Picture the scene.
Cup of coffee in hand, feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep, and I’m staring down the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon. Rusty coloured rocks towering overhead and the dusty path extending out in front of me. Amazing! A sip of coffee, a rub of my eyes and when they readjust to the light I’ve been transported to the awe inspiring waters of the Amazon. Wow!
Welcome to the world of Google Maps and Treks!
In 2013 Google started their programme of capturing those not so easy to reach places with the Street View cameras used on the cars, but now mounted on backpacks. They started bringing the great outdoors indoors! I always thought this was a great idea to help feed the adventurer in all of us, whether that’s a casual sofa explorer or someone who wants to get in amongst it. But imagine having the job of walking these places and capturing these images for the world to see. Dream job? Yes please!
Step into 2015 and I’ve just been lucky enough to do my dream job. Ok it was only for one day and I wasn’t getting paid but you don’t say no when you’re offered the chance to trek for Google Maps. It all came about because I offered to volunteer with Northumberland National Park (volunteering whatever it is always tends to be poorly paid but well rewarded) and they were lucky enough to be one of the first parks in the UK to be given the camera for a month on hire.
So we have a Google camera, the Northumberland National Park, an enthusiastic volunteer (me) – where do you go? Well it’s a no brainer and thankfully my day trekking was to be on Hadrian’s Wall. 2000 years of Roman history was about to meet 21st century technology.
I’ve walked a lot of parts Hadrian’s Wall before, and back in 2012 I walked the 80+ miles of the wall non-stop for charity. Thirty hours of walking along any wall tends to get you well acquainted and it’s still a firm favourite of mine for a great day out. Despite the blister flashbacks I still get.
I’ve always had one place on the wall where I love to go and I believe it’s one of the most iconic views of the wall - Sycamores Gap. Sycamores Gap was made famous, other than by its obvious historical location, when it appeared in the 1991 film alongside Kevin Costner in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.
The prospect of me capturing one of the most iconic locations in the National Park for Google Maps had me probably a little too excited and I couldn’t wait to get loaded up and away. On the days trek I was joined by a fellow volunteer, Paul Buxton (who happens to be a great photographer), and he thankfully obliged me to do the maiden section of our adventure.
We set out from Steel Rigg Car Park (easy to find from the main road – B6318) and off along the wall with the hope of putting in as many miles as possible. How far we got would depend on how far we could carry the camera.
The Google Camera
The Trek camera is no simple bit of kit. It weighs about 18kg and is a series of digital cameras which record images every 2.5 seconds. Images are stored on the hard drive which Google wizards then stitch together to show the world the amazing world of Hadrian’s Wall and Northumberland – sounds simple doesn’t it!
With 18kg kit, and a camera dome high above your head, your centre of balance is changed a bit making terrain like that on the wall not the easiest days walking. The section of Hadrian’s Wall beyond Steel Rigg is steep ups and downs of steps, rocks, tracks and on the day a strong wind.
The terrain and camera were always going to present a challenge and I knew my body and kit would be tested throughout the day. Extra weight – 18kgs of it – meant my shoulders, back, hips and feet we’re going to take the strain so good posture was important. Also when you’re carrying a heavy pack you’ve got to make sure you don’t get any hot points where the pack or straps start rubbing. On a day facing the prospect of the Roman Wall and a weighty camera I opted for my full Regatta armour – base layer t shirt, Coldwell Fleece, Geo Softshell Trousers and the most trusted item out of everything – my Ultra Max hiking shoe.
To Boot or Shoe?
In the debate of shoe or boot I always favour shoes - even on uneven walks like this. I find shoes like the Ultra Max keep my feet cooler, my step a little more nimble and my feet dry, even after a few muddy sections. I hate wet feet!
I’m sure the Romans would’ve made do with simple footwear but personally I like to know that my feet are being kept in good condition during any walk. A good solid shoe, or boot, ensures an enjoyable day of adventure but more importantly means you can get out the day after too without any niggles.
My top three tips for good footwork;
- Keep toe nails trim/tidy and your feet well maintained.
- Lace up your shoes by kicking your foot into the back of the heel and tighten the laces firmly. This keeps your foot to the back of the shoe stopping your toe stubbing on downhills.
- Be conscious of how you walk – on steps and climbs I was always told to make sure my feet were quiet. A quiet step tends to mean less impact on your sole, and soul and long walks.
After eight(ish) miles and thousands of captured images later my Google adventure was nearly over and I reflected on a day well spent. We all take pictures when out and about, and in today’s world we can put them all over the place for friends, family and even people we don’t know to see.
My thousands of photos from today will soon be a joined up journey showing one of the UK’s best landmarks. For some people it will be their first time seeing what Emperor Hadrian built 2000 years ago, and for others it will be a reminder of a place they’ve visited before.
Hadrian’s Wall offers everyone the chance to experience an amazing adventure and luckily for me it’s on my doorstep. This autumn, when my trek goes live, that adventure can start for everyone in their homes, cup of coffee in hand, staring at the rolling Northumberland hills.
Picture the scene!