I take a not-so-secret delight in turning off ‘main’ roads in favour of the smaller lanes, particularly if they’re preceded by a dead end sign. ‘Dead end’ sounds so final: I can’t help but push against the boundaries and follow to the end of the road, just to see how and why it stops. There’s usually a moment when fields give way to moors, when a decent road surface gets bumpier and bumpier. Sometimes the road just stops, sometimes it ends with an isolated farm stead, where the cows always look relieved to get some form of entertainment as you perform a 23-point-turn around.
Dead end roads really should have a nicer name. They all have certain things in common. First, just as you’re driving along wondering when was the last time anyone ever drove down there, a farm vehicle will come out of nowhere and head in your direction. It will be bigger and uglier than your car. You'll feel slightly guilty at enjoying the whimsical freedom of wandering down dead ends with no particular aim while a farmer toils, so you’ll start to reverse without a thought as to that whiplash injury and how easy it actually is to reverse round narrow winding roads for miles on end. When you've eventually passed the tractor, you’ll realise there was a big lay-by just behind the tractor when you first saw it.
Second, there will be something at the end of the road that just seems improbable in today’s modern world. It could be a working phone box. Or a small post box mounted at a jaunty angle on a falling down fence, which displays current times for pick ups and is still in use. Or it might be an incredibly beautiful fence, wall, bridge or some other structure seemingly without purpose and which barely anyone will see. I always feel it's only fair to stand and admire it for a while.
Today’s dead end road ended with a flourish. A small bridge with no obvious purpose on the left, a track leading uphill to a wonderful walk, a red phone box, and a working post box, a second bridge, on the left, this time with a proper use (to get to the other side of the stream), and a solid house with an attractive garden and a dramatic, beautiful ford across the stream as part of its main access. Had I been in possession of one of those wonderful little I-Spy books we had as children, I'd have scored plenty of bonus points.
It’s bizarre – none of these things are very remarkable and yet because it was a dead end, they all felt like wonderful prizes in the lottery of the end of the road.
It's been a beautiful afternoon at the end of a long tiring week so maybe I'm feeling more philosophical than usual. Perhaps the end of the road isn’t always the end of the road – sometimes there’s an extra bridge, track or cosy safe harbour where you least expect it? Or at the very least a few cows and a farmer waiting for you to entertain them.