Riding to the end of the road

As a cyclist I have always been attracted to a road’s potential – where it starts and where it could take me – so I thought I would use my photography to explore this journey. In 2018 I explored the fringes of the Dorset coastline. I sought out country lanes that ran down to the sea to find out what was there. The results were a series of photographs taken from Poole Harbour in the east of the county all the way along to West Bay at the other end. You can view the photographs here.

I have lived in London for many years and very early on I learned how to escape, to find the roads out through the suburbs where eventually the housing would fall away, and fields and woodland would take their place.

Sometimes I cycled so far I ran out of road.

In the summer of 2019 I set out on my bicycle from my home in north London to ride one particular road all the way from my front door to where it finally ended at a place on the Essex coast once known in Anglo Saxon times as Ythanceaster. There is little there now except a chapel standing om the last of the land before the marshes beyond merge with the sea.

My chosen route began at Highbury Fields and I head east to Hackney Downs and Clapton Ponds, all reminders that this was once the countryside. Further out I reach the ragged fringes of Epping Forest as I head towards Wanstead.

London is circled by major roads and I hit the first one when I reach the North Circular where it meets the M11. Even in this hinterland between the roads there are hints of the countryside to come as I cycle along the edge of the River Roding.

Eventually the countryside opens up and I feel I have escaped London. But even here there are occasional tugs that pull me back to the spraw. A golf course, a simulcram of the countryside in the shadow of the the M25; and the M25, London’s orbital motorway. Once I am beyond that though I am deep into Essex, riding along dappled lanes, as I head towards Ingatestone. The “Slow” signs painted on the road remind me to take my time and look around, stop and photograph.

The ride takes me through Maldon where I get the first hint of the sea and then I am on to the Dengie Peninsular, a bleak and isolated part of Essex. The village of Bradwell means I am near the end of the ride. At the church I make a right and head along the final stretch of road.

The end is via a car park for a nature reserve. Now the road turns to gravel. At the far side of the car park there is a gate and a track that runs beside a field peppered with pill boxes left over from the Second World War, and stalked by wind turbines.

The weathered track curves gently and then fades away into the grass. In front of me is the Chapel of St Peter on the wall, and a little shelter where I prop my bicycle under the gaze of a small statue of the Virgin Mary on its back wall.

You can view some of the photographs from the project in the gallery, “Riding to the end of the road”. Many of the photographs were also on display at an exhibition in Lauderdale House, Highgate, London in January 2020.

I put together a short video of that exhibition which you can view below:

Published by Stephen Taylor

Freelance e-learning developer and instructional designer, photographer and cyclist

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