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.
Purple deer have begun to appear near the ruins of a fallen city, or other place of power. Hunting the deer is absurdly easy, as their coloration makes them easy to see. The heros prepare a feast from a freshly killed deer find out several hours later that the meat of the new purple deer is poisonous. This can range from cramps and vomiting to the truly sinister and lethal.