Returning from the End of the World

Published on: Monday, February 9, 2015
Returning from the End of the World - feature


A valley near Engelberg in Switzerland is known as the End of the World. Daniel Fahey went to find out.


Makes you feel good, doesn’t it? Slamming open the door and bellowing that out.

It makes you feel like an explorer and a survivor and a storyteller. Your boots are still on, your cheeks flared rouge, your beard thick with icicles.

Family members rush to put the kettle on and hush one another. They wait in anticipation as Nan gets a second sugar and her hearing aid from the drawer.

They expect storms of locusts and black skies peeling like paint; they want tales of exhaustion and of screaming comets – they want to know who lives at the End of the World. Are there Hobbits?

No. It’s not going to be how they imagine it.

How can it be? They haven’t travelled there. They haven’t walked to where the mountains fall exhaustedly into one another. They haven’t seen the valley close in on itself.

No one’s spoken to the local farmer, who’s judging winter on how plump the animals are. He knows the cold is coming in fast because the fox is fat. Dad nods in agreement – he can see the logic.

You take off your coat and fold it over a chair. Granddad looks at it in awe, afraid to touch it, scared to interrupt. It’s already a museum piece like Shakespeare’s first folio or Miley Cyrus’s foam finger.

You tell of the nearest village to the End of the World, and the tale of the Duke that founded it. You call him ol’ von Sellenbüren, like you met him in 1120, and describe how he walked and wandered on a pilgrimage from Zurich until his ox fell dead.

A choir of angels then appeared in the clouds above, you sing, flailing your arms in rapture. When your sister stops laughing, you tell how ol’ von Sellenbüren built a monastery where his ox snuffed it and that it’s still there.

It’s not the original, of course, that burnt down. But the name, Engelberg (‘Angel Mountain’), has stuck and grown into a village with a wonderful baroque monastery as its centrepiece.

You tell them how you walked round the grounds, speaking with a monk. He was winter-haired, quick to laugh and a lover of the arts, but it was the stillness that you treasured most – on sale for the price of a Benedictine vow.

Then the room slips silent as you roll up your sleeves and hush your voice. They ask again about the End of the World. You’re getting there, you say. You have to go beyond the village; beyond constraints.

A car took you as far as it could, past tinkling, twinkling streams and petite penny churches. You remember the darkness; it hung below the moon like rings beneath the eyes. The air was clear and chewing gum cold.

In the distance, you spotted a building painted in silhouettes, one that marked the End of the World.

You pause.

Then you tell them that there were no floods or fires or riots or revolts. No fervent heat, crushed mountains, or storms of noxious creatures – just a three-storey building with gingerbread shutters and a blue sign advertising Warteck beer.

What was inside? They ask.

The same thing you get everywhere, you tell them: a sudden silence and the stare of 60 strangers.

Even at the End of the World you can interrupt something, it just happened to be the Engelberg yodelling club eating dinner.



Getting there
SWISS ( International Air Lines offers up to 86 weekly flights from London Heathrow, London City, London Gatwick (seasonal during winter), Birmingham and Manchester to Zurich.

From there, trains go to the centre of Engelberg (via Lucerne). The Swiss Travel System provides a dedicated range of travel passes and tickets exclusively for visitors from abroad, including train travel. The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between the airport and your destination.

Where to stay
The wonderfully spacious TITLIS Resort ( offers stylish studios and apartments with access to a beautiful private spa and has a heated boot room. Ski buses stop directly outside or it’s a 10-minute walk to the Titlis lift.

More information
For more information on Switzerland visit

5 other places known as the End of the World

Staten Island, Argentina
The rugged Staten Island, just off the cowlick of Argentina, has seen many a ship succumb to rocky waters. Today, a lighthouse warns sailors of the dangers. It’s a 1998 replica of the one that inspired Jules Verne’s final novel, The Lighthouse at the End of the World, and it has bequeathed the title too.

Horton Plains, Sri Lanka
Rising sharply from the balmy cloud forest of Sri Lanka, with wonderful views of tea gardens and national park below, World’s End is the name of two sheer precipices in Horton Plains. At one end, the drop is around 2,000m (6,562 ft), while it’s just 274m (899ft) at the other.

Yamal Peninsula, Russia
If it wasn’t enough that the local Nenets called this low-lying finger of Serbia ‘Land’s End’, it must have felt prophetic when a gaping 30m-wide (98ft) sink hole opened up 2012. Expect damp flood plains in summer and lots of snow and ice in winter.

Verdens Ende, Tjøme, Norway
Located at the southern tip of Tjøme in Norway, Verdens Ende is where smooth rocks paddle into the North Sea and camera-carrying sightseers stare at, but never spot, Denmark. The cute vippefyr replica (an inefficient 18th century lighthouse) can feel rather eerie when it’s quiet.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
If you after a little bit of paradise at the End of the World, Cabo San Lucas can be your calling. A golden carpet of soft sand and emerald water await at the foot of the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico, where erosion has left a selfie-perfect arch in the cliff.