Google Trekking

A few weeks ago I was invited to volunteer for a project by one of my lovey contacts at Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, and when I found out more about what was involved I jumped at the chance to participate. They were offering to strap a huge metal backpack onto me and send me up some hills… and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a day off.

The Park had a loan of some awesome Google Trekking equipment, and were using it to digitally map some of the many popular walking routes inside the Park. If you’ve used Google Maps you’ll probably be familiar with the Street View feature which is generated by Google cars with mast-mounted camera units. Well, this was the same idea, but literally taking the technology off-road and into the wild. 

I had been asked to help with the paths above Callander, specifically a loop which would take in the Bracklinn Falls and the nearby glen. I arrived at the rendezvous to meet with Vlad, who was the brains behind our mission. He enthusiastically assembled the contraption and checked all the gubbins and controls to get us started, and helped me to heft the thing onto my back. It was pretty heavy! I’d estimate it weighed about the same as my winter hillwalking pack whch is around 30 kilos (I believe in being prepared).

Almost ready to go, the plan was for Vlad to go on ahead and “recce” the route while I travelled a little way behind. This ensured no unwelcome surprises and meant that Vlad’s face (charming though it is) wouldn’t appear in every image. With that arranged Vlad set off, and I waited a decent interval before following.

It was a bit of a damp, misty day, so the route was fairly quiet apart from a few tourist groups who were at first alarmed by this hulking machine-human hybrid creeping up to them. This quickly turned to excitement though when they realised they might be able to view themselves on the map in a few months time. Apart from the few visitors, the company along the path was mostly feathered – there are a lot of chiff-chaffs here and I got a brief look at a jay as it flashed past.

I wound my way along the path, and managed a slightly precarious detour so that future digital viewers would get an exciting view of the deep gorge-like Bracklinn Falls. It really is a wonderful spot to visit and it was fun looking at it afresh and to consider how people from all over the world might see it.

The path followed the bridge over and beside the river, known as the Keltie Water, and headed upstream on a steep path into a dark corridor of spruce plantation. It was made even more moodier than normal by itinerant patches of hanging mist which intermttently obscured the path ahead. As I exited from the trees onto the glen, I was delighted to hear a cuckoo calling from somewhere to my left.

The last highlight of the walk before the return downhill leg was the pools and falls known locally as the Scout Pools. These are a series of pools and small falls that wind downhill and are popular with local young people and groups of gorge walkers. Encumbered as I was by the Trekking equipment I wasn’t able to dip my toe in, but I’d love to return and brave the cold waters.

After that it was a short walk to meet Vlad at the end of the Trek and a bit of relief from wearing the pack. You forget when you’re wearing it that it is quite so massive – a terrific leg workout and a great walk!

It’s the first time I’ve walked this particular route as a circuit, so I enjoyed the excuse to experience some new paths and, in a few months when the images have been processed, I hope you enjoy following in my foosteps on this virtual tour.

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