1. Built environment
March 23, 2020

How to escape quarantine without going outside

By Ed Jefferson

Across the UK, people (or at least, the people who can) are isolating or quarantining. Even if you can go outside, we’re all being encouraged to do as little travelling as practically possible. 

If you can’t face a fourth day of arguing about which thing on Netflix you least don’t want to watch, or wish your horizons were still slightly broader than touring the local shops in search of a tin of tomatoes, there’s at least some virtual respite. If you can’t get out into the world, bring the world to you!

It’s time to turn to Google Street View (alternatives are available and, hey, you’re in quarantine, no-one can mock you for being a Bing guy now!), and go for a virtual adventure in the world that was!

Relive the Park Life

Although the bulk of Google Streetview’s imagery is of, well, streets, it does go off-road occasionally (courtesy of someone wearing a special cyber-backpack with a massive camera coming out of the top of it), and has documented quite a few trails through London green spaces. 

I just spent 10 minutes “wandering around” Richmond Park trying and failing to find a deer! Can you find one, and then explain to the children what an “animal” was?

Visit the British Museum

All the museums have closed, but you can still visit at least one of them: the contents of the British Museum were captured in Google Street View back in 2015, so you can still ‘walk around’ their collections. 

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So exhaustive was the image capturing process that when I dropped the little yellow Google person into the museum I appeared in… an empty locker room. Maybe it is actually an exhibit and the British Empire robbed some yellow lockers off somewhere they invaded?

Travel back in time!

Google Street View was launched in 2007, and had covered much of London by 2008. The ‘Time Machine’ feature allows you to flip between images from each trip Google made through your area (near me they’ve made seven visits to date).  

That means you can now track about 12 years of changes in many streets: shops changing hands, car parks becoming new build flats, pubs becoming new build flats, new build flats becoming newer build flats, etc. Entertain your kids by pretending it’s really interesting to know which local businesses were replaced by Pret a Mangers shortly before they were born.

Pretend to live out your footballing dreams on the pitch of Wembley Stadium

Legend tells us that before the dark times when there was something called “football”. And you can relive those days by taking a virtual walk around the pitch at Wembley, before it was converted into a farm or a prison or a gravesite.

Go for a hike

If you feel like really going for it, stuff a rucksack with supplies, grab your boots, then sit down at you computer and load up a virtual version of the North Downs Way. There’s been an ongoing project to represent the National Trails in Street View and several others are also now available in full – the Cleveland Way and the Cotswold Way among them.

The truly hardcore can also order an exercise bike and some virtual reality equipment, then attempt to recreate this guy’s journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats through a virtual UK constructed out of Street View imagery.


If you need to step the escapism up a bit, “walk” the virtual streets of London until you get to Earl’s Court tube station, find the Police Box outside, and click on it* to be transported inside Doctor Who’s TARDIS. Well, the last Doctor Who’s TARDIS: this now quite an old gimmick. 

Sadly it can’t actually be used to e.g. travel back in time and warn anyone, but if for some reason you’ve spent most of your child and adult life investing far too much emotional energy into a quite rubbish TV show, you might find looking at the pictures vaguely reassuring for reasons that you can quite elucidate or justify.

(This seems to work a bit haphazardly these days. Here’s a direct link.)

If you really wanted to, you could look at some things that are not in or quite close to London

Other cities are available, it’s rumoured. You can also go skiing in the Alps (see above!!), or even raft down the Grand Canyon

But as someone who spends quite a lot of time wandering round strange bits of the capital and is in the short term going to… not do that, it is quite pleasing to realise quite how much of it Street View has captured over the years. (Big thanks especially to user Uy Hoang, whoever they are, for apparently single-handedly documenting vast swathes of stuff including much of the Thames and Lea paths.)

But under absolutely no circumstances will I be visiting Cyber Swindon.

All images courtesy of Google Streetview.

This article is from the CityMetric archive: some formatting and images may not be present.
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