News & Press: Natural world


23 July 2020   (0 Comments)
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The award-winning navigational expert reveals how some of these new paths, created by humans circumnavigating an obstacle, are evidence of behaviour change due to Covid-19

Today the Royal Institute of Navigation has announced the naming of a previously uncategorised path type - the ‘smile path’ - as studied and classified by the bestselling author and natural navigation expert Tristan Gooley.

Tristan Gooley in front of a smile path

A cousin to the well known ‘desire path’ - which has delighted avid ramblers for years and been used by town planners to analyze human traffic patterns - the ‘smile path’ is created when walkers are forced to venture off an official route due to something blocking their way. This creates a new and often temporary trail for others to also trample, usually forming as a curved smile shape circumnavigating an obstacle, which could be anything from a fallen tree to a locked gate.

Described as ‘the Sherlock Holmes of nature’, Gooley has dedicated his life to teaching the wonders of nature’s natural clues and signposts through his much-loved books and courses, and this month has been awarded the Royal Institute of Navigation’s highest accolade in recognition of an outstanding contribution to navigation - the Harold Spencer-Jones Gold Medal. The navigation expert hopes the new nomenclature will raise awareness in the practice of natural navigation and generate interest in the natural clues that exist everywhere within our surroundings, helping people not only to find their way but also offering insights into our own human behaviour.

Tristan Gooley, author of The Natural Navigator and How to Read Water, explains: “When most people go for a walk, the path they travel on is often one of the most overlooked parts of the experience. However, paths are quite remarkable; they etch stories about human nature and who we are as a species into the land, even when we don’t realise we are writing them. For example, in addition to the curved ‘smiles’ around blockages such as puddles or overgrown nature, in the past few months the smile path has started to form on the side of walkways due to new social distancing rules.

“As people step aside to give other walkers a wider berth, they begin to trample a micro smile path to one side of the main track. That section then becomes more trodden. The next walker unconsciously spots this patch and automatically does the same, and so begins the wear and tear of these areas into micro smile paths. We’ve changed as a species in the last few months due to Corona, and these new smile paths forming at the side of walkways are physical evidence of the impact of Covid on the journeys we make and the micro-change to our species that is happening.”

John Pottle, Director of the Royal Institute of Navigation, adds: “We’re proud to recognise Tristan Gooley for his promotion of the art, science and practice of natural navigation, and how he inspires people of all ages to find their way and understand their surroundings using natural clues ranging from the moon and stars, to spider’s webs, tennis courts and, of course, the humble path. Uniquely, he uses these natural phenomena not as a survival skill, but as a means to signal something extraordinary about our whereabouts and enrich our fascination and wonder about the environment we live in, and joins a distinguished and much-respected group of leaders and innovators since the Gold Medal was first awarded in 1951.”

The Royal Institute of Navigation and Tristan Gooley are inviting the public to spot and share the smile paths they notice when walking in towns and the countryside, sharing the images with the institute via Twitter @at_RIN, with the most interesting awarded a free year of Royal Institute of Navigation membership and all six of Gooley’s books.


You can read more about Smile Paths on Tristan's website at: