Abandoned Places

 Abandoned places have always intrigued me. I wonder about the story behind them and the people who lived or worked there. A recent article in The Guardian by David Bramwell described the ghost towns in Britain as mostly been abandoned after the Black Death in the 14th century. The worst affected areas were Norfolk and Suffolk where the plague-infested ships landed. There is little left of many of them. Some were requisitioned by the military for use at the outset of World War 2 and practices for the D-Day landings. In East Anglia and other parts of the East coast, erosion is also a major problem due to rising sea levels. In late May this year, people in homes on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent were evacuated. As I write, one home has fallen from the cliffs and others are threatened. On our journey around the British coast we visited Rattray in Aberdeenshire which was abandoned in the 18th century when shifting sands blocked the harbour and covered the buildings.

Growing up in Scotland, the Highland Clearances which took place mostly in the 18th and 29th centuries are never very far away and the ruins of old crofts are found in many places. When we visited Sutherland in 2015, I learnt that people farming in the glens were removed to the coast near Bettyhill. Unfortunately, they did not know how to fish or possess any boats. We stayed for a week in a cottage near Skerray Harbour. From the harbour, Eilean nan Ron – the Isle of the Seals is visible, with ruined houses on it.

Between 1820 and 1938, this was home to several hardy families. They were forced to leave as the population was reducing in numbers (some having emigrated to North America or Australia) and getting older; making it hard navigate the 90 steps up the steep cliff from the harbour to the homes. They tried to settle nearby and were given £100 by the Duchess of Sutherland. In 2018 we visited the St Kilda archipelago which lies 40 miles beyond the Outer Hebrides.  Having been inhabited for 4,000 years, it was abandoned in 1930. It now has a military and a radar base and a few National Trust for Scotland employees are there for part of each year as well as a flock of Soay Sheep.

On our trips overseas we have also found derelict and abandoned places. Route 66 passes several towns left behind when the interstates were built.

The Meramec Bridge in Missouri carried Route 66 after its completion in 1932. Resorts arrived and working-class resort called Times Beach opened nearby in 1925. It was home to almost 2,000 people. In the late 1960s Interstate 44 arrived and bypassed this and many other communities. Times Beach was evacuated in 1983 because of dioxin contamination resulting from contaminated fuel being used to deal with a dust problem in the streets and to deter birds from crops since the 1970s.

In 2011 we travelled on the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Sydney. The route crosses the Nullarbor and is the longest straight stretch of railway in the world at 478km. We made a stop at Cook in South Australia, a town created in 1917 when the railway commenced. It depended on trains for food supplies and now all their water as well. When we visited, we were told that the population was two people and one dog. It became a ghost town in 1997. The eucalyptus trees were planted in 1982 and do provide some shade. We had a couple of hours to wander around before getting back on the train.

Somewhere to visit on a future trip to the South West USA is Cerro Gordo, an abandoned silver-mining town which was purchased in 2018 by a guy who wants to restore it. It is about 200 miles from Los Angeles. In the 19th century around 4,000 miners lived there. It was renowned for gun fights and there is even a rumour that Butch Cassidy was there once. The town was abandoned in the 1930s and the 22 buildings were just left. The guy who now owns it plans to restore it and provide accommodation for visitors.

On the Waves: St Kilda


Our boat left the Sound of Harris at 5am. I had awoken when the engines started up but fell asleep again until breakfast time. The weather was improving and blue sky appearing among the clouds. Just before the St Kilda archipelago came into view, we were overtaken by some small, fast daytrip boats. The first island to come into view was Boreray with Stac Lee and Stac an Armin.

On arrival at Hirta, a cruise ship came into view.

I had not expected this and had to remind myself that St Kilda has been a tourist venue since the mid 19th century. Unfortunately, these ships also brought smallpox and cholera and in 1913, influenza. Emigration also contributed to population loss. In 1851, 36 islanders emigrated to Australia and a suburb of Melbourne is called St Kilda. After the First World War many young men did not want to return. Zealous church ministers who expected high levels of church attendance left less time to run the island and harvest food. The demand for goods which the population had previous given to their factor in lieu of rent such as feathers for mattresses and tweed made from Soay sheep wool had declined. Midwifery skills were rejected and tetanus infantum lead to infant mortality rates up 80% because putting fulmar oil on the umbilicus was a local practice. This may have been stored in gannet or sheep stomachs and is thought to be the origin of the bacterium. In 1877 a midwife was brought to the island and maternal and infant mortality levels reduced.

Packed lunches collected, we were taken in the dinghy to the village pier where a red carpet was laid out. This was not for us but for the cruise passengers.

The street consists of the 1860s cottages with the old blackhouses in between and a small cemetery behind.

Cleits are everywhere and were used to store peat, food and clothing. Some on the hillside are now used by the sheep as shelter.

The current shop is also the Post Office and mail is collected by helicopter twice a week. The helicopter also transports workers to and from the military base which is being renovated at present to turn the buildings into some more in keeping with the others on the island.

We walked up to the gap which overlooks the cliffs below, past the storehouse and gun emplacement but the tops of the hills were still in the cloud.


After descending we had our lunch on the seat outside the small museum where this Lesser Black-backed Gull was observing us hoping for some food.

I also chatted to one of the cruise ship passengers who was from the San Francisco Bay Area. At least she was used to grey days and fog. After lunch I returned to the cliff edge near the gun where fulmars were nesting, and some puffins were visible.

On our return to the boat we saw a basking shark in the bay and after our evening meal enjoyed the sun going down.


On our second morning we walked up the road which was built in the 1950s when the military arrived.

The base has a pub but it only opens from 7pm as a previous earlier opening time had led to behaviour problems and drunkenness.
It was sunny and warm at first and we walked as far as the scree.

Back at the street, I briefly saw some St Kilda Wrens before it began to rain.

Our skipper told us that we had to leave the island at 3pm due to an approaching storm which was predicted to have up to 50mph winds. It was too windy to get to Soay so we passed around the stacs and Boreray where northern gannets nest. St Kilda vies with the Bass Rock as to which has the largest gannetry in the world.


before heading to Lochmaddy on North Uist to shelter for the night.