Pretty vacant: the glory of abandoned spaces

Pretty vacant: the glory of abandoned spaces
Final destination: Canfranc railway station in Aragon, Spain

From sand-filled houses to rusting railway stations and entire ghost towns, abandoned places have a haunting beauty

Fifteen years ago Richard Happer was staying on a small Scottish island and took a boat out to St Kilda. Forty miles west of North Uist, the St Kilda archipelago is the westernmost point of the Hebrides, and perhaps the remotest place in the UK. Until the 1920s it had a small but resolute population of around 80. By 1930, the island was completely evacuated, rendered uninhabitable by a combination of disease and crop failure. Seeing the abandoned husks of homes sitting deserted in the grass, Happer was moved.

“I fell in love,” he says. “The outside world caught up with these remote people and it was too hard for them to live there, so the entire population upped and left. Visiting it was quite intoxicating. I realised that there were all these places on our doorstep that people didn’t know about.”

His love of these abandoned places has grown in the years since. He has now turned it into a book. It features 60 abandoned places from around the world, with short texts explaining what happened. Some are very famous, such as Machu Picchu and Chernobyl. Others were big stories at the time that are now fading from memory, such as Plymouth, the capital of Montserrat, buried by a volcano in 1995, and the Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans submerged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They tell stories of shifting environments and geopolitics – once-great trading centres that now lie crumbling in the desert, or grand feats of central planning that never fulfilled their ambitions. […]

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