Take an online walk on the wild side

Pioneering Street View mapping turns Steall Gorge into a virtual footpath at the click of a mouse

Susan wright nevis steall meadow detail

After working with Google Steet View, the popular Walk Highlands website has developed six digital journeys along six famous Scottish hill routes, including the Steall Gorge path through Glen Nevis.

The groundbreaking new feature – which will be expanded in the future to include other footpaths – allows website vistors a full 360 degree panoramic view of the entire length of the routes on digital devices. It is also possible to zoom in on the landscape to see flowers on the ground, leaves on the trees and other details of the surrounding landscape.

Helen Webster, a co-founder of the Walk Highlands website – a corporate partner of the John Muir Trust – told the BBC Radio Scotland Out of Doors programme that she did not expect that the virtual routes would ever replace real life experience of getting out onto the hills.

"We hope this will inspire our web visitors to come and do the walks themselves. People have told us that this helps them plan their walks, and some disabled people say it’s great because they can look at places that they can’t get to and more. They can also judge the accessibility of the route.”

Helen also explained how it was done. “It was a laborious process. We partnered with Google who sent a massive truck with a device called a Google Trekker, which is basically a huge rucksack containing an exrtremely heavy computer, battery packs, a recording device and 16 high resolution cameras attached to a big ball that sticks up from the rucksack.

“It’s a really unwieldy contraption and if you lean too much to one side, there’s a danger of toppling. Filming could only take place in strong daylight with no chance of rain. We had the device for six weeks and hoped to do more, but found it pretty time–consuming.”

Helen believes that faster broadband and the widespread use of mobile devices means that people will increasingly get a flavour of potential routes before walking them.

“But I don’t think people are going to sit at home plodding slowly through the street view of a whole route – they’ll look at various bits of it, or do a fast fly-through before doing the walk physically.”

Routes so far mapped in street view by Walk Highlands in Street View include Steall Gorge, the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye, Cairn Gorm, the Mither Tap of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire, Craigellachie National Nature Reserve at Aviemore, and the route to Coire Ardair on the Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve.