EVER tried to visualise Luton? Ever wondered what Cirencester actually looks like? How about Greenock, then? Or Stroud?
Now picture yourself at the seaside and imagine what it might be like to move at will around the coast - beyond the next headland, into the next bay, and on and on until finally you arrive back where you started. With 10,000 high-resolution colour photographs to hand, such feats are possible. And that's what a new CD-Rom called Eye2eye Britain has to offer. "Ten thousand and twelve actually," says Martin Clemose. "We wanted to be able to say there were more than 10,000."
Martin, who lives near Cambridge, used to work for Acorn Computers. But for the past couple of years, he and his uncle have driven around in a Golf GTi, snapping representative images of mainland Britain in much the same way that Nikolaus Pevsner collected old buildings.
It was a 130,000-mile odyssey that took in more than 3,000 towns and cities and covered the entire coastline (except for a few inaccessible stretches in Scotland) in intervals never bigger than 10 miles.
And when they were done roaming, Martin used his computing skills to devise a way of compressing the images so that his CD would contain 20 times as much information as other similar packages. The heritage sites and tourist traps are there, but so too are the airports and car factories. "We wanted people to be able to find out what places are really like," he says. Which is why he believes the disc has applications in the classroom which outweigh its draw as "virtual tourism".
"It's designed as a flexible resource which can be used for both curricular and non-curricular projects," he says. The captioned photographs may be called up in a variety of ways. By moving one step north, south, east or west, for example, the user can tour the country (a trip clockwise around the coast in which each view is displayed for six seconds takes three-and-a-half hours). Alternatively, a "time-line" program will display an image of every major Roman site in the land, every important medieval monument or each stately home from a given period. Every photograph is located on a map, and with a click of the mouse the user can move between map and picture. "There's only one other other way of seeing so much," says Martin, "and that's with a car."
Visiting every corner of Britain with an expensive camera and a notebook is not without its pitfalls. "We tried a fly-on-the-wall approach," says Martin. "We wore jeans and trainers, and tried to keep the equipment out of sight." But in one town, they were chased by a group of youths convinced Martin had written down their car registration number. Sometimes it's safer to let your mouse do the walking.
lPhotographs of all Britain's listed buildings will appear on the Internet thanks to the National Monuments Record. The pound;3million project, set to be the largest free on-line picture library in the world, has been funded through the Millennium Festival lottery fund. Volunteers from the Royal Photographic Society will start taking pictures in August.
Eye2eye Britain PC CD-Rom costs pound;39.99 at PC World or direct from Eye2eye software. For details of a special offer for schools, see www.eye2eyesoft.co.uk, phone 01223 293886 or e-mail email@example.com News 11 TESJmarch 5 1999 Immingham Dock in Lincolnshire and the Seven Sisters in Sussex are among more than 10,000 images on the Eye2eye CD-Rom