small indication out of sticks on the ground, I retreated into my cosy sleeping bag and passed out immediately.
My awakening the next morning was a startled one as a pheasant seemed to unintentionally collide with my tent. After breakfast (homemade muesli soaked in water and almond butter), I packed up and looked at the sticks I left on the ground showing close to true north. The plan was to head due west before going SW later in the day. Climbing up a hill gave me a great vantage point. There was a long straight road on the east side which made for a useful handrail, I knew that I had to head in the other direction relative to that road. After doing some Wim Hof breathing, I made it to a coniferous forest and came across a mini waterfall – perfect for my first breezy wash of the trip. The sun was out in full force and was an excellent guide, but just after it crossed the middle of the day, my mind became somewhat confused. Time to look for some more clues in the landscape to make sure I was heading west with a tinge of south. I came across a row of isolated pedunculate oak trees almost leaning over a ridge, highly susceptible to the elements and therefore perfect for navigational reading. The non-symmetry of their branches, patches of bright lichen, and where the strongest/longest roots appeared above ground, all gave a clear pattern to assure me of where south and west were.
The rest of the day was slow progress exerting plenty of energy climbing over several fences, crossing farmland, getting stuck in muddy streams, until eventually I reached a long winding gravel road. The sun was starting to set right in front of me, just north of west at this time of year (only a few weeks after the spring equinox). I did not see a single human since morning and walking into the setting sun in between valleys, for a time being, it felt like I was walking to the edge of the wild world. After roughly two hours of walking, never for a second losing the cadence of swinging pace, the road finally finished. Up ahead there was an elevated mound of earth hiding what was ahead. A quick climb showed the most panoramic picture of a stunning lake in between two distinct mountains, rays streaming over the view, giving it a cathedrals majesty. Again, I could not believe my eyes and luck – a perfect spot to set up camp and make a fire, without another soul in sight.
Recharged after a long sleep and revitalised after a sublime swim, I rounded the lake carefully walking across a Tetris layout of huge slabs of sharp limestone rock. The plan was to head directly south, at some point thinking about going east – the return leg of the journey. I reached an expansive plain which showcased several imposing mountains in the distance. I felt the peaks calling me, almost beckoning me to climb them – but the question was, which one to climb? I knew this was a pivotal decision as depending on which I targeted the return leg could vastly differ in length. I met numerous ramblers hiking the trails and used the opportunity to ask questions about the nearby mountains. In the end, I settled for an impressive peak which I believed to be further east than the other southern options. Passing through a village and gorgeous purple saxifrage meadows, I reached the base of Moel Siabod, a mountain nestled in between two connected lakes.
The ascent was a joyful experience, the heaviness of 20kg on my back made light by the conversations with fellow hikers all showing a deep appreciation for the landscape. Getting close to the peak, a cold westerly wind in the air, with a clear view of Tryfan and many other famous Snowdonia residents, I felt a deep spiritual connection. The stillness and solitude of the mountains, their quietness, their splendour, makes you want to bow down before something greater than I and I. One can find serenity and dignity in mountains with complete humility for a wise and ever-present friend. Standing at the top of the peak was the perfect place to adjust my internal compass. Using the shadow stick method, I established where east was and made a mental note of some useful landmarks in the distance. I descended off-trail down the lee side, the darker hue north-east ridge of Moel Siabod, looking for some tree cover for my final camp. I settled for an inconvenient spot on a tilted edge of a thick Leyland cypress forest, a hill full of woolly friends who were probably much amused by my choice, but I was too tired to care!
The morning sun awakened me for my final day, with the waning moon setting in the west. I took an estimated shortcut, a path through sycamore, rowan and hawthorn friends, until I reached a river. Could this be the same river from where my journey began? I had a strong feeling it was. Following her downstream and watching the sun’s golden gleam dancing in her waters, taking in the spring bloom of wildflowers and cherry trees, I held a massive grin on my face rejoicing at the notion that my elaborate and slightly crazy plan was not as far-fetched as it seemed. Tuning in deeply to one’s internal sense of direction, without any practical training, one could find his/her way using only nature as a guide. Such connection to nature is the purest bond one can imagine. After a final dip in cold and clear water, I made it back to my car…and, as if scripted, the first rains that week came pouring down almost minutes later.
There is so much scientific proof out there that shows time well spent in nature and reconnecting to the Earth has massive health benefits for us all. Being in solitude, slowing down and taking time without the hum and distractions of the modern world, can ease the mind from the constant chitter-chatter and create peace within. We don’t need science to reaffirm our innate knowledge. Original people from all over the world, as well as our indigenous ancestors, treated the land with such care knowing that healthy soils and ecosystems equalled healthy communities. Tristan’s guide was the best way for me to flex a deep internal longing for roaming the wilderness in a flow state but with purpose.
Since this trip, I have completed 2-7 day natural navigation hikes in England, Scotland, France, Portugal, Madeira, Poland and Romania, and started taking others on these journeys, seeing remarkable wellbeing benefits for all who have joined me thus far. Natural navigation has become such an integral part of my life that I wish to share it with as many people as possible. Creating space, changing perception of time, solving complex internal frustrations, receiving downloads, drawing in positivity and intuitive wisdom; all of this connects and allows one to experience magic. I know for a fact that I would not have discovered the immense cave on night 2 and the stunning lake on night 3 if I had “planned” my journey and followed a regular trail.
It’s important to let go and be, to find your destiny. With thanks to Harry Forshaw, Amy Forshaw, and of course, Tristan Gooley.
Thank you Christian, Tristan.
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