Along the rolling hills of Tyrone, there is a small stretch of road, where things are not as they seem to be. Going up hill, a car rolls upwards of its own accord; going downhill, it first comes to a halt, and then begins to roll gently backwards. They say It’s a Magic hill.

I asked an elderly man in Gortin for the directions to the Electric Brae where I was told gravity runs in reverse. ‘Ah Sir, You mean ‘The Magic Hill’. I said to myself, now that’s a better name for it. Others I believe call it ‘the magnetic mile’. ‘There’s a strange unseen power in that hill. Enough to make a car run back-wards”. And just think about the enormous weight in a car! How can this be?, no one can satisfactorily explain it, yet it happens most times and you could set your watch on it, although of course time then would be going backward, which might not be a bad thing, when you think about it.’ His directions was spot on, leaving the village of Gortin on the Omagh road you soon will be traveling through some spectacular scenery mountains and deep valleys to your left, Gortin forest will be on your right. Exactly 3 miles out, you will note on your right a large imitation Dolmen at the entrance to the now closed Ulster History Park.

The magic hill is exactly 1/2 a mile from this spot on your right hand side of the road and how you will know it is when you see a road sign signaling a left hand bend. Turn the car round and park just slightly up from the sign. For obvious reasons, the magic hill is not sign posted so be careful of the traffic. Now with the car facing downhill, put the gears into neutral and release the hand brake. Nothing will happen for a second then you’ll feel a slight shudder then low and behold your one-ton car will begin slowly and silently move inch by inch, yard by weird yard, backwards up the hill. You won’t believe your own eyes and like myself claiming to be well educated in the epistemological pathways of human knowledge, you will challenge this enigmatic stretch of road again and again until you are convinced of its gravity-defying magical powers.

What is the explanation of this strange phenomenon? It has been suggested that the natural structure of the roads in this district have something to do with the matter, but probably, as the locals will tell you the Magic Hill is certainly deceptive and is a very convincing optical illusion. Water which runs along the side of the road on a wet day appears to be running uphill. People will tell you, Magnetism is to blame for it, but there is a professional explanation for it;
‘Research seems to show that our sense of balance is in some way dependent upon sensitivity to the earth’s magnetic field. If so, it could be that a local variation in that field could cause distortation in our perception of perspective. The magnetic field could be responsible, not for pulling cars up hills, but for the optical illusion that suggests that downhill is up’ Well now you know, or are you any the wiser? No matter what the explanation is, it is still a magical place and well worth a visit.

There are dozens of spots around the world where bizarre gravity-defying phenomena have been voluminously recorded. There are two other ‘Magic Hills ‘in the Province. One at Castle Robin, near Dunmurray in County Antrim and the other one lies in the very heart of the Mournes. Here ‘The Magic Hill ‘runs along the sloping side entrance to the Spelga Dam, near Hill town in County Down. The optical illusion explanation seems quite impossible here, because a side road branches off the main road at about one third of the height from the dam base. Here they call it ‘The Electric Brae’ and one local told me ‘it’s the only place on earth where water and other objects appear to roll uphill in defiance of the law of gravity’.

I have been told of other Magnetic hills abroad. There is one 20 miles North of Rome where a quarter mile stretch of a country lane appears to have a gradient of about one in twelve, but to the amazement of many cars and even buses packed with tourists seem to have no trouble rolling up it. There is another Magnetic Hill between Ballabeg and the Round Table on the Isle of Man. Here of course they will tell you it’s nothing to do with magnetism but to the Little People who come out, when you’re not looking and gently push your car uphill. But by far the most famous and the best example of this optical illusion in the world is to be found 9 miles south of Ayr and 13 miles north of Girvan on the A719 coast road in Ayrshire, Scotland. Known throughout the world as THE ELECTRIC BRAE, This Quarter of mile stretch of road confuses motorists, cyclists and even pedestrians by appearing to run downhill when in fact it goes up. Many a driver has stopped there marveling at this most unusual phenomenon.

J.J Tohill