BBC News

Take a virtual tour of scenic Scotland on Google Maps

By Ken Macdonald
BBC Scotland Science Correspondent

media captionThe 360-degree images will be available on Google Maps, the Street View app and on the National Trust for Scotland's website

Some of Scotland's most remote and beautiful places are now available in virtual reality.

Sixteen National Trust for Scotland (NTS) properties have been digitally captured as using a Google Street View camera.

The panoramas have been published online for viewing worldwide.

It's been made possible because NTS wildlife filmmaker Simon Goodall went for a walk, covering more than 150 miles in two months with a portable Street View camera on his back.

The technology has already captured many of our towns and cities in panoramic detail.

But Simon took it where the streets have no name. Because there were no streets.

image copyrightSimon Goodall/NTS
image captionWet weather hindered the multi-lensed camera's view

He carried the gear to Glencoe, Iona, St Abb's Head, Inverewe Gardens and the top of Ben Lomond.

With each step the multi-lensed device sticking out the top of his camera captured multiple, wraparound images from varied angles along with precise satellite positioning data.

And with each step Simon had to shoulder a 20kg backpack containing the technology.

"When we first saw the kit we were quite surprised by how much there was," he said.

"But when you put it together you realised it all kind of made sense for walking up a hill and being outdoors, as far as a panoramic camera goes."

That, as it transpired, was pretty far.

Visitors to Culzean Castle, Dollar Glen, the Glenfinnan Monument or Staffa may have spotted Simon on his digital trek. With a multi-eyed sphere-on-a-stick on his back he was difficult to miss.

image copyrightSimon Goodall/NTS
image captionCulzean Castle is one of 16 NTS properties captured on camera

This off-road version of the Street View technology is called Google Trekker. The NTS views it as a win-win proposition: Google gets content that's a lot more interesting to look at than shop fronts and parked cars, while the Trust gets a worldwide showcase for some of its finest properties.

NTS head of digital media Colan Mehaffey said: "As part of the Trekker loan programme, what you could do was apply to Google to borrow a big piece of kit to essentially do Street View for whatever you liked or whatever you owned.

"We came into our own with that because we're Scotland's third biggest landowner.

"People all over the world will suddenly be able to be on the top of a mountain in Glencoe and they'll be able to be on a boat looking at Staffa.

"So we want people from all round the world to engage with it."

image copyrightSimon Goodall/NTS
image captionSimon was able to take the camera well off the beaten track

I met Simon and Colan at the Grey Mare's Tail waterfall, one of the UK's highest. It falls 60 metres, ten twisting miles from Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway.

Simon told me about of the biggest obstacle he faced on his trek. It's the same one less digitally equipped walkers frequently encounter:

"The real challenge on this project was the Scottish weather.

"Because I was wearing a camera which had lenses on a full 360 degree circumference, one spot of rain on one of the lenses would ruin the whole picture."

That's why Simon's first attempt to capture the Grey Mare's Tail was a washout. It's also the reason why all these panoramas may give the impression that Scotland's weather is somewhat less drookit than it really is. Not that the NTS or our tourism authorities are likely to complain about that.

image copyrightNTS/Simon Goodall
image captionGlencoe can now be viewed by internet users around the world

"The Google Trekker programme has allowed us to find a different way to tell people what we do," Colan Mehaffey says.

"We're not just about built heritage - castles and fine historic houses.

"We're actually also about wild land in Scotland: Munros, islands and the nature in them."

Simon Goodall's digital panoramas will be available on Google Maps, the Street View app, and on the Trust's own website; all in the hope it will tempt people to try the real thing.

But is it even better than that?

There are some things virtual reality can't yet mimic: the sun on your face, the wind in your hair.

On the other hand there are no such things as digital midges.

Related Topics

  • Virtual reality