Building your world: the end of it
Okay, this started as a joke. I said at some point that 'the end of the world' was a possible topic for the next worldbuilding blog post. It got me thinking though... Which places on Earth are considered to be the end of the world?
Taking it literally.
The Earth is round, so it technically doesn't end anywhere, but at some places, it does feel like there is nowhere to go anymore. Land simply ends, it makes you feel the Earth is a flat disc after all and you are about to drop off it. I listed a few of such places here, which often have - very aptly - 'end' in their name. I have to apologise for not knowing the entire Earth by heart, so there must be many places worth mentioning I simply haven't heard of.
This is the highest mountain of the Pakaraima chain in South America. It has cliffs on all sides, which are 400 m high! Especially when the mountain rises above the clouds, you really have the feeling the world ends here.
I can't be the only one who wants to try this: a swing in Equador right on the edge of the mountain slope. Okay, I admit that all pictures of it make it look like it's super dangerous, swinging you over the edge of a cliff, but that slope isn't that steep at all. The swing is part of a seismic station in a tree house (which is awesome already) that keeps an eye on a nearby active volcano. No one knows who is responsible for that swing, but I bet the geologists out there have lots of fun!
These are cliffs in Southern England, and with a sudden drop of 160 m, it's no surprise their nickname is 'the Edge of the World'. They truly form an end to something: the cliffs are one of the most notorious suicide spots in the world.
Another one of those fantastic landscapes sculptured by Mother Earth. Bring plenty of water though, the desert can be hot!
The Romans truly believed this was the end of the world. No wonder, being the most western part of the Iberian peninsula. Its name comes from the Latin finis terrae, meaning - you've guessed it - the end of the Earth.
The only reason I know this one is because I grew up here. I admit, it isn't nearly as impressive as any of the examples above. 'Kop van 't Ende' (the head of the end) is the old harbour head of Elburg, the Netherlands. As you might know, Dutchies are pretty fond of turning water into land, which also happened to the sea Elburg used to be connected to. The town's harbour head became part of this new land and fell dry. A few years ago though, the municipality drowned the meadow surrounding the harbour head, to make it look a bit like how it used to be.
The end of the world as a spiritual doorway
What if the end of the world wasn't a physical end, something that would force you to turn around, but simply led you to another world? Many cultures have such sites, so I'll name only a few. This is getting out of my field of expertise anyway.
To the underworld
The underworld comes in different shapes and sizes, though many people think of a place that's terribly hot and contains a hell (pun intended) of a lot of flames. Not surprisingly, volcanoes are often seen as hells on Earth. In Medieval times, for example, Mount Etna was considered a gate to Hell. Humans, however, are also pretty good at making gates to Hell. Maybe you have heard of the Door to Hell in Turkmenistan. The official name is the Darvaza gas crater, a big hole in the ground left after a collapse in an underground gas field. Geologists set the methane gas on fire to prevent it spreading. The idea was the fire would go out within a few weeks. That turned into four decades, and it is still burning.
The Well to Hell is another man-made portal to the lovely place of eternal fire. This is a modern legend: it's a borehole in Russia so deep it entered Hell. Yeah... It has 'hoax' written all over it, but the story is interesting.
Ancient Greeks and Romans however often considered waterbodies as doorways to the underworld. Lake Avernus in Italy was Hades' front door, and the Acheron in Greece was one of the five rivers that separated our world and the underworld (the others were Cocytus, Lethe, Phlegethon and Styx). Caves served this role too; Pluto's gate in Turkey, for example, was a religious site on top of a cave with poisonous gasses that makes you see funny things - hence why it was considered a passageway to the underworld.
From caves to other rocky stuff: Yomi-no-kuni is the Japanese land of the dead, but it's entrance is sealed off by a giant boulder. The big lump of rock was placed there by this fellow called Izanagi, who wanted to retrieve his wife from the underworld. He found her, but his wife told him not to look at her. He still did, of course, and saw she had become a horrifying, rotting version of herself. His wife felt ashamed her husband had looked at her, and sent all kinds of nasty creatures after him. Izanagi fled to the land of the living, and the entrance to the underworld was sealed off by a boulder. This place is somewhere in the Iya area of Matsue. There are many boulders in the region, but no one knows which one forms the seal.
The last one I'll mention are the Gates of Guinee. According to Voodoo, Guinee is the place spirits of the dead will dwell before they move on to live with their ancestors. Some people believe you can find entrances to this place scattered across cemetaries in New Orleans. You have to go to seven portals to get to Guinee, but beware; you have to do that in a specific order.
To heaven - or at least some happy place
If you don't like gates to the underworld, what about heaven then? It's easy to get there: follow Heaven's trail, and you'll end up amongst the stars! It's a pathway in Ireland that aligns perfectly with the Milky Way, but only once every two years - or so the internet says. The photo of it is famous, but unfortunately, the facts are not correct: there is no heaven's trail - this photo wasn't even taken in Ireland, but on a Wadden island in Germany.
Or you could go to a place that sounds heavenly. Cockaigne is the land of plenty in Medieval myth, where pancakes grew on trees, roasted geese flew through the air and pies covered the roofs of houses. Nobody knows how to get there (I wish I knew), but still, a memory of this mythical place can be found in our world. There are some towns that bear this land's name, like Kockengen and Koekange in the Netherlands. I doubt these places will be as plentiful as the land they are named after though.
A more obvious portal to a world of plenty is Newgrange, a tomb in Boyne Valley, Ireland. According to Celtic mythology, places like Newgrange were doorways to the world of the gods, a land where food was plenty and no one grew old, died or became sick.
I'll stick with Ireland a little longer; the place is infested with fairies. If you want to enter one of their kingdoms, go to the Knockma Woods, where the realm of the Fairy king Finnbheara can be found.
How to use this in your story
Our world has so many awesome places that have become known as 'the end of the world' that I can't possibly list them all here, so why should your imaginary world not have them? The world's end comes in various shapes and sizes, so there must be something that fits your story. It's a great way to spice up your religion or culture, or make a landscape more interesting.