AHEAD of a new book and BBC documentary series, Scotland from the Sky, author and presenter James Crawford shares some of his favourite highlights and aerial views.

The Tower of Empire, Bellahouston Park, 1938

This was the astonishing centrepiece of the 1938 Empire Exhibition, which transformed 170 acres of Bellahouston Park into a whole new miniature city.

The tower was visible from almost anywhere in Glasgow – 300ft tall, pencil thin, clad in metal sheeting pre-painted with aluminium, which glittered in the sunlight and was lit up with powerful spotlights at night.

More than a million people travelled by express elevator to the three platforms at its summit, which offered views for 80 miles in every direction. It was Glasgow's first skyscraper – built to last, designed as a new icon of a modern city skyline.

Yet, within a year it was demolished, out of fear that its great height would be used as a navigation aid by German bombers. Today, even its foundations are lost beneath the trees on Ibrox Hill.

Suilven, Assynt

Here, the ridged peaks of Suilven rise out of the rocky landscape like some monstrous fin. Prior to the mid-18th century, large parts of the Highlands had never been mapped at all.

On some Board of Ordnance plans, mountainous areas like Assynt were marked only with text which read "all this part barren hills".

That changed in 1747 when William Roy, a 21-year-old map maker from Carluke, set out from Fort Augustus to conduct the first ever ground-measured survey of the Highlands.

Over the next five years Roy mapped an astonishing 15,000 square miles down to the scale of 1 inch to every 1,000 yards: creating an accurate, top-down view of the landscape from above – a century and a half before powered flight.

When the naturalist Thomas Pennant used Roy's map to travel through Assynt in 1772, his response was a kind of awed horror. "I never saw a country," he wrote, "that seemed to be so torn and convulsed."

It is fascinating how perspectives change – what was once seen as a wasteland is now prized for its sublime, picturesque beauty.

Castle Kennedy, Dumfries and Galloway

Today, the crumbling ruins of Castle Kennedy are the centrepiece of a beautiful designed landscape. What is even more remarkable, however, is that – from the sky – you can still see the blueprints of the gardens that came before.

On one particularly parched and dry summer 30 years ago, an aerial archaeologist flying over the castle spotted the traces of garden features – avenues, hedges and even stairways – materialising in the grass on the open stretch of lawn.

These ghostly outlines were all that remained of a garden dating back to the 17th century – and they disappeared as soon as the rains came. Without the view from above, we would never have known what was once there.

Why is this significant? Because, strange as it may seem, gardens can offer unique insights into our history. They have always been a way of turning the landscape itself into a piece of art.

And, like any art-form, as they change over time they demonstrate the shifting nature of society, politics, fashion and economics across hundreds or even thousands of years.

Pirnmill, Arran

One of the simplest lessons of archaeology is that the more you look, the more you find. But it's also about how you look.

On Arran, state-of-the-art technology is now examining the landscape in much greater detail than ever before. Aircraft have criss-crossed the island, firing some 100,000 laser beams a second down at the earth and capturing the echoes – a technique known as airborne laser scanning.

Computers then process the data to strip away trees and undergrowth to find the true surface, the "naked" earth. In the process, a real island becomes a virtual one – a 3D clone of Arran.

Study this digital model and it is remarkable just how many previously unknown sites emerge – from the remains of prehistoric houses to ancient farmlands.

This is the next frontier for the view from above. When lasers strip the landscape bare, you can see just how much human interventions have, from the earliest times, marked, changed and scarred our world.

The Riverside Museum, Glasgow

Cities are continually "rewriting" themselves – it is an unstoppable and inevitable process. Here at the mouth of the Kelvin, a new architectural icon has emerged.

The late Zaha Hadid's Riverside Museum is a building that almost seems designed to be viewed from above, appearing like a gigantic, beautiful piece of sculpted zinc.

In the course of filming Scotland from the Sky I had the unique opportunity to follow the route of the Clyde westwards in a helicopter.

There can be few better ways to understand the story of the city, to see how fragments of abandoned industries still cling on within the urban landscape.

From above, these interlocking and overlapping pieces of past and present are like a living jigsaw puzzle.

Loch Cluanie, Glenshiel

When we began filming Scotland from the Sky at the beginning of June last year, it had been an unusually dry start to the summer.

The resulting low water levels saw Loch Cluanie giving up secrets that are normally hidden far beneath its surface.

In this drone photograph, you can see the remains of a stone bridge disappearing into the water. Further out are two squat shapes. They are the chimneys of a house that has been submerged now for over half a century.

The construction of the Cluanie dam in 1957 raised water levels by a remarkable 29 metres. Here is a stark reminder that the march of progress – the hydro schemes which benefitted so many by bringing electricity north of the Highland line – also flooded some communities out of their homes.

The new three-part series Scotland from the Sky begins on BBC One this Wednesday (May 16) at 9pm. An accompanying book published by Historic Environment Scotland is out now, priced £25