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Optical Illusions - What Is An Electric Brae?

Updated on June 16, 2012

They're known outside of Scotland by a number of different names - electric hills, magnetic hills, gravity hills - and they're an optical illusion which makes you think that a downhill slope is actually an uphill slope. If you stop your car on an electric brae with the gear in neutral and the handbrake off the car will begin to roll. Because of the optical illusion, your mind is tricked into believing that you're rolling uphill. Even if you know exactly what's happening, the psychological suggestion created by the optical illusion will make you feel as though you're rolling upwards. It's a very bizarre experience and wherever there's an electric hill, you'll find people trying it out.

Where can you find electric hills?

The one I've photographed above is next to Kilvean Cemetery in Inverness. It barely looks like there's a slope at all, but that's how the optical illusion works. If you stop your car here, it will gradually begin to roll and it will feel like it's going upwards.

Probably the best known Electric Brae in Scotland is Croy Hill in Ayrshire. There is a stone with an inscription describing the phenomenon near to the brae which was, apparently, visited by General Eisenhower who spent vacations at nearby Culzean Castle. According to local stories, Eisenhower was so intrigued by the strange phenomenon that he brought visitors who came to stay with him at Culzean to experience it for themselves.

There are other gravity hills throughout the world and you can access a list of magnetic hills to find out if there is one near you.

Urban Legend

The electric brae on the outskirts of Inverness has been associated with an urban legend that states this is the site of a car accident in which people were killed. The legend says that if you park in the spot where it happened, their spirits will push you away, which is why the car appears to roll backwards. This, of course, is a fabrication and similar stories of supernatural interventions surround some of the other sites of gravity hills as well.

The term electric brae comes from the Scots word for hill which is 'brae'. The word 'electric' was attached to these hills when electricity was still fairly new. People were wary of this unseen force and believed that it may be the key to explaining how round or wheeled objects could be seemingly pulled uphill. A lot of people still believe that the phenomenon is caused by magnetic or electrical forces but they have, in fact, been proven to be nothing more than the powerful effects of an optical illusion on the mind.

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  • alliemacb profile image
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    alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

    I love all the stories surrounding the electric braes. One of the braes in Scotland has been used as a location in several novels so people are clearly fascinated. Thanks for the comment.

  • MickiS profile image

    MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

    These are totally freaky! I'm in San Francisco, and there is one about 1 hour in Santa Cruz that is called The Mystery Spot. Great fun to take people who don't know what they are. :-D