What goes up, is actually going down! Electric Brae – Ayrshire’s gravity defying hill

Electric Brae

Electric Brae- It has attracted visitors from far and wide, including US presidents. Stop your car, release the handbrake and get the very odd sensation of starting to roll uphill. Over time, this oddity made Croy Brae hill famous, though under its more usually applied name of Electric Brae, a name first given by someone who presumably thought that gravitational forces were being overcome by some sort of electric force.

By Phil Taylor

An optical illusion has always fascinated the human brain and no matter how many times you see one you are attracted to it, struggling to figure out how it actually works. Sometimes even when you do know how it works, it still does not compute with your brain!

One of the most fascinating optical illusions in Scotland is in Ayrshire and is known as a gravity hill. The gravity hill has confused people for an awful long time and attracts tourists to come and view the strange phenomenon. So what actually happens at Electric Brae, Scotland’s only gravity hill?

Electric Brae roadAyrshire’s Electric Brae is one of hundreds of gravity hills that can be found across the world. You can even find at least six elsewhere in the United Kingdom with three in England, one in Wales and one in Northern Ireland. However, Electric Brae is possible the most famous and even attracted a future President. Dwight D Eisenhower was stationed at Prestwick during World War Two and would show people the illusion at Electric Brae.

The Cliffside road gives off the optical illusion that when you allow the car to roll it actually looks like it is going uphill. The same is said when you are driving uphill as it actually looks like you are driving downhill. Many people can be seen on YouTube demonstrating this mesmerising display and you could sit for hours still trying to figure out what is going on.

Some locals have been convinced that there is a bigger picture at play though. There have been many peculiar suggestions that maybe witches have been involved with the hill causing the cars to appear like they are doing the opposite of what they are supposed to. Even the Victorians were confused about the illusion. With the Isle of Arran just across from Ayr, they believed that it exerted a magnetic field that caused issues in mainland Scotland. They were also convinced that electricity had something to do with it. Electricity was used poorly and they believed this had an effect.

The Victorian reasoning of electricity led to the name Electric Brae with “Brae” meaning hill and the “Electric” part coming from the use of electricity becoming popular but not well known.

Many also believe this to be one of the most haunted roads in Britain, with many unable to comprehend the illusion despite knowing how it is done.

With  the reason for the optical illusion  laid out in stone by the hill explaining what is actually happening when you travel on this road, it is hard to believe that this road is actually haunted. Although it is more than just one stretch of road, the most famous is on the A719, south of Dunure, just a little away from Ayr; this is where many a metal sign has been stolen as a souvenir.

Electric Brae CairnThe stone, that has since replaced the metal signs, reads “The Electric Brae, known locally as ‘Croy Brae’. This runs the quarter mile from the bend overlooking Croy railway viaduct in the West to the wooded Craigencroy Glen to the east whilst there is this slope of 1 in 86 upwards from the bend to the Glen. The configuration of the land on either side of the road provides an optical illusion. Making it look as if the slope is going the other way. Therefore, a stationary car on the road with the brakes off will appear to move slowly uphill. The term ‘Electric’ dates from a time when it was incorrectly thought to be a phenomenon caused by electric or magnetic attraction within the brae.”

So there you have it the road is on a hill, with a 1 in 86 gradient, but the surrounding landscape makes the eye believe that you are descending when you’re actually climbing the hill, or ascending it when you’re travelling downward. It is easy for the brain to mistake a 17 feet rise and therefore produce the illusion.

It is certainly a place that you must visit if you are interested in the eye tricking the mind. You can even pull up in the parking lane and take a closer look at the phenomenon by taking a picture of it or even videoing yourself showing how the illusion looks.

Just make sure you take care of your car when you want to test the rolling trick!