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1. Tyneham, Dorset, UK
Time stopped in 1943 in Tyneham, when local residents were forced to leave by the government. They never returned, their village given over to military training, and today its church presides over roofless stone cottages, their gardens gradually being reclaimed by nature. Storyboards dotted around the village tell the displaced residents’ stories and in Post Office row there’s an original 1929 telephone kiosk. The tank firing range is still used by the military, so you can only visit on weekends and during school holidays and is free to tour – although a donation of £2 is requested for parking.
2. Rhyolite, Nevada, US
Rhyolite sits on the eastern edge of Death Valley, a once thriving mining town that hit the skids in the early twentieth century; its newspapers closed, its mines shut down and the power was finally switched off in 1916. The train station and bank still stand, but the most fascinating feature is the jail, where visitors can look out through the same metal bars as convicts did more than one hundred years ago. Rhyolite also has a bottle house built by miner Tom Kelly in 1905, made completely of beer and liquor bottles. 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, swing by in any season as its position in the hills keeps temperatures bearable, even in the scorching Nevada summer.
3. Hirta, St. Kilda, Scotland
On the morning of Friday August 29th 1930, 36 people boarded the HMS Harebell in Village Bay, St. Kilda, dressed in their Sunday best. They were setting sail for Lochaline in Argyll, on the Scottish mainland, as remote island life became increasingly impossible for them to sustain; they never returned. The village they left behind now crouches battered by the wind, its rooves gone, its fires unlit, seabirds outnumbering people by at least a thousand to one. Getting here requires a stomach-churning steam across the Minch – you can cruise out with Hebridean Island Cruises or, from 2016, Majestic Line, if you can stomach it.
4. San Antonio del Nuevo Mundo, Bolivia
It’s a full day’s Jeep ride from the nearest village to this tiny mining town high in the Bolivian antiplano. Founded in the sixteenth century by the Spanish, it was a prosperous place, featuring a church with a gilded gold altar and oil paintings by New World masters. Legend has it that all this was taken from the residents not by the march of progress, but by vizcachas (close cousins of the chinchilla) which overran the town and chased its terrified inhabitants out into the desert in the mid nineteenth century. Ever since then the town has remained abandoned and visiting it at sundown as the altiplano winds howl around you is enough to set your spine shivering.
Credit: ©RealWorld Holidays
5. Kolmanskop, Namibia
No amount of diamonds can trump the shifting sands of the Namibian desert – just ask the ex-residents of Kolmanskop, a ghost village near Luderitz, built by wealthy German diamond miners in 1908. Grand ballrooms, stately homes and even an ice-factory are now slowly succumbing to the desert, their doorways engulfed by sand dunes, their walls ravaged by strong winds. Though it boasted Africa’s first tram and was once home to some 300 adults and 40 children, Kolmanskop was built and abandoned within 40 years and is today an eerie tourist attraction – and a photographer’s dream.
6. Kennecott, Alaska, US
Vice can be hardier than industry. The towns of Kennecott and McCarthy in Alaska attest to this – the former a clean-living ex-copper mining town now abandoned, the latter a town of saloons, restaurants and red lights built to serve Kennecott’s miners today still home to a couple of dozen residents. Life came to standstill in Kennecott in 1938 and the town’s mills and mines stand just as they did then. Now protected as a National Historic Landmark, their rust-red walls and chimneys reach up above the trees towards the Alaskan mountains. Town tours are run by St Elias Alpine Guides.
7. Treganlaw, Wales
Legends abound in Merthyr Mawr Warren, where the lost village of Treganlaw (the somewhat creepily named ‘town of a hundred hands’ in Welsh) is said to sit beneath the ever-moving sand dunes. The estate lands of the nearby Candleston Castle, built in the fourteenth century, were submerged by sand, abandoned and now allegedly haunted. It’s a short walk from the village of Merthyr Mawr to the windswept ruins – look out for the Goblin Stone, a cross pillar rumoured to be visited by spirits from beyond the grave.
8. Fordlandia, Brazil
Rich people do crazy things – like building an entire pre-fabricated, mid-Western American town amid 4000 square miles of Amazon jungle. Henry Ford did just that, building Fordlandia in 1928 to cultivate rubber and break the British monopoly. Alcohol, tobacco and even women were banned, with enterprising riverboat owners instead establishing floating bars and brothels on the nearby river. The development of synthetic rubber made the whole project pointless and the town was abandoned, leaving the decaying industrial buildings to be reclaimed by the jungle.
Credit: ©RealWorld Holidays
9. Cossack, Western Australia
Gold Rush hotspot, Cossack in the Pilbara region of Western Australia was once a boomtown for traders and miners looking to make their fortune. Then the industry dried up, the harbour proved too small and the people left. By 1960 the courthouse and police lockup stood abandoned, whilst the Customs House and Galbraith’s Store lost their last customers. Restoration took place in the 1980s but decline continues, look out for windows hanging from their frames as the outback dust builds up on the streets. Cossack is just 15km from Roebourne and Highway 1, along a sealed road.
10. St. Elmo, Colorado, USA
Gold and silver mining brought people to this corner of Colorado and St. Elmo was established in 1878 to house local workers. When mining stopped the town faded into obscurity, though a few people still live and work in what now appears to be, in all other respects, a ghost town, its wooden storefronts and dusty main street appearing much like a movie backdrop. Look out for the ghost of Annabelle Stark in the windows of the hotel, who is said to still watch over the property she once owned, pay a visit to the restored Schoolhouse and Town Hall and drop into the still-open General Store. It’s just a 45-minute drive from Buena Vista to St. Elmo, all on sealed roads.
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