Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Ye Olde Glasgow at the People’s Palace

I’ve tried to get a pic of this old painting of Glasgow along the River Clyde for some time, but every time I get the catch home and take a look – it’s been ruined by reflections in the glass.

I finally managed to avoid them for once.

It’s worth spotting this painting in the Viewing Gallery at the top of the building.

Old Glasgow Painting

Old Glasgow Panorama Painting By John Knox

A little detail.

John Knox Panorama Detail

John Knox Panorama Detail


February 14, 2018 Posted by | Maps | , , | Leave a comment

We really do NOT live in ‘Concrete Britain’

Over the years I’ve dabbled with Secret Scotland, I gained the impression that many people held the belief that the country was not far from being ‘concreted over’, and that we were not far from running out of green land, or even farmland for that matter, and being unable to grow crops.

While I hardly had the time or resources to sit down and disprove that view with facts, from using online resources to search for lost and hidden places, it was pretty obvious that this was actually yet another myth promoted by my sad old friends, the ‘Green Loonies’.

That there is a clear distinction between Scotland, Wales, and England in terms of land use for building, is not in dispute, with England having much denser built-up areas (and a much higher population to match) it’s still far from anything an alarming coverage.

Perhaps I have the advantage on living in the suburbs, on the edge of the city, and within smelling range of farms.

But this article is probably right when it notes that most people make the mistake of living in a densely populated and built-up city area, and equating the small area they are intimately involved with, with that of the majority of the land.

It’s actually rather nice, not to mention reassuring, to have this coverage researched and quantified.

It’s worth considering the detail given in the opening section, and taking in just how far out the uniformed estimate was:

The British people, it appears, have the mistaken belief that much of the UK has been concreted over. Could it be that the psychological impact of city living means people have a distorted idea of what our own country looks like?

This misunderstanding is suggested by new survey data produced by Ipsos Mori. Asked how much of the UK’s land area is densely built on, the average estimate was 47%. The far more accurate figure – based on satellite images – as highlighted in my blog last November, is 0.1%.

The average Briton thinks 356 times more of our nation’s land is concrete jungle than is the reality.

This isn’t just a minor misconception. The error helps to distort our mental picture of the UK and shift the politics of land use.

If the UK is viewed as a large football pitch, the people in the survey reckoned that almost all the ground between the goal-line and half-way line is densely developed when, in reality, it would fit into the tiny arc marked for taking a corner.

The 0.1% figure for what is designated “continuous urban fabric” (CUF) was named UK Statistic of the Year by the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) last month.

RSS president Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter said “whatever side of the argument you sit on, this statistic gives true insight into the landscape of the United Kingdom”.

Via The illusion of a concrete Britain

Land Use In The UK

Land Use In The UK

This was revealed in an earlier article regarding the same data, but was not accompanied by the same reveal on how far out many people’s assumption of the figure was.

Five mind-blowing facts about what the UK looks like

This earlier article is interesting as it had an open ‘Comments’ area provided.

By and large, and while I don’t want to encompass ALL the commenters, it’s worth a look – it might provide enlightenment as regards my gleeful use of the term ‘Green Loonies’, and how ignorant and self-centred many of the commenters are, giving little regard to the overall information provided, and merely concerned that ‘their’ little bit green has traffic jams or slow commutes.

I suspect they are the same people who think the Met Office is utterly useless at forecasting, and should be closed down as it rained in their street on the day a weather forecast for the area advised sunny spells were expected.

January 4, 2018 Posted by | Civilian, Maps | | Leave a comment

So THAT’s how land is used

Just kidding – there’s no real surprise or shock news in this recently published survey, but it is handy to be able to punch in your own postcode and see just how the variation applies locally.

Bearing in mind of course, postcodes are just an approximation to a location (you do know they were created for posties to use in planning deliveries, not as geographic area references, don’t you?).

My own is interesting, while I actually live in an area that was once farmland, yet my postcode tells the world I live in Glasgow city.

According to it, I live in a densely built up area.

But, like weather forecasts, if you are one of the few who are yet to have your brain liquefied by staring at a mobile phone during all your waking hours, this is a handy reference.

Via Five mind-blowing facts about what the UK looks like

Or find the original source material here:

A Land Cover Atlas of the United Kingdom (Document)

UK Land Use By Nation

UK Land Use By Nation

November 19, 2017 Posted by | Civilian, council, Maps | | Leave a comment

Relief model of Glasgow spotted at Kelvingrove

This was a bit of a recent surprise (for me at least) and was, unfortunately, tripped over in the midst of a rather wet day of heavy showers when I couldn’t dress appropriately for such things.

Spotting it depends on which road you take to Kelvingrove, and this is not my usual path, so I might never have seen it. Thanks to the weather, I couldn’t really stop for a closer look, so it was really just a case of grabbing some pics to make sure I remember it in future.

Glasgow Model Outside Kelvingrove

Glasgow Model Outside Kelvingrove

Thanks to the falling rain, I couldn’t make out the description on the plaque at the foot, and this also made pics almost unreadable too, so I’ll have to get back some day (or track it down online).

The actual features of the model are impossible to see in the above pic, so here’s a closer look at the top:

Glasgow Model Outside Kelvingrove Detail

Glasgow Model Outside Kelvingrove Detail

I hope it IS Glasgow, since I’ve just assumed this.

Given the sparse nature of the city, it has to be based on early maps, which I’d guess from around 1800 (very roughly) but would have to dig out some of my old history books to more certain or accurate about.

August 26, 2017 Posted by | Civilian, Maps, photography | , | Leave a comment

Map of Scotland’s wild land published

I’ve been watching this map being drawn together for some years, and confess that I’m not entirely sure what it will be used for, so am interested to see the comments made by SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) and will be watching the media to see where it is mentioned in the coming years.

If not familiar with ‘wild land’, then some idea of what is meant can be gained by referring to this publication: Scottish Planning Policy (paragraph 128) which states: “The most sensitive landscapes may have little or no capacity to accept new development. Areas of wild land character in some of Scotland’s remoter upland, mountain and coastal areas are very sensitive to any form of development or intrusive human activity and planning authorities should safeguard the character of these areas in the development plan.”

In publicising the availability of this new map, the media noted:

Scottish Natural Heritage has published its final version of a map showing where Scotland’s wild land is.

The 42 areas include large parts of the Cairngorms and Wester Ross and also places in Argyll, the Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland and south of Scotland.

In total, the areas cover 19.5% of Scotland and the new map replaces one published last year.

The map has been produced to support the Scottish government’s new National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy.

SNH said the map identified the most extensive areas of the “highest wildness in Scotland” that were considered nationally important.

Ian Jardine, SNH chief executive, said the map would guide development in areas recognised as wild land.

He said: “The planning documents launched today do much more than recognise the importance of the wild land resource.
Stac Pollaidh Scotland’s landscape has been described as a key asset

“They also recognise the extensive role of nature and landscape in the wider sense, and people’s enjoyment of it, in achieving sustainable economic growth.”

Via: Wild land map published for Scotland

This is the link to the map itself:

Mapping Scotland’s wildness – Scottish Natural Heritage

Wild Land

Wild Land – Crown Copyright image

June 23, 2014 Posted by | Civilian, Maps | , , | 1 Comment

PastMap integrates five heritage databases on one online map

Scotland map

Just announced by RCAHMS (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland) today, April 25, 2013:

A web-based mapping service which goes live this week provides a single gateway into every aspect of the historic environment in Scotland, from archaeology and historic buildings, to industrial heritage and designed landscapes.

PastMap is a free, interactive mapping tool which pools information from five key heritage databases, providing a first port of call for anyone interested in the nation’s historic environment, from students and researchers to land managers and the general public.

Hosted by RCAHMS, PastMap consolidates data from organisations including Historic Scotland, local authorities, and RCAHMS itself. You can explore maps of Scotland featuring their particular areas of interest, choosing from the multiple layers of archaeological and architectural information to find what you need. This will allow you to:

Obtain listing information on more than 46,000 buildings which have been granted listed building protection by Historic Scotland
Explore information and imagery on over 300,000 architectural, archaeological, industrial and maritime sites through Canmore, the RCAHMS database
Access details on the 8,000 Ancient Monuments whose importance has been recognised by being granted ‘Scheduled Monument’ status by Historic Scotland.
Investigate Historic Environment Records prepared by the 17 Scottish local authorities who currently participate in PastMap, recording the historic environment at a local level
Discover details of gardens or designed landscapes which have received recognition and a degree of protection through the planning system from Historic Scotland

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, said how useful it was to see all of this information about the built heritage of Scotland made easily accessible on one website. “Understanding our past and being able to view and use the records of Scotland’s historic environment will prove to be an invaluable tool. PastMap is at the forefront of an exciting digital area – the spatial presentation of data from multiple sources. In this regard the heritage sector is leading the way in Scotland. This resource merges information from a range of partners and is an excellent example of different and diverse organisations coming together and working for the greater common good”.

Robin Turner, Head of Survey and Recording at RCAHMS said, “PastMap will continue to incorporate new data from RCAHMS, Historic Scotland, local authorities and other sources, to ensure that the site remains the benchmark for information about the nation’s historic places.”

Via Mapping Scotland’s Historic Environment Online – News – RCAHMS

Reproduced by Open Government Licence

This has to be something that could be described as long overdue.

We are heavy users of the various online historic databases and mapping services offered by the various local authorities, but it has always been frustrating to access multiple system repeatedly in order to drill down into what should have been a single service.

Even more frustrating is (or was) the moment you got fed up trying, and asked someone if they knew, only to find their reply was a url pointing at the one online resource you didn’t get around to looking at when your patience gave out and you stopped working through them.

I’ve occasionally both criticised and defended the various systems in discussions about their relative merits, but am now pleased that usually countered negative remarks by pointing out that however slowly it may have been changing, these various systems were all moving forward and getting slowly better.

PastMap is not a new name or service, but what we see there today is a vast improvement on what used to be on offer.

I only have one ongoing grouse and major complaint with these systems, and the “new” PastMap is no exception – being made to feel like a criminal when first arriving to use them, and being presented with a volume of War & Peace to which I must agree as their Terms & conditions, and End User Agreement, and whatever else.

It’s simply unnecessary overkill, since if anyone does anything that is legally enforceable, then this agreement means nothing, the law will deal with sin of sufficient magnitude.

I didn’t read it, but I clicked it, so if I did do something naughty, it’s probably unenforceable since I failed to complete my part of the contract from the start, by agreeing without reading, and rendering it invalid.

Find the new PastMap here:


April 25, 2013 Posted by | Maps | , , , | Leave a comment

Street View now covers more Scottish coastline (but where?)

Rocky coast

I don’t know where the email alert I should have received from Google about its most recent updates to Maps and Street View has been since March 7 (the date on the message) but it only arrived last night.

As I have lamented before, while Google used to have someone prepare an overlay that showed where on Google Earth the latest imagery updates were applied, this stopped a while ago, and has not returned, so I can’t point at specifics, which I like to do, both for my own information, and to make it easier for those who were interested to find their area if it was included.

So, all I can say is that the latest alert regarding updated Street View imagery (and this alert was about Street View, as opposed to the more general Aerial or Satellite View), is that it applied to some areas of Scottish coastline… and some UK cities, specifically:

In the UK we’re refreshing some imagery in major cities like London, Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff, as well as filling in some of the gaps where we had no Street View coverage. For example, we’ve added brand new images to parts of the Scottish coastline, in pockets of East Anglia and parts of South Wales.

There’s also the mention in there of Glasgow having update imagery in Street View, and I think I actually saw this before reading the email.

For those who know the city, if you use Street View to head up York Street from the river, and cross Argyle Street, then you will see the wall on your right magically transformed from an abandoned piece of waste into a series of large artistic murals as caught in 2012. To see the old wall, just cross over to West Campbell Street, and look back to see 2008:

Google views abandoned Fukushima

I just happen to be looking at this exploration – Urban Exploration? – at the moment, so pass on the link since I am mentioning Street View.

Google Maps, working with Namie-machi mayor Tamotsu Baba, drove Google Street View cars through the abandoned town this month. In a blog post, Baba explained why: “Many of the displaced townspeople have asked to see the current state of their city, and there are surely many people around the world who want a better sense of how the nuclear incident affected surrounding communities.”

Click here to go to the scene

The are still boats lying inland, and the citizens are not allowed to return to their homes.

It’s hard to comment from a distance (and this is on the opposite side of the World) but I think I am reasonably safe in saying they could go home today were it not for the fear spread by radiophobia. As far as I know, there was no fallout from Fukushima, only the release of radioactive gasses at the time of the earthquake and tsunami that did the damage. More people were actually harmed and died from that than anything that happened at the nuclear power stations, but it is still the nuclear power station that are being pointed at as the villains of the story.

There were no casualties caused by radiation exposure, approximately 25,000 died due to the earthquake and tsunami, and more than 200,000 were evacuated.

By March 2013, reports indicated barely detectable effects on the population’s lifetime from the disaster at the power station.

Lest I get misquoted, I am not saying there are no effects to be found, and it should not be forgotten that the sea will be suffering contamination as heavy elements are washed out from the damaged plant, but this does not go to the town, it goes to the sea, to the fish for example, so these are probably not the best diet for locals. Actually they’re very good for anyone, as they seem to have well over 200 time the safe limit of radiation.

You might want to read this before thinking I am mad suggesting that the Fukushima residents might just be allowed back into their homes:

The Psychology of Cancer Clusters : Fire in the Mind

March 29, 2013 Posted by | Maps | , , , | Leave a comment

Perth hosts UK’s first GeoTour


The first GeoTour to be established in the UK has been created in Perthshire by Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust, together with Perth and Kinross Council, and  Forestry Commission Scotland, and the Blairgowrie and East Perthshire Tourist Association. It is only the sixteenth to have been created so far, and has been officially launched in time for Easter.

Cateran Trail:

Follow in the footsteps of The Caterans, feared cattle thieves of the Highlands who raided the rich lands of Strathardle, Glenshee and Glen Isla at the heart of Scotland. Explore the landscape and discover legends along the Cateran Trail’s old drove roads. Collect points to win a trackable geocoin.

The organisers have laid out 20 special geocaches across five stages of the 64 mile circular trail which covers woodland and forest, moor, and farmland.

Geocaching is already known to the area, after Perthshire was host to the annual UK Mega Cache event in 2010.

As you’ll see from reading the articles referred to below, geocaching has become something of a resource to be tapped and bring tourists and their wallets (or should that be credit cards nowadays) to an area, rather than be seen as something that strange people with Global Positioning Receivers do for fun. In other words, it’s been commercialised.

According to the statistics, more than 5 million people around the World are chasing geocaches, of which more than 2 million have been placed.

I’ve no idea what those number were like back in the late 1990s or early 2000s when I started to play the game, but it was little known and there was only a handful of caches to look for in Scotland, suitably far apart, and none of the trails or other targets to be chased. AS I recall, nearest was 20 miles away from home, somewhere in the Campsies. Later, I was able to walk to them.

Such things ruined the hobby for me at least, and I gave it up. To be fair, I didn’t really have the time either, since I had taken it up in order to learn more about GPS and its operation on the ground, and I was soon using old maps to locate the remains of things like Cold War sites and relics around the country, then use GPS to locate the site on the ground, which seemed rather more productive and useful that spending my time looking for boxes of… not a lot… which other people had hidden. This is much more of a challenge, since such sites were recorded in the 1950s or so, when locations had to be fixed by surveying, so were not necessarily accurate, meaning one still has to exercise some skill in correcting errors and reaching the target… if it still exists.

The problem with geocaching now is that there is no end to it. You can set yourself the target of bagging all the caches in a given area, only to find that someone has planted one or more new caches the day after you collect the last one, and that’s frustration rather than fun. But please don’t misinterpret that as me saying no-one can have fun geocaching, I’m not.

If you do try it, then please remember to be careful as some caches can be placed in locations where a moment’s carelessness or inattention can have disastrous results if you pay too much attention to the cache, and not enough to where you are.

One friend I made through geocaching suffered a tragic demise, after a momentary lapse led to his stepping off a cliff after placing a cache. This isn’t the place to cover the details, merely alert new cachers to the need for care at all times if caches are placed in potentially hazardous locations.

GPS satellite

GPS satellite

Perthshire to launch the UK’s first geocache based tour

Geo-tour launched for Cateran Trail in Perthshire | Dundee & Tayside | News | STV

Geocache treasure hunt set for historic trail – Heritage –

Geocaching – The Official Global GPS Cache Hunt Site

March 28, 2013 Posted by | Civilian, Maps | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Window on Caithness’ Past

Baillie wind farm survey - Click to visit

A Window On Caithness’ Past is a new web site which resulted from the Baillie Wind Farm Lidar Survey.

The new site has been launched as an educational tool, and offers virtual tours of ancient sites and links to those already documented on the Highland Historic Environment Records.

The survey was completed as part of the preparations completed ahead of the construction of the Baillie Wind Farm, a 21-turbine project at Baillie Hill, west of Thurso, which was granted planning permission subject to a number of conditions.

LIDAR (Light detection and ranging) is an optical remote sensing technology that can measure the distance to (or other properties of), remote targets by illuminating them target with laser light and analysing the backscattered light. It basically fires thousands of laser pulses per second at the ground, and almost a billion such “points” were recorded during the Baillie Wind Farm survey, with the raw data being processed to provide high-resolution models which showed field boundaries, walls, and ancient monuments in the area.

AOC Archaeology Group was commissioned to carry out the scan, which was carried out using equipment carried by an aircraft which flew over the wind farm site to collect the results.

As well as offering the visitor the opportunity to browse the processed survey data in a map view, it also contains a number of tours, with more detailed video fly-throughs showing selected areas and features.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Maps | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Safe in the Planetarium Projector Museum near Big Bear Lake CA

PlanetariumSadly, computers, microprocessors, the Internet, and the web have conspired (unintentionally) to destroy many wonderful devices that were developed in the past.

From my own industry, I can say that I seldom walk into a factory, or look inside an aircraft cockpit that has much in the way of electrical or mechanical instrumentation or indicators. It’s not all gone by any means, but the glass cockpit and computer display (or LCD) is now more likely to be seen than any sort of device with a pointer. The old hardware is just too expensive to manufacture for general use, given the training and skills needed by the technicians behind it. Although the electronic version may be more expensive, it is generally more robust and easier to install and maintain, especially of many devices are needed. Instead of every indicator needing a dedicated readout, each can be digitised and displayed virtually on a common screen, and have the added advantage of being easy to organise as distributed systems, since the data can be transmitted via the Internet.

Another victim of this trend has been the planetarium, where complex (and expensive) optical systems were carefully created in order to project the various planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and any other type of heavenly body, onto the inside of a dome, and we could enjoy looking at a little piece of the observable universe from the comfort of a strangely angled seat.

However, they’re no longer needed, and while the PC once meant purchasing a program to show the night sky and identify many of the items on view, even this expense is largely avoided now, and one can view representations of the night sky online, speed it up or slow it down, or look at its appearance at any date past or future. And a click on any spot of light visible will bring up more details of the star, galaxy, or whatever, provided it is in the database.

I was not even aware they were still even being made until I wrote this item, but they are.

I was lucky enough to visit a few: Glasgow Science Centre has a small one, which I saw during a review visit a few weeks before the centre opened; Jodrell Bank (radio telescope) also had one when I visited some years ago, although the show it put on was very simple, and really only suitable for children  I had a look at Jodrell Bank (The University of Manchester), but there is no mention of the planetarium, just an option to download a free version online; the best one (I saw) was at the London Planetarium, where they operated the system for sensible shows during the day, but then threw a switch for the evening shows, when the planetarium projector was tied into a laser entertainment sound and light show accompanied by a rock music background. It was great, and I visited a number of times when in London for business, then I had a break of a few years, and was amazed to find it had all gone, and there were no more evening shows when I returned. As of 2010, it no longer exists, other than the dome off Marylebone, and that now houses other attractions.


Glasgow Planetarium

Somehow (despite the Glasgow Science Centre‘s various financial and survival crises), the Glasgow Planetarium still survives, and this makes it easy for it to win accolades and praise:

Our projector is a Carl Zeiss Starmaster ZMP-TD, one of the best star projectors in the world. It uses advanced fibre optic technology developed by the German company to show stunning views of the stars and planets as they would look from any place on Earth – but without light pollution. Not only that, but take a pair of binoculars and it is possible to study in more detail the features of the Andromeda nebula, the Magellanic Clouds or the Orion nebula.

The magnificent images are only possible through the use of fibre optic technology. The star ball is made up of 12 powerful wide-angle projectors, each covered by its own star mask with up to 1000 ‘star’ perforations. By directing light efficiently through fibre optic strands to the star masks, it is possible to achieve a far more varied and realistic night sky, from the dazzling Sirius to the awe-inspiring Betelgeuse.

Our planetarium is widely regarded as the best in the UK and one of the finest in Europe. The Starmaster ZMP-TD starball is the reason behind this. Its outstanding detail and amazingly realistic projections make for one truly outstanding experience.

Br Guy Consolmagno, Astronomer for the Vatican visited our planetarium and delivered talks to a packed theatre:

“The Glasgow Science Centre planetarium is one of the most perfect matches of projector and dome size I have ever come across, anywhere in the world. It is everything a planetarium ought to be: an exciting and realistic view of the heavens the way they ought to look. It provides crystal-sharp star images of a quality that is rare on such a large dome, one big enough to give a real feel for how the sky looks. It provides a view that sadly is all too rare in our light-polluted world.”

Glasgow Science Centre Planetarium | What’s here

Enjoy one man’s efforts to maintain the last survivors of The Planetarium Years:

Cool Hunting Video Presents: The Planetarium Projector Museum from Cool Hunting on Vimeo.

There are many beautiful things to see on the drive into Big Bear Lake, CA but one of the more interesting and unknown is the Planetarium Projector Museum. In an unassuming building a stone’s throw from the lake, owner Owen Phairis has managed to compile the largest collection of planetarium projectors in the world. Phairis, who also does an electrical stage show as Nikola Tesla called “Man Of Lighting”, has a very unique obsession with the retired machines. These fantastic optical relics have been rescued from defunct planetariums and schools, now taking residence under a re-purposed military parachute in Phairis’ space. We spoke to Phairis about the projectors and were even lucky enough to get a private viewing of the stars.

See more of our videos at

March 13, 2013 Posted by | Maps | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scotland from space

Although we can get a fairly good idea of what Scotland looks like from space by viewing the various online mapping system with their satellite or aerial views, their imagery is highly processed to make it appear smooth and continuous.

On Wednesday evening, Chris Hadfield, a Canadian flight engineer and astronaut on the International Space Station, tweeted seven images of Scotland with the message: “With her currently clear late-February skies, today seems like a good day for pictures of Scotland. Agreed?” He then tweeted images of Fife, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and the Isle of Sky

He also revealed that his family had roots in Scotland, saying that: “My grandmother’s family is from the Borders region. They sent a brave son to Canada in the 1800s, and then followed him.”

I wouldn’t normally consider this sort of thing worth a mention, but in this case the pictures are genuinely interesting, and show the true relief of Scotland, emphasised by the contrast of the land’s snow-capped mountains. These images wouldn’t look so good without the snow, and more importantly, show how the online mapping imagery messes with reality due to the extensive post-processing needed to make it work.

While the first link to the STV report shows small versions of all the images together, the second link is by far the better of two, with much better versions of the astronaut’s images in the BBC’s slideshow:

Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s photos of Scotland from space station | Scotland | News | STV

In pictures: Astronaut snaps Scotland from space

(Note: Although STV has not provided clickable images, they have actually used the full-size image and merely scaled it to fit their page. If you use your browser’s option to view the image alone – usually in the Right-click context menu – you can still view the individual full size images. I’ve given reduced quality, but similarly sized sample below, just click the smaller image to see it.)

Firth of Clyde from ISS

Firth of Clyde as seen from the ISS – Image credit Chris Hadfield

March 1, 2013 Posted by | Maps, photography | , | Leave a comment

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