A little way up the narrow valley, before they reach the woods, the PCs notice the squat, tumbledown buildings by the riverside. They are hardly big enough for a human to stand in, and the complex cogs and shafts that occupy the central cavity of one of the buildings are perplexing. What were these buildings? And how safe are they to explore?
Alternatively a desolate place is the perfect setting for a derelict chapel or croft. There needn't be any actual physical encounter involved, but it adds atmosphere to a place to see its dead history. For instance, in the Outer Hebrides there are whole deserted villages which were razed to the ground by the English during the Clearances. Such stories give a setting authenticity and character.
The PCs encounter a strange set of artistic drawings done on the ground as they pass through a city. It has been done in chalks and no one saw who did it. Wizards might recognize the writing within the colored square as an obscure and dead language with a message stating that a prominent wizard and a retired bard have discovered how to populate Arcadia with the spirits of the dead!
Is it a local hoax, or are the PCs crossing the path of a very deranged and possibly dangerous mage?