7 Abandoned Wonders of Scotland

Perhaps there’s something special in the Scottish temperament that explains the presence of such an unusual number of stunning castle-like abandoned hospitals. A certain appreciation for history cloaked in moss, ivy, and – inevitably – graffiti, which is a jarring sight on the crumbling stone walls of rural Gothic mansions. Scotland is home to abandoned insane asylums, railway stations, seminaries, luxury residences and more than one isolated island ghost town.

Gartloch Insane Asylum, Glasgow

Situated on the eastern edge of Glasgow, Gartloch Hospital opened in 1896 as an asylum for poor people who were mentally ill (not that the put it that way at the time – the patients were referred to as ‘pauper lunatics.’) By 1904 it had 830 beds, and at the end of World War II, Gartloch was transformed into a medical services hospital, with psychiatric patients transferred elsewhere. The hospital closed for good in 1996 and in 2003, its incredible castle-like ruins were partially prepared for conversion to luxury apartments. Most of it was demolished, with many of the remaining architectural elements turned into private residences, but some buildings, like the dining and recreation hall, are still on Scotland’s list of buildings at risk.

Botanic Gardens Railway Station, Glasgow

Deep beneath Glasgow’s famed Botanic Gardens is a mostly-forgotten railway station with two underground platforms that have spent the last 70 years decaying, becoming overrun by weeds and plastered in graffiti. The station opened in 1896 to much praise as it managed to bring heavy transportation to a well-used location without disturbing the picturesque setting. The red brick Victorian station closed permanently to passengers in 1939, and was destroyed by a fire in 1970. There’s no hint of the subterranean station at ground level other than a few moss-covered ventilation shafts, offering potential urban explorers a tantalizing peek at the abandoned tunnels below. There are currently no plans to redevelop the site.

St. Peter’s Seminary, Cardross

A striking example of Brutalist architecture has become even more noteworthy as it slowly erodes into a skeletal concrete monument hidden in an overgrown forest. St. Peter’s Seminary has been described as one of Europe’s greatest modernist buildings, but since its abandonment by the Catholic church in 1980, it has decayed into “Scotland’s creepiest building.” Architecture students who want to get a look often have trouble even finding it in the 140-acre wood. The structure opened in 1966 but was almost immediately obsolete as the Catholic church had decided in 1966 that priests should be schooled in the urban churches of Europe rather than secluded rural locations, so it was never fully occupied. It briefly became a drug rehabilitation center before closing for good. A new movement to turn it into an arts college and transform the surrounding area into a public space may spell hope for its future.

Hartwood Mental Hospital

Another properly creepy abandoned hospital was built in a location specifically chosen for how isolated it was, in the small village of Hartwood. Consisting of a number of buildings as well as its own power plant, water reservoir, farm, gardens, cemetery and railway line, the hospital opened in 1895 and quickly gained a reputation as a cutting-edge treatment facility for mental illness where patients underwent then-unheard-of therapies like electric shock treatment and lobotomies. As with many other hospitals in the area, it closed in the 1990s after a new law focusing on community-based therapy and long-term mental health care was enacted. The last two wards weren’t closed until 2010, but the facility already looks as if it’s been abandoned for decades, and several fires have destroyed the ballroom, kitchen block and admin space. It’s still owned by the health board and there’s no word of redevelopment.

St. Kilda Ghost Town

Among Scotland’s most remote settlements, St. Kilda is located on an isolated archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean, far off the coast of the rest of the country. The island shows signs of continuous habitation dating back to the Bronze Age, and a bounty of barley and sheep kept its inhabitants well fed for millennia, its isolation ultimately led to its abandonment. The introduction of regular contact with the outside world starting around World War I made life easier for those living there, but also made them less self-reliant, and the island was evacuated altogether after a rash of crop failures in the 1920s. Today, the main island of Hirta is still the site of some British military activity, with the rest a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The remains of prehistoric buildings are still visible, including some stone ruins dating back to 1850 BC, along with a medieval village.

Cambusnethan Priory, Wishaw

This three-story Gothic mansion is as ornamental as any architecture from that period, with decorated chimneys and castellated parapets as well as the family crest of the Lockhart family that once lived there. It’s one of the few surviving examples of a Gothic house in Scotland, built in 1819 on the ruins of a 17th century house that burned down. In 1967, it was purchased with the plans to make it into a restaurant, but those never came to pass, nor did other ideas of creating a hotel, leisure complex or luxury apartments. The house just continued to fall apart, the bricked-up windows constantly hacked into by vandals who stripped it of anything that could possibly be carried away. Now, it’s just a shell, the west section collapsed and the rest covered in graffiti.

Inchkeith Island, Firth of Forth

Another abandoned settlement in Scotland is Inchkeith Island, which like St. Kilda, has a history of habitation dating back thousands of years. During the 12th century, when references to the island are first noted in historical records, it would have been a lot less isolated than it is today, as people routinely crossed the Firth of Forth by boat instead of by bridge. The island was used as a quarantine for people infected with syphilis in the late 1400s, and then again to quarantine passengers of a plague-ridden ship in 1589. It passed from the rule of one superpower to another and suffered many military attacks. Military fortifications, including artillery houses and gun emplacements, remain on the island in deteriorating state, but no one has lived there for many years.


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