Reducing Dependence on Sat Nav Part Four – How To See the Sun in Living Things

In part four of this mini-series we will learn how to use the Sun as a guide to orientation as he shows himself in other living things around us.

In the north hemisphere where we live the sun rises easterly and sets westerly it is at its strongest hottest when it is high in the sky, southerly and westerly.

The sun affects the growth of most of the living things we see around us…. trees, flowers. leaves, so we can also observe these things to see which way they grow to make an informed guess as to which way is the hottest, the sunniest (ie. southerly aspect). On days that are not outrightly sunny the location of the sun in the sky can be found by looking for the brightest part of the sky.

The Sun and Trees.

There are many ways a tree can give you a clue as to orientation – ie. which way is sunny south (and therefore north, east and west).

The tick shape. If you think of a tree as a slow growing sunlight dependent living thing – it will, over the years, grow more out towards the sun, reaching its branches straight out towards it on the lighter side while the branches on the darker north side will have to reach up and over the tree to get to see this same sunlight. The silhouette of such a tree in either winter or summer can be seen as follows, a bit like a tick shape. (illustration d)

Growth rings on a sawn tree. If you look at the cross section of a tree trunk so that you can see its concentric growth rings you will see that the rings are spaced out fairly evenly but at one side of the circle the rings may be wider apart giving an appearance like this: (illustration e) This shows that there was more growth on that side consistently and therefore it can be surmised more light ie. more sunshine. This is usually the south side.
NB these two indicators or signs are only reliable if the tree has stood alone, if it is part of a forest that has recently had one side exposed through felling then the lighter side will simply be the edge of the forest rather than the south. Equally trees by water will grow out towards reflected light from water. So, be aware of potential influences on light other than orientation.

3. One other sign could be the growth of moss/lichen on its trunk – a basic rule is that moss prefers damp and lichen prefers light so if you have both growing on the same tree trunk this could suggest the mossy side is north/east and the lichen covered side is south/west. However as above there is a caveat here too in that moss will grow close to the ground on any side of a tree if the ground is wet so only use this as an indicator if the mossy growth is a few feet up the tree.

4. Leaves of trees grow according to how much light they get and it can be seen that leaf shape and shade are different on the brighter side than the darker side. Shade leaves are usually larger and darker green while sun leaves of the same tree are smaller, paler and have more jagged edges.

The Sun and Flowers

Some flowers are heliotropic or more specifically phototropic that is they have an ability to move their faces in order to keep them orientated towards the sun or light as it moves through the day. Daisy or Days-Eye is one such flower, fox gloves also will point their flowers out on one side more than the other depending on which is the lightest side of the plant.

Sunflowers are heliotropic when young but the mature head fixes facing east.

In summary, the sun can help us with orienting ourselves either directly or via the shape and direction of plants and trees it influences. Next in Part Five we will consider two simple methods the stars and the moon can offer to orientate ourselves.

Reducing Dependency on Sat Nav Part Three – Natural Navigation using The Sun.

Natural Navigation Using The Sun.


Most people know that the sun rises in the East – many of us remember this because we have been told that American Indians placed tipi doors facing East to let the early sun into their windowless homes. This is kind of right but not totally accurate – the sun rises East-ish more than East, exactly where it rises can vary a whole 90 degrees.

Diagram:  (show east, ne and se only)

The illustration shows that where the sun rises throughout the year – there can be as much as a 90 degree difference in place from Summer Solstice to Winter Solstice.  So on the morning of December 21st (winter Solstice) the sun will rise East South East and on the morning of June 21st (summer Solstice) the sun will rise East North East – a whole 90 degrees from where it rose in winter.  The mid-point between the winter and summer solstice places of sunrise is due East which happens only at the Equinoxes in March and September.

Knowing this helps us because if we can observe the sunrise  and know the rules of where in the 90 degree range he rises at what time of the year we can know which in direction this sunrise is and so work out from that which way is North, South and West.  Not knowing this, then your guess at seeing the sun rise and assuming that direction is simply ‘East’ could send you miles off track once you start moving.

Diagram of how far off track you can go

The ‘Travelling’ Sun

In addition to knowing where the sun will be rising at what point in the year you should learn that if you know the TIME of the sunrise at that point of they year, when the sun rises you know by looking at the sun at that time eg. 6am that it will rise in the sky 15 degrees every hour from the horizon. So, by the time it has moved up 90 degrees, six hours should have passed and it will be midday when the sun is straight overhead (6am plus 15 degrees an hour for six hours (15 x 6) will take the sun to 90 degrees above the horizon it appeared over.

From midday until six pm the sun will then move 90 degrees down towards the West.  This is useful because:  If I look up at the sky at 2pm and see the sun, slightly off centre I will be able to plot its journey West as it decends to set on the Western horizon. Why 15 degrees every hour from sunrise to sunset?

Diagram Illustration c) circle of 360 degrees divided by circle of 24 hours each segment is 15 degrees.


In the afternoon/evening if you have missed the morning sunrise the sun can still help you orientate as it heads towards the west from the centre of the sky above at midday.  As the sun sets over the horizon you can work out, depending on the point in the year, whether the direction of the sun is West North West, West South West or anywhere in between, passing due west only at the Equinoxes (March and September)

Diagram of the differences in place of sunset over the year:

In part four of this mini-series we will learn how to use the Sun as a guide to orientation as he shows himself in other living things around us.

In the north hemisphere where we live the sun rises easterly and sets westerly it is at its strongest hottest when it is high in the sky, southerly and westerly.

The sun affects the growth of most of the living things we see around us…. trees, flowers. leaves, so we can also observe these things to see which way they grow to make an informed guess as to which way is the hottest, the sunniest (ie. southerly aspect). On days that are not outrightly sunny the location of the sun in the sky can be found by looking for the brightest part of the sky.

Reducing Dependency on Sat Nav Part Two – Natural Navigation.

What is Navigation?

Navigation is the act of finding our way from A to B

Everyone navigates.  If you have ever had to learn to travel from home to work or school you have navigated. You may feel you do this naturally without thinking but initially you would have had a system of landmarks.

For example; left at the shop, down to the house with the big tree, cross the road towards the drive with the big metal gates…etc.

Today most people use sat nav to find their way from A – B but in the absence of Sat Nav how could we do this… how can we find our way to a strange place without Sat Nav?

Sat Nav Weaning Step One: Look away from the dash mounted screen and look at the road signs.

Signs are a good one, you may think this is obvious but people who are sat nav dependent are notoriously bad at referring to the real-world signs that hang all over the motorways! My partner when driving north from London long after he has left london behind and is on the A1/M1 heading north will still then use the sat nav to find his way almost home despite this motorway being the backbone of our country and a road that will ultimately bring him north to a sign he recognises. It irks me to have to listen to sat nav butting in to interesting conversations because someone cant trust themselves enough to see a sign off a major road that says ‘somewhere near my local town’.

Sat Nav Weaning Step Two: Look at a map before you depart and make a list of the major road names.

Sat nav is simply bite size peices of map but these pieces are so small and out of context that we can’t possibly put them all together in our brains to make a county never mind a country. Start looking at maps to get a feel for which motorways lie where in the country then before you set off on a journey consult a map.  It matters not whether this map is paper or a google map what is important is to make a note of all the roads you will travel down to your destination. Eg.. A64 to A1, A1 to M1, M1 to M62, M62 to to M18 you can add junction numbers to make it even easier eg. M1 to j32 onto A1. Keep the map open on route just in case you need to refer to it.

Sat Nav Weaning Step Three: Using Nature As Your Guide

So having ditched sat nav in favour of relying on building your own, more holistic view of the country, we will now consider how can Nature help us.

The Sun, the moon, the stars, trees, puddles and spiders can all be quite reliably added to our natural navigation toolkit.

The main information provided by these tools is – orientation – ie. Am I facing North, East, South or West?  This has to of course work hand in hand with a bit of map knowledge even if the map is just in your head.


Our ancestors would have used (and tribal people still living closely to nature around the world still use) large scale landmarks such as:

hill tops
the Sun

But also smaller landmarks such as trees and even leaves, puddles, insects, flowers and in the Sahara desert the Tourareg Tribe, amazing natural navigators, could use tiny mounds of sand as indicators of orientation.

Some of these landmarks will be permanent and relatively immoveable across your life course such as a mountain, sun, coastline, river or a large oak tree while others are moveable landmarks and smaller.  Giving snippets of information – these smaller landmarks could be items such as leaves, flowers, puddles, spiders webs or sheep.

By learning to use natural navigation rather than sat nav you are learning to read the landscape! Looking for signs in the landscape and interpreting them to work out which way to go.

The most important piece of information given by all of these signs is ORIENTATION. Which way am I facing – north east south or west? then which direction do I need to walk now to get to my destination.

If I asked you to point South now could you?

If I asked you now which direction have you come from to get here would you know? NSEW?

If I asked you now, in which direction lies London? Edinburgh? would you know?

In Part Three:  The Sun and the Stars

The sun and stars are generally considered the most accurate indication of orientation which is useful because we have something available both day and night…


Reducing Sat Nav Dependency Part One.

Why You Should Ditch Your Sat Nav.

Are you the kind of person who, before you start the engine, has to program your sat nav gadget with a postcode? Do you then follow it blindly, turning left and right at the stated distances, until you “reach your destination”?  If so you need to read this article!

I have banned my children from using sat nav now they are driving.  Heres why… I have always tended to look at a map (even online) before setting off and making a mental note of the whole of the country and the network or roads we will be using,then simply making a list M62 to M18 to M1 etc.  I used to get my eldest child to follow this route on a map and be aware of which road we need to take next and look out for it.  Sometimes, like when she was eight and we were trying to navigate Paris, it can get a little stressful but as a result of this method she and I have a pretty decent cognitive map of the layout of our countries main arteries.

Using sat nav gives us the country broken-down into tiny abstract chunks meaning young people today are losing an holistic view of their country. So what? Well, without this in-built mental picture of the rough layout of our road networks, setting off without a sat nav now means many people wouldn’t be able to find their way even in the right general direction, eg toward London or toward Edinburgh!

Sat nav relies on… satellites… and therefore electricity and telecommunication.  These resources may not always be available and even when sat nav is working fully – how many of you have still managed to get lost?

Ive been travelling with people with two sat navs (one in built and a ‘better’ second one bought at high cost and installed on the dash) who still spent two hours driving round Paris outskirts lost.  I’ve also been in a hotel waiting for the rest of the group to arrive just to receive a phone call – ‘sat nav says we have arrived at the hotel but we are next to a field – can you come and get us?’  So, not only is she disempowering us, it is clear, however nice her voice, Sat Nav is just not that reliable.

It’s time to ditch the sat nav and reclaim your inner wisdom as to direction!

Survival of the fittest is a myth – it was in fact survival of those who could navigate best.  It’s ok to be able to run the fastest and carry the most BUT if you are running in the wrong direction, you’re stuffed!

 Six Points To Be Aware Of If You Have Sat Nav Dependency.

1. Maps are just beautiful patterns that convey information.  Don’t shy away from them.

2.Most cities consist of an inner and outer ring road and are often connected by straightish roads thanks to the Romans.

3. Within this pattern there are key motorways to be aware of at a glance – test yourself and your family using a map – could you roughly place the main roads on a map of your own country?

4. We managed to travel the world on foot and by sea long before electricity and gadgets wearing just fur loincloths.

5. We have a magnetic mineral in our nasal passages just like migratory birds.  This helps them tap into true North – some people may have more of this than others.  Eventually our biology will ‘evolve’ away from anything we don’t use.  Throughout history, to avoid extinction, species have to adapt, migrate or die.  If we need to migrate next year due to civil unrest, climatic disaster or some other large-scale event, how can we do it if we have adapted away from the ability to migrate to a safe place when there is no sat nav to guide us?

6. Getting lost is fine – you are merely extending your real-world knowledge about your country and building up a bigger picture of ‘what is where’. Just make sure you set off with plenty of time to spare and remember the best part of getting lost is what you find on the way!

Read ‘Part Two’ for Some Useful Sat Nav Weaning Tips.


Early Settlers in Iceland – The Ultimate Self-Reliance Test!

Early Settlers in Iceland – The Ultimate Self-Reliance Test!

Joy wasn’t the first emotion I experienced when my husband said he had booked us a surprise trip to Iceland – my first thoughts were – cold and barren. Ungrateful I know but Cold I would say is my main weakness – a holiday in it wasn’t what Id hoped for. Still grateful for this opportunity, the excitement crept in and I started researching the country on our journey there. I was intrigued to know how historically humans had coped in this cold and barren landscape without the modern trappings of my down jacket, gortex Parker and insulated snow boots. I was looking for inspiration to be tougher!

What I didn’t anticipate finding was such a fascinating history of toughness, of resiliance and slow but sure adaptation to survive in this unusual landscape. It is a history lacking in any kind of environmental support for human survival, the land and climate in Iceland yielded little in the way of advantageous natural resources for man. Reading the book of Settlers it is like reading how the land wanted to push humanness to its adaptive limits, like it was trying to push us off.

This article is a dedicated to those early Settlers, in awe of their self-reliance against all odds I would like to share their story with you. Perhaps we can all find some inspiration from Icelanders?


To begin with, lets clarify the term Icelanders – they are genetically predominantly Norwegians and Irish. In 874 dissatisfied with the current strict rule of the king in Norway and wanting to carve his own life (and swathes of land), Ingólfr Arnarson took two of his slaves, an open top boat, some livestock, seeds and tools then set sail. Whether he had determined to land in Iceland or not we don’t know. Its existence had been known since ancient Greek times when it was called ‘Thule’ and indeed people had even visited and stayed before 874 … Irish monks, another Scandinavian or two, but none had remained so we cannot include them here as ‘settlers’.

Ingolfr however did stay. After spending a couple of summers wandering and the winters in between sheltering, looking for the best place on the island to settle he settled, like most modern people, in the Reykjavik area. A bay in the west away from the ice caps of the middle area and the harsh arctic winds from the north/east, warmed a little by the gulf stream the Reykjavik area was a good choice. Well, as good as could be in Iceland.

The Island

The island he had landed on was 104,000 km area with a coastline of 3000 miles and the only creature to be found on land was the artic fox who had floated there on ice by accident from somewhere else. Hot springs, glaciers, black volcanic rock and live volcanos.   If you stand on this bit of floating hot rock in the North Atlantic, just below Greenland and look south there will be nothing but ocean until the South Pole!

Settling the Island – On Becoming Icelanders

Thankfully Ingolfr had come prepared. As a landowner in Norway he brought some skills and the livestock and seeds to go with them. Together with the labour (slaves) to implement these, Ingolfr and his family who had followed raised a few sheep, goats, cattle and poultry. Like most settlers who initially use their own old ways of land management in the new environment they soon realised they need to adapt methods, Ingolfr struggled here with his usual methods of farming.

Livestock Farming

The climate and landscape was different from Norway and winter days could be as short as 4 hours of daylight with very short cool summers. This meant that much winter grazing was simply not available and there was not enough to store from short summers to cover such long winters for livestock food.   The settler  had to let their livestock wander in winter instead of keeping them close and feeding them – they left their livestock to become self-reliant themselves. This resulted in losses, until the farmers worked out what livestock was more suitable to focus on in this climate and landscape.

Cultivating, Foraging and Hunting.

The same problem occurred with the seeds he brought – some worked in this climate and terrain others didn’t. Winter veg such as potatoes, turnip, kale type veg worked but growing grains was notoriously difficult. They tried to grow grain they brought over, then when this proved difficult, they cultivated a wild grain on a small scale that didn’t yield much…. Barley grown on low lying plains was the only successful grain grown here and this wasn’t massively productive and ceased altogether for much of the first 1000 years. In fact a lack of grain and the settlers adapting around this characterises much of their diets development.

Foraging:  One thing that kept early Icelanders alive in the absence of grain was Icelandic moss (actually a lichen found on the northern side) they would soak and eat as a porridge. A second bulk food was dulse a seaweed found more on the southern shores. It is presumed the idea of eating Dulse came from Ireland with the Irish women.

“Ever since the first settlement of Iceland , wild growing Angelica archangelica L. has been used for human consumption and has also been important as medicinal herb. It was also eaten fresh, picked in the wild on the mountainsides. In Iceland all parts of the plant were used – the seeds, leaves, stalks and roots and were eaten fresh, fried or boiled (o en in milk); or prepared in some other way [28]” (I saw skeletons of this all over).

“The most commonly used green plant in Iceland was probably Rumex acetosa L. It was usually served with meat, sh or as a avour to bird soup. It is still recommended in a cookbook as tasting well with boiled puf- n [15,29]. Generally speaking, the common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is the most popular wild food plant also in Iceland”

Yarrow,  and chickweed have all been identifed as present then with wormwood being well used between 900’s and 18th century. I  also saw some ribwort plantain popping out in grass under snow.


Around the woodland areas, berries such crowberry, cloudberry and bilberry would have been available.

Hunting:  Despite an unusual lack of land mammals there were still plenty of coastal products.  Fish such as capelin and herring, sea birds such as puffin and gulls eggs, sea mammals but for some reason the early settlers were determined to be farmers not fishermen so kept plodding on with trial and error land based survival methods for another 1000 years.  Whaling wasn’t really a deliberate practice either though settlers would make use of beached carcassses.  It wasn’t until spear-drift whaling was introduced in the twelfth century that the settlers could be said to hunt whales.  They would go out in open boats, strike a whale with a marked spear so that when it died and beached they would be able to find and claim it.  Salmon and trout were found in the clean rivers.

Food Preparation and Preserving in a land with no wood for Fire.

When the settlers first arrived, the country was said to be one of forests. This actually meant that the 25% of available land that could be forested because it wasn’t ice cap, rock or tundra, was tree covered. This ensured the early arrivals had plenty of timber for building and wood for fuel but within 30 years of settlement, the island had seen the arrival of about 30 – 40,000 more people, usually Norwegian men picking up Irish women en-route and this forest was all but gone!  The slow growing nature of trees so far North meant the taiga type coniferous forest trees and the birch and willow couldn’t keep up with demand. This is shown in pollen analysis of soil samples. Scientists observed that tree pollen became replaced with more pollen from the pasture land plants around this time.

So circa 910, Iceland had around 35,000 settlers in a country of harsh climate with no fire-wood or timber for building shelter.  How did they adapt?!

Lack of fire to cook on:

“As for cooking methods, boiling was by far the most common; there were no ovens for roasting and no medieval frying pans have been found in excavations. Meat was sometimes roasted on a spit but probably mostly when a cauldron or another cooking vessel was unavailable”.

*“Some Icelanders did have an alternative, fuel-conserving method for cooking. They simply cooked their food in the nearest hot spring. Sometimes the food was placed in a cauldron or other container which was then lowered into the boiling or almost-boiling water; sometimes it was buried into the hot earth close to the spring. We know that hot springs were used for cooking in medieval times, because a source dating back to 1199. Geothermal heat was probably used mostly for baking bread. moist rye bread) in some shops. The dough is placed in a closed container, buried in hot earth and left to steam in its own moisture for up to 24 hours.”

“For most cooking however, the most commonly used fuel, after a few centuries of deforestation, was either peat or dried sheep manure. This continued into the 20th century and sheep dung is even used to this day for smoking meat and salmon”.

Lack of fire-fuel to preserve food:

Another problem the settlers faced in addition to lack of fire to cook food or preserve it by smoking was a lack of salt for preserving. Even as a coastal country Iceland couldn’t yield salt for the settlers easily because of the lack of sunshine to evaporate water in the usual salt distilling process.   Nor could fire-wood be wasted just on salt making. Their usual methods of preserving food simply didn’t work in Iceland. A method to extract salt from seawater via ice rather than heat developed. Seawater was allowed to freeze, the frozen fresh-water top was scraped off and the remaining water re-frozen. The salty under-layer became more and more concentrated. The resulting super salty water was heated so it didn’t take as much fuel to get to the brine stage as it would have with boiling the first seawater. Another frequent method was to gather seaweed and dry it. The dried seaweed was then burned and the salty ashes used to preserve food. This was called “black salt”.

Icelanders did air-dry fish but the results were variable as you needed a run of cold dry sunny days.

Another method of food preservation that developed uniquely in iceland due to shortage of fuel was skyr whey fermentation of meat.  In the UK we see Skyr as a form of yogurt but it is actually a type of cheese.

*“Skyr making was thought to be more economical than ordinary cheese making; the yield from the milk was higher when skyr was made than when the milk was used for cheesemaking. The lack of salt may also have played a role, since cheese was usually salted to preserve it, but skyr needed no salt at all.

*”The milk – usually skimmed – is curdled with bacterial cultures and rennet. The culture comes from a starter kept from the last batch of skyr and the rennet was usually made from calf’s stomach, although butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) could be used in a pinch”


The resulting whey was used as main drink and used to preserve meat for up to a year in the absence of salting.  The making of skyr and its ‘waste’ product whey for drinking and preserving meat was a lifeline for Icelanders even though it would’ve made everything it preserved taste sour it would’ve not only preserved meat without salt/fuel for drying but imparted extra nutrients in the form of probiotics and B vitamins.

Lack of cooking pots for cooking on fire

“Even cooking pots were in short supply. Some bog iron can be found in Iceland, but not nearly enough to make the cooking vessels that were needed: the clay in Iceland is not suitable for pottery, Cauldrons and pots had to be imported and were expensive. Wealthy men often bought cauldrons and rented them out.” Vicars had to pass a law prohibiting villages from using church fonts to cook in.

Lack of timber for building:

Turf-clad houses became popular with the use of drift-wood or stone topped and sided with turf.  They were often  built into existing banks then walls and roofs were covered with turf to minimise need for wood in the building and the need for fires to keep warm.



Despite all this hardship the early Icelanders were successful in certain aspects of their way of life!


The island community despite being sparse, was effective at self-organisation.  The landowners decided to elect representatives to debate on community matters together and action results.  In other words by
the year 930, one of the world’s oldest parliaments had formed. These communities were also willing to allow women to take roles of power.   Scandinavian countries seem to have accepted that women have  a presence in politics more easily and for longer – possibly thanks to this Viking view of women as strong and key holders!?


What they couldn’t grow they learned to subsitute or do without.  As more ships started arriving – what they could’nt grow, substitute or do without could be traded with what they could grow, raise and make.

The settlers traded sheep wool, woven wool cloth, dried fish and dairy products exchanging it mostly for grain, tools and cooking implements.  Rye and wheat were imported; rye for the poor, wheat for rich. Grain was more used for porridge or flat breads rather than risen breads in as it would go further and without much fuel consumption.

From the 1500’s Iceland was under Danish rule that resulted in a period of hardship for the country.  This, coupled with lack of sunlight caused by ash fall out after a volcanic erruption a period that became known as the little ice age caused a long period of famine.   After thousands of deaths, reindeer were imported to remedy the problem. They still roam freely in places and can be hunted.

Problems with imports

Some things came over with trade boats that were less welcome.  Rats, mice, lupin seeds that have spread and taken over whole fields, rabbits that ruin puffin burrows and mink that were imported in 1700’s for clothes but now escaped.  TB and the plague were also unwelcome stowaways to Iceland.  On the other hand, sometimes ships wouldn’t come for months – so grain and other imports could not be relied upon.


“Icelandic cuisine was for almost a thousand years a cuisine of wants – want of grain, want of fresh produce, want of salt, want of fuel, even want of cooking vessels and utensils. The people of Iceland had to pay a certain price for choosing to live somewhere north of life, but they adapted to their environment and managed to survive for a thousand years on what they had”*.  Finally after trying farming for a thousand years realised fishing made more sense than farming and harbours developed more around the 3000 miles of coastline…. Trading at ports, fishing and whaling provided work.  Whaling – a sperm whales head could contain 3 tonnes of spermaceti, an oil prised throughout Europe for street lighting, medic food beauty products….  this could be sold at a premium and the profits used to buy in staff – and so fishing moved from being a self-sufficiency activity to being an industry,creating employment for whole communities who could then use their wages to buy goods in.


Iceland in Modern Times –  read the next article to see how from the self-reliance of early settlers Iceland has become self-reliant as a country in modern times.  Cheap hot water on tap, free cold mineral water to drink, self-reliant in energy and vegetables, dairy and eggs… permaculture principles abound plus the ultimate Volcano Bug-Out-Bag situation that many modern Icelandic families are faced with.

*From the article