Why is Swanbourne Lake one of author Tristan Gooley's favourite viewpoints?

For decades before visiting Swanbourne Lake, I had been frustrated.

The great seafaring cultures, like the Vikings, the Arabs and the Pacific Islanders, each had their own impressive history of reading water. I have been studying this water wisdom since my early twenties, having been seduced by the ‘kepesani lemetau’ - the water lore - of the Polynesians and desirous to possess the isharat – the skill of reading water - of the Arab navigators. But a great frustration sprung from my inability to marry the wisdom that these cultures had gained with my experience of seeing water nearer home.

That all changed when I noticed that the ripples in the pond in my back garden bounced off a rock and created exactly the same patterns that form around islands in the Pacific. The penny dropped: it is possible for us to see and experience the things that these great water experts did very close to home, the key is appreciating that scale is not a barrier. We can learn so much about the behaviour of great oceans, just by looking at a body of water like a small lake.

Look out across any water when there is a breeze and you will see ripples marching across the surface. When these ripples encounter any obstacle, an island, a rock, even a clump of water lilies, notice how certain patterns are created on each side of the ‘island’, however small it is.

These patterns are the same as the ones the Pacific Islanders would sense in their outrigger canoes, giving them the ability to sense where land was, long before it became visible.

After making this discovery in a pond, I ventured out to Swanbourne Lake regularly to watch these effects on a slightly larger scale. It was in the beautiful setting of this lake that I was able to build my collection of signs and patterns worth looking for; it now stands at over 700. Each of these signs gives us something to look for in the water, but none of them reduce the beauty of the landscape before us. 

You can look for these signs at your nearest lake or even your garden pond. We can even learn about water currents by making a cup of tea. 


Written by author and natural navigator Tristan Gooley, whose books include How To Read Water, The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs and The Natural Explorer

You can find out more about Tristan's books and natural navigation at his website www.naturalnavigator.com

Water colours

You can measure the size of raindrops by looking at the colours in a rainbow – the more red in a rainbow, the bigger the drops will be. We can also learn plenty about the colour of water by running a bath – it is clear as we start running the bath, but is a light blue when the bath is full. This is because water absorbs reds and oranges in the colour spectrum but lets blues and greens pass through

Fowl play

The island in Swanbourne Lake is currently home to a large tethered raptor-lookalike kite. Its silhouette can be quite fearsome the first time you see against the sky. 

The Lake is also only a short walk from a 60 acre wetland nature reserve, WWT Arundel. Among the birds you can see at the at the Reserve is the rarest goose in the world - the nene, or Hawaiian Goose.

Nene (Hawaiian goose). Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Pacific in a pond

Swanbourne Lake © Tristan Gooley

Tristan Gooley's Swanbourne Lake viewpoint

Swanbourne Lake is an oasis of a kind. There is usually very little standing water in chalk country, as it percolates down through these porous rocks, leaving few natural ponds or lakes.

The ‘bourne’ part of the name hints that this lake is fed by a spring. The lake itself is an artificial one, but that is true of so many ponds and lakes in southern England, where the geology and lack of glaciers never favoured them.

Swanbourne Lake is beautiful, strikingly so in sunlight, but beauty is a rich landscape’s best disguise. There are always intriguing clues, signs and patterns to be discovered if we peer through the beauty...


Why is Swanbourne Lake one of author Tristan Gooley's favourite viewpoints? Click to reveal the answer

Location : Swanbourne Lake, Mill Road, Arundel, West Sussex, BN18 9LH
Grid reference: TQ 01766 07977
Keep an eye out for: The extraordinary variety of waterfowl, water colours and patterns

Tristan Gooley's Swanbourne Lake viewpoint credits

Thank you to:

Author and natural navigator Tristan Gooley for writing and photographing the viewpoint. To find out more about Tristan and his books visit his website www.naturalnavigator.com

Micha Theiner for her photo of the author

Nene (Hawaiian goose) photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and reproduced under Creative Commons License

"Understanding the things we see and the reasons for them does not reduce the beauty of the whole, quite the opposite" - Tristan Gooley