Picture of the month: August 2022

OUR August picture choice is an atmospheric shot of rusting locomotives and wagons taken outside Clearwell Caves in the Forest of Dean.

One of a series of shots chronicling our summer break in Gloucestershire, it harked back to the industrial heyday of the forest, when an intricate network of railways and tramways were used to harvest the heavy minerals that gave the area its wealth.

Stone, coal, iron ore and even gold were extracted from the earth in huge quantities but by the 20th century deeper mining was abandoned as reserves of ore and coal became uneconomic to work.

The picture was only one of more than two dozen focusing on different aspects of life in the forest, but we have a particular fascination with abandoned places and equipment it seems, especially if it has anything to do with railways.

Hence how a casual post in a Facebook forum for fans of “abandoned rails” generated more than 600 likes and 18 shares.

Twitter feeds focusing on urban exploring and abandoned places tend to have anything from 110,000 to 150,000 followers, and perhaps it’s not so surprising that we get a creepy thrill from finding out what happens when nature takes over derelict buildings and forgotten railway lines.

From lost civilisations like Easter Island or Macchu Picchu to cities looted, flooded or burned to the ground, our fascination with romantic ruins is nothing new: and from deserted asylums to abandoned funfairs, urban explorers have reinvigorated our interest in lost and forgotten places.

Railway enthusiasts have always enjoyed the allure of a deserted trackbed or forgotten viaduct, relishing the rediscovered history associated with such journeys back in time, along with the reinvention of a rail route as a footpath or cycleway.

Such small-scale examples of abandonment may reflect changing transport or technological habits rather than a cataclysmic event like an earthquake, volcanic eruption or nuclear blast. But all such landscapes hold a fascination for us, whether it is a village lost beneath a reservoir, a closed underground station or an abandoned hospital.

As a society we are grimly fascinated by death and decay, but we also find a rare beauty in historical ruins – and possibly our recent experience of the Covid-19 pandemic changing people’s lifestyles and behaviour overnight gave us a rare insight into the just how quickly a place can fall into disuse and disrepair.

Cities like Chernobyl and Detroit hold a particular fascination because of the scale of the devastation they have suffered but there’s been a boom in the popularity of abandoned places as unlikely tourist destinations, from deserted gold rush towns to closed schools, theatres and hospitals.

Whether it’s a town in the desert flooded with sand (Namibia), an underwater city (China), a town destroyed by a tornado (Montserrat) or a deserted factory in the Amazon, there are plenty of articles and videos about grim destinations and “dark tourism”.

Nor do you have to travel far to find a scary Victorian mansion in the woods or an abandoned Tube carriage stranded in the countryside, as local vlogger Henry Allum reveals on his Youtube channel.

From empty houses in the woods to wartime pill boxes, closed stations or moss-covered remnants of deserted crofts, closed churches or ruined abbeys, the sight of trees growing through concrete, deserted mine shafts reclaimed by nesting birds and ghost towns in the middle of the jungle remind us about the perseverance of nature – and while some such sites are creepy, scarily and downright disturbing, others have an eerie and moving beauty that’s impossible to ignore.