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Issue 95 - Ups and downs

Scotland Magazine Issue 95
October 2017

 

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Ups and downs

Hallucination on Ayrshire's Electric Brae

On the bend overlooking the Croy Railway viaduct on the A719 south of Dunure, a short distance from Ayr, and on the stretch between Drumshrang and Knoweside, there is a quarter-mile stretch of road which, since the arrival of the motor vehicle, has come to enjoy a certain notoriety. 

Although the road appears to be running uphill, when you release the brake of the car you are driving it will slowly propel itself uphill as if pulled by some magical magnetic force. At some stage in the past century, this oddity became known as The Electric Brae — a name first given to it by someone who presumably thought that gravity was being overcome by some sort of electric force. 

But beware. With the exception of a stone marker situated in a lay-by and a sign warning that vehicles in front of you might have stopped, it is easy for the unsuspecting motorist to be unaware of the change in circumstances on this two-lane road. If you are traveling south at around 30 mph, and slip your gear into neutral, you will seemingly maintain your speed while going uphill.

This certainly fascinated the American President Dwight D. Eisenhower who, in recognition of his contribution as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during the Second World War, was gifted occupancy of an apartment in nearby Culzean Castle by the National Trust for Scotland. The former President stayed at Culzean on four occasions and each time took his guests to inspect this most perplexing phenomenon.

Alas, as with so much in life, the illusion is not all that it might seem and, as is so often the case, theorists may be disappointed to discover that there is a reason for everything. Being 17 feet higher than the coastal end, the slope on the A719  is 1 foot in 86 upwards from the bend overlooking the Croy Railway Station to the wooded Craigencroy Glen, and it is not gravity but the unusual configuration of the landscape on either side that creates the optical illusion that the slope is going the other way. 

At one stage some years ago Ayrshire Council was receiving so many enquiries about Croy Bray that it felt obliged to publish an explanatory leaflet. Since then the road has become an enormously popular visitor attraction.  Of course, there are similar sites to be found around the world such as the Magnetic Hill, partially in the community of Lutes Mountain in New Brunswick, northern Canada;  The Mystery Spot, a roadside gravity box in the redwood forests of Santa Cruz, California, USA; and Confusion Hill in Piercy, California, USA, which has been designated a California Point of Historic Interest. Nothing, it seems, compares with that most curious of sensations that you are somehow unexpectedly and inexplicably out of control.