The Peak District is to be the first UK National Park to feature on the off-road version of Google Street View. With the Google Trekker backpack detailed 360-degree digital images of remote locations can be captured on foot, making it possible to go for a virtual walk on Stanage Edge without leaving your desk. Should the urge take you. Does this herald the death of hillwalking as we know it, or is it just an interesting promotional gimmick?
The National Park, which celebrated its 63rd birthday last week, has borrowed the frankly ridiculous-looking Google Trekker backpack in order to make a select series of locations and trails 'available online for all to enjoy from home, work, or while they are on the move.'
Leaving aside the question of why - or indeed how - anyone would look at virtual scenery while 'on the move', the technology is still pretty impressive.
The Google Trekker is a 42.5lb backpack with a 4ft stalk fitted with a 15-angle lens camera, which takes 360-degree pictures every 2.5 seconds. These are then added to Street View, and made available through Google Maps.
Outdoor locations already captured by the system include parts of the Grand Canyon and New Zealand's Abel Tasman track. Last year the Canal and River Trust mapped over 100 miles of Britain's towpaths (see UKH news here). Peak District National Park Authority staff are now being trained to use it.
Some of the locations to be covered in the Peak include: the entire length of the Tissington, High Peak, Monsal and Thornhill cycling/walking trails; views from Stanage Edge; and the Derwent Valley.
Jim Dixon, chief executive of the Peak District National Park, said:
'I am thrilled to know we are the first UK national park to get the Trekker backpack. It is amazing to think that thanks to technology ...many more people will be able to enjoy the outstanding natural beauty of the Peak District. The Trekker will help bring the Peak District to life online and hopefully inspire families to come and enjoy a walk or a cycle ride in the most beautiful landscapes.'
Emily Clarke from Google added:
'We're excited that the Peak District will be using the Street View Trekker so more of us can experience its famous trails and views from wherever we are.'
Of course the best (indeed, only) place to 'experience' the Peak District is still the Peak District itself, but a bit of virtual scenery ogling does arguably beat spread sheets and emails.
Could it ever conceivably be used as a navigation tool?