This Saturday Worm begins his new weekly slot tunneling into the weirder recesses of Wikipedia and the world wide web…
Hello everyone! May I say what a great honour it is to step into the Saturday slot here at The Dabbler. I have decided to use the space rented to me to pitch a ragtag of wares and my loose theme to this column will be to get back to the very essence of dabbling, the ur-dabble, by sharing very unusual things I’ve found on Wikipedia that I’ve never heard of or don’t know the answer to (which is quite a lot of things). If you do stumble across something really bizarre on Wikipedia in your travels that you think I should feature please do mention it in the comments.
I have strong childhood memories of reading a Famous Five book that contained a plot centering around a hill formed from some dastardly rock. A rock so dastardly that it exerted a strange power on confused drivers and pulled their cars backwards uphill and the like. No doubt there were some swarthy gypsy children and some luncheon meat sandwiches involved too, but the magnetic hill obviously exerted its own strange power on me, as it stuck in my mind to this day. Now, thanks to the wonders of the internet, a search of only a few seconds duration informs me that the story I remember was Five Get Into a Fix. (I’m still trying to decide whether this internet-enabled instant gratification is a good or a bad thing when it involves fondly remembered childhood events…)
It turns out that a so-called ‘magnetic’ or ‘gravity’ hill is a place where the layout of the surrounding land produces an optical illusion that makes a very slight downhill slope appear to be an uphill slope.
Stories of magnetic hills seem quite widespread and occur in every continent. In the UK some of the best known are Hangman’s Hill in Epping Forest and the wonderfully named Electric Brae in Ayrshire.
The most important factor contributing to the illusion is a completely or mostly obstructed horizon; without a horizon, judging the slope of a surface is difficult as a reliable reference is missing. Objects one would normally assume to be more-or-less perpendicular to the ground (such as trees) may actually be leaning, offsetting the visual reference. When these conditions all combine, a car left out of gear on a seemingly flat or downhill slope will appear to roll uphill.
The main things to deduce from all this then, is that there are no hills made of dastardly magnetic rocks that can pull people uphill, and that Enid Blyton was a dirty liar.