Rurex: 9 Eerie Rural Ruins in Pictures

Rurex photography and rural exploration of the abandoned acoustic sound mirrors at Denge (Image: Paul Horsefield; rurex photography at the UK’s abandoned Denge sound mirrors)

Over the years, Urban Ghosts has drawn together a vast compendium of abandoned places, decaying buildings, forgotten landmarks and quirky structures. We’ve investigated the fragile remains of human habitation in decaying cities, economically devastated villages, and crumbling army bases. We’ve followed urban explorers and scoured just about every corner of the world for the strange, the unusual, and the haunting. But by comparison, there’s a vast area we’ve barely touched on: the countryside.

Miles from the nearest cities, surrounded by nature, great, man-made structures now slowly turn to dust. This is rurex – the exploration of abandoned rural places and objects. As with urban blight, these modern ruins are reminders of population changes, industrial decline and advancing technology. But those are not the only reasons for their haunting presence on the landscape. To illustrate, here are 9 fascinating subjects of rural exploration.

Abandoned Sound Mirrors at Denge, England

Rurex photography and rural exploration of the abandoned acoustic sound mirrors at Denge 2

Rurex photography and rural exploration of the abandoned acoustic sound mirrors at Denge 3

Rurex photography and rural exploration of the abandoned acoustic sound mirrors at Denge 4 (Images: Paul Horsefield)

Out in the wilds of Kent, close to the ocean, lies a strange and haunting sight. Three vast, abstract forms rise like hallucinations from the earth, towering over the flat landscape. Wrought in concrete and erected in the 1920s, these windswept ‘acoustic mirrors’ are the strange relics of Britain’s pre-radar aircraft early warning system.

The experimental design relied on the curved concrete forms focussing distant sound waves to a single point, allowing those on land to pinpoint where enemy aircraft might be coming from. They even worked… up to a point. The concrete ‘mirrors’ made no distinction between aircraft and noisy sea craft. Nor were they able to effectively detect fast moving planes at all.

When radar was invented in 1932, the acoustic mirrors became obsolete. Despite having been built at various locations along the British coast, they were left to go to ruin. Those at Denge are pictured here; strange, geometric shapes, forever listening out for the hum of aircraft over the distant continent.

The Haytor Granite Tramway

Rural exploration of the historic Haytor Granite Tramway

Rural exploration of the historic Haytor Granite Tramway 2

Rural exploration of the historic Haytor Granite Tramway 3

Rural exploration of the historic Haytor Granite Tramway 4 (Images: Brett Sutherland; Alan Hunt; Graham Hunt; Derek Harper 1, 2)

Two centuries ago, a great project began to mine the barren wilds of Dartmoor for its endless supply of granite. Great pits were dug into the earth. Huge rocks were smashed up and carted off to the distant ocean. Such work required a complex network of industrial infrastructure. But rather than simply lay metal or wooden tracks, those working on Dartmoor came up with an intriguing alternative. They carved the tracks from the very granite they were mining.

The result is a pair of grey stone tracks that meander across the open moors, seemingly forever. Switchbacks and stopping points were carved in with remarkable skill, allowing a fairly sophisticated system of coming and going to develop. When the mines and quarries relocated to Cornwall in 1858, the tracks were left behind. Over a century and a half later, they’re still there.

Largely lost beneath vegetation today, the tramway has recently been the subject of a preservation attempt. Long-buried lines have been excavated and restored to their former glory. The result is a unique slice of British industrial history, now preserved forever.

 

 

The Reclaimed Fishing Village of Shengshan Island

abandoned-ghost-village-shengshan-island-china-4

abandoned-ghost-village-shengshan-island-china

abandoned-ghost-village-shengshan-island-china-5 (Images: ChinaFotoPress)

The world is full of forgotten villages, left to go to ruin when their inhabitants moved out. And the rural exploration of ghost towns has produced much compelling photography. Rarely are those ruins more spectacular than on Shengshan Island. Located near the mouth of the vast and powerful Yangtze River, the island was once home to a prominent fishing community. Then, 25 years ago, they suddenly left. The island economy collapsed. All that remained are the empty houses you can see in these pictures, slowly being reclaimed by nature.

What’s particularly remarkable about this village is its location. Shengshan is only 40 miles from Shanghai, a neon-drenched, pulsing megalopolis crammed to bursting with 15 million souls. To go from that dizzying, hallucinatory world to the eerie calm of Shengshan is like slipping through a doorway into another universe. As more and more of China’s rural poor leave their homes to start a new life in the country’s megacities, expect more and more ghost villages like this to be left in their wake.

Abandoned Power Stations & Vast Industrial Machines

urbex photography showcasing industrial decay

urbex photography showcasing industrial decay 2

urbex photography showcasing industrial decay 3

urbex photography showcasing industrial decay 7

(Images: Fabrizio Cerroni – website: Borderlands)

Power stations and industrial machinery are two things we tend to associate with the heave and bustle of urban life. Yet, as these haunting photos show, that isn’t always the case. Often, these icons of global industry are erected outside the limits of any town or city. When they fall into decay, their remains present a bleak and striking contrast with the rural landscape around them.

For us, the most-poetic of these ruins are those that were obviously once major projects. Great clunking machines forgotten on the edges of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere; former power plants reduced to so much broken glass and graffiti-strewn concrete; abandoned factories so far from any town it’s a mystery how their workers ever got there… For anyone with an interest in rurex photography, the striking contrast between stalled progress, decay, and nature’s indifference to man is one that should be treasured.

Wrecked Aircraft Like Lancaster NF920 ‘Easy Elsie’

The wreck of Avro Lancaster NF920 nicknamed Easy Elsie near Porjus in Sweden where it crash-landed after a raid against the German battleship Tirpitz 1

The wreck of Avro Lancaster NF920 nicknamed Easy Elsie near Porjus in Sweden where it crash-landed after a raid against the German battleship Tirpitz 5

The wreck of Avro Lancaster NF920 nicknamed Easy Elsie near Porjus in Sweden where it crash-landed after a raid against the German battleship Tirpitz 2

The wreck of Avro Lancaster NF920 nicknamed Easy Elsie near Porjus in Sweden where it crash-landed after a raid against the German battleship Tirpitz 3 (Images: Johan Ylitalo – website: JohanYlitalo.com)

The wilderness is a vast repository of man’s lost endeavours, but rural exploration isn’t confined to ghost towns and the ruins of industry. Other relics are the result of tragedies that happened too far from civilization to be cleared up. Such is the case with the wreck of Avro Lancaster NF920, known to her crew as ‘Easy Elsie’.

An RAF heavy bomber from World War Two, Easy Elsie was poised to take the fight directly to the Nazi menace. Although she succeeded in bombing the feared German battleship Tirpitz in Norway, she sustained heavy damage. Unable to get back to the UK, the Lancaster bomber crash landed into the marshes of northern Sweden. There she remains to this day.

Dramatic as these photos are, showing the wreckage of the Easy Elsie strewn across a swampland, they are far from unique. Many crashed aircraft endure in forgotten locations across the globe, waiting to be discovered by rural explorers. Each represents a half-forgotten story: of a brave crew, and a tragic accident that happened many years ago. The crew of Lancaster NF920 survived the incident and made it back to England. Many others on all sides weren’t so fortunate. (Sadly Easy Elsie’s wreck has been rapidly depleted by souvenir hunters over the years; so if you do locate her wreck in the swamp, take only photographs.)

Beelitz-Heilstatten Sanatorium, Germany

Rurex photography inside the abandoned Beelitz-Heilstatten Sanatorium

Rurex photography inside the abandoned Beelitz-Heilstatten Sanatorium 2

Rurex photography inside the abandoned Beelitz-Heilstatten Sanatorium 3

Rurex photography inside the abandoned Beelitz-Heilstatten Sanatorium 4

Rurex photography inside the abandoned Beelitz-Heilstatten Sanatorium 5

Rurex photography inside the abandoned Beelitz-Heilstatten Sanatorium 6 (Images: True British Metal)

Set on the edges of the German town of Beelitz (population: 11,889), the Beelitz-Heilstatten Sanatorium is one of many such abandoned places occupying a twilight ground between rural exploration and its urban counterpart. Often located on the outskirts of villages, they’re the modern equivalent of crumbling castles: places once full of life, now reduced to ruins.

The Beelitz-Heilstatten Sanatorium is one particularly haunting example. A cavernous, empty space seemingly blocked off from sunlight, it looks more like a haunted house ride than an actual building. A quick glance at its history shows how fitting this may be. During World War One, a young Adolf Hitler recuperated here when the hospital was taken over by the Imperial German Army. Many decades later, the communist dictator of East Germany, Erich Honecker also spent time here following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Given its history, it’s perhaps not surprising that the Beelitz sanatorium now seems like a cursed and empty place.

Salekhard–Igarka Railway, Siberia

Rural exploration on the chilling Salekhard–Igarka Railway aka Stalin's railway of death

Rural exploration on the chilling Salekhard–Igarka Railway aka Stalin's railway of death 2 (Images: ComIntern; Dr. Andreas Hugentobler)

The 20th century was a brutal time for Siberia. Following the Tsarist tradition, Joseph Stalin transformed much of the region’s frozen, howling wastelands into a vast prison system that housed millions. Conditions were infamous. Men starved or froze. People were worked to death. Others caught horrifying diseases. For decades, this vast, near-empty section of the Russian steppe was probably the closest thing on Earth to the Catholic idea of Purgatory.

Today, the Siberia of gulags, prison camps and exiles may be long gone. Yet in this endless wilderness, traces of the 20th century’s crimes can still be found. The Salekhard–Igarka Railway is one such trace.

Spanning hundreds of miles through dense forest, over tundra and past ramshackle dwellings, the broken ruins of the railway are all that remains of a hideous punishment system. Prisoners were put to work building it in appalling conditions. Many thousands died. Today, the unused tracks and derelict locomotives are a grim reminder of their suffering.

HF6 Seraing (Abandoned Blast Furnace), Liege, Belgium

Rural explorers photograph the abandoned HF6 blast furnace outside Liege in Belgium

Rural explorers photograph the abandoned HF6 blast furnace outside Liege in Belgium 2

Rural explorers photograph the abandoned HF6 blast furnace outside Liege in Belgium 3

Rural explorers photograph the abandoned HF6 blast furnace outside Liege in Belgium 4

Rural explorers photograph the abandoned HF6 blast furnace outside Liege in Belgium 5

Rural explorers photograph the abandoned HF6 blast furnace outside Liege in Belgium 6 (Images: True British Metal)

On the fringes of the rural landscape near Liege in Belgium lies one of Europe’s greatest industrial ruins. A vast complex surrounding an abandoned blast furnace, HF6 Seraing is like a nightmare wrought in metal. A dystopian dreamscape alive with shadows, impossible angles, clattering walkways, and hulking contraptions that look like a mechanized version of some ancient and terrible god.

This is architecture on a very inhuman scale. Light, grass, and clean air are non-existent considerations. At points you can be surrounded entirely by a whirling mass of machinery and metal and concrete, and not see anything you could reasonably call ‘natural’. For some, it appears like a carbuncle on Belgium’s landscape. For others, it’s a strange thing of beauty.

Not that it will be around for much longer. In early 2016, a contract was signed to begin dismantling it. Soon the space it stands on will be green once more.

Abandoned Asylums like Bangour Village Hospital, Scotland

Rurex photography and rural exploration of Scotland's abandoned Bangour Village Hospital

Rurex photography and rural exploration of Scotland's abandoned Bangour Village Hospital 4

Rurex photography and rural exploration of Scotland's abandoned Bangour Village Hospital 2

Rurex photography and rural exploration of Scotland's abandoned Bangour Village Hospital 3

Rurex photography and rural exploration of Scotland's abandoned Bangour Village Hospital 5

Rurex photography and rural exploration of Scotland's abandoned Bangour Village Hospital 6 (Images: Kim Traynor; M.J. Richardson (1, 2); Paula J. Andrews (1, 2); Bing Maps)

Like sanitariums, airfields and former prisons, the ruins of abandoned Victorian asylums make up a good chunk of the rural world’s most-striking derelict places. Frequently built a short distance from the nearest towns or villages, in the belief that fresh air was a necessity, many remained in use until the late 20th century. Now they simply crumble, out of sight and out of mind; just another set of ruins, languishing in the countryside and documented by rural explorers.

One such example is Bangour Village Hospital in Scotland, an expansive medical ghost town just a stone’s throw from Edinburgh. Opened in 1906, it remained in use until 2004. Since then, however, it has stood utterly empty. Old corridors once filled with activity are now home to shadows. Rooms that held patients now hold only memories.

Like most old asylums, the quiet campus of Bangour Village Hospital retains a haunting, melancholy air; as if it’s still possible to feel the sadness of those who ended up there, even after all these years. A popular rurex destination in the area, the abandoned hospital lent its spooky presence to the 2005 psychological thriller The Jacket, starring Keira Knightley and Adrian Brody.

Bonus: Abandoned Airfields of the World

the abandoned runway of Wisley Airfield in Surrey seen from above (Image: Dan JamesDan James Design; abandoned runway at former Wisley Airfield)

Like other types of military bases, abandoned airfields are a common feature of the rural landscape. The relatively compact UK countryside alone is home to many hundreds of abandoned airfields built during World War Two, some of them surviving into the Cold War before returning to the farmland from whence they came. Steeped in history and often shrouded in modern myth and urban legend, such places have become prominent subjects of rural exploration, as historians and rurex photographers have sought to capture their ruins before they disappear completely. Urban Ghosts has featured numerous disused airfields across Britain and the world more broadly. Explore more of them here, or visit our Aviation category for abandoned aircraft, boneyards and more.

Related: 7 Varieties of Urban Exploration Straight from the Urbex Bible

 
 


 
 
 

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