Traversing Scotland’s peaks and valleys is a joy many take for granted. For the first time, that joy is being restored to veterans with visual impairments who thought they would never experience it again. 

Thanks to the efforts of Sight Scotland and the ingenuity of one passionate individual, Jason Turnbull, veterans are embarking on virtual hillwalking adventures that reignite their spirits and offer a glimpse into the natural world. 

Recognising the potential of a brand new technology, Jason sought to harness the power of virtual reality (VR) to bring the joy of hillwalking back into the lives of those who had lost it. “I immediately saw what I could do with the technology,” Jason recalls. “I thought to myself, ‘Is there a way that I can bring my experiences to them and help them relive some of these places in a way that they can be totally immersed in it again?’” 

VR transports users to immersive digital worlds. It works by presenting people with a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment thanks to a headset equipped with high-resolution screens and special optics. It creates a sense of immersion by displaying visuals that span the wearer’s field of vision. This allows individuals to feel as though they are physically present in an environment, even if it is just virtual, or has been previously recorded. 

Having once worked in IT, Jason is no stranger to tech. He now works as a centre officer at Sight Scotland Veterans’ Hawkhead Centre in Paisley. Equipped with a 360° camera, Jason embarks on his hillwalking expeditions, capturing panoramic views, winding trails, and nature’s most serene landscapes. He’s just come back from a trek around the Hebrides and often spends his weekends on hill walks, later turning them into short videos to share with veterans. 

Through the specialist headsets, veterans enter often familiar landscapes that may now be out of reach. The VR experience allows them to see the world with newfound clarity, as the screens, positioned close to their eyes, present bold and vibrant images which compensate for their visual impairments. 

“The veterans were pretty blown away by it because, depending on the eye condition for some of them, when they wear the headset, they can actually see. They can really, really see some of these clips – as if they’ve not got a visual impairment,” Jason explains. The 360° videos that Jason creates – each about three to five minutes long and mostly filmed on Munros – are all designed to stimulate conversation. 

“I’ll play the video and it’ll refresh their memories. They’ll say, ‘Oh, there’s a wee gate just at the top of that thing!’, so they’re reliving it in their mind. It’s refreshed a lot of the lovely memories that they’ve had at fitter times.”