Ian Middleton
‘Bloody hell!’ I cried. ‘Look, we’re rolling uphill!’

"Have you been to the road where things go backwards?" asked Eilish, as I sat having breakfast in the Carlow hostel.
"The what?" I replied.
"The road where things go backwards. It’s up near Dundalk. Daddy took some Americans there last year. There’s a section of road that goes downhill and if you stop the car at the bottom, put it in neutral and release the brake the car will roll backwards up the hill."
I started looking for the TV cameras. This was obviously some sort of joke. The thing was that Eilish was dead serious.
"It’s no joke. It’s up north of Dundalk. Daddy knows where. I’ll get him on the phone for you," she said.

Before I knew it I was speaking on the phone with Éamonn who proceeded to tell me all about it and how to get there. I put the phone down with a feeling of slight apprehension. I had never before heard of such a thing, and still wondered if I was the target of a local joke. But then again, was I?
Weeks later I found myself heading to Dundalk in my little camper van with the intention of checking out this phenomenon. I had mentioned this story to other people and found out that it was in fact true. When it was first discovered there was major publicity; RTE filmed it, scientists studied it and people swarmed to experience it. According to the people who had studied this phenomenon it’s actually an illusion, but a very convincing one. Apparently the funny angle of the hill means that although it looks like you are rolling up the hill, you are actually rolling down. Also, it isn’t the only one; there are many roads like this around the world.

While this news instilled in me the confidence that I wasn’t the subject of a joke, it also filled me with a sense of disappointment. If so many people knew about this then that meant it wasn’t a secret that I would have the honour of unveiling to the public, or at least the people who actually read my stories. But along with the people who did know about it, there was a sizeable amount who didn’t, and they were as intrigued as I was.

After taking care of some business in Dundalk I headed north and took the turn off for Carlingford, following Éamonn’s instructions which had been hastily scribbled on a piece of paper. My travelling companion, Nika, was as eager to see this as I was. At the turn off I was supposed to continue along the road for eight miles before turning off for a tourist attraction called the Long Woman’s Grave. The Carlingford road takes you along the stunningly beautiful Cooley Peninsula, awash with low green mountains and ocean views. The road we were on circumnavigates the peninsula and is such a lovely drive that I missed the turn off and before I knew it was pulling into the town of Carlingford.
I pulled over to the side of the road and asked an old man digging his front garden.
"Ah, you’re the second person to ask me about that today. You’ve gone past it. Go back out to the Dundalk road and drive for about five miles and you’ll see McCrystals food store and a big petrol station. The turning is directly opposite. Ask there and they’ll direct you."

Carlingford turned out to be pretty little town with narrow streets and whitewashed cottages. It sits alongside the lovely Carlingford Lough and the 587-metre Slieve Foye, which forms an eye-catching backdrop.

We left Carlingford and headed back out on the Dundalk road. I clocked up five miles and came across a petrol station, where we found the turn off.
After another wrong turn we headed back and found McCrystals Food Store just a little way up. We pulled over there for a drink and an ice cream.
"I’m looking for the road where things go backwards," I said, as I was handed my ice cream.
‘Ah, Magic Road.’
‘Is that what you call it then?’
‘That’s right. If you go left from here to the end of the road you’ll come to a T-Junction, take a right and then an immediate left. Follow the road to the top of the hill, then down into a dip where you’ll see a big mushroom. Stop there, put the car in neutral and release the brake. You’ll roll backwards up the hill.’
A big mushroom! I thought. This phenomenon has obviously messed with the minds of the local people.

We followed his directions. We were now on the Táin Trail, which is a 40-kilometre trail consisting of a mixture of surfaced roads, forest trails and green paths that makes a circuit of the peninsula through the Cooley Mountains. The road led up a long, straight and steep incline and then at the brow of the hill went down into a dip. At the bottom of this dip I spotted a large, brown, circular storage hut, which, if you imagined hard enough, could have been a giant mushroom. Immediately I slammed on the brakes.
We were at the very base of the hill, so I put the van in neutral and took my foot off the brake.
‘Bloody hell!’ I cried. ‘Look, we’re rolling uphill!’

And we really were, we were rolling backwards up the hill. It was amazing. The hill slanted upwards slightly then became steeper halfway. At this point we picked up speed, until finally reaching the brow of the hill. I braked, put the van in gear and drove down again. Once again we rolled back up the hill. I felt like a child who’d just watched a magician for the first time. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I rode up and down that hill for the next half an hour, as traffic passed cautiously. The local people watched with amusement, obviously knowing exactly what I was up to. The tourists looked on with bewilderment at this deranged man driving up and down the hill.


I drove up the other side and turned around. A man was building a wall in front of his house, and watched us with a smile. I stopped at the same place, to see if we rolled forward. We did, but somehow it wasn’t as dramatic. So I turned around again and repeated the backwards roll. I swung my head from back to front looking from both angles trying to see how this worked. I couldn’t.
I got out and walked up the hill, and it felt like I was walking downhill. I walked downhill, and it felt like I was walking uphill. So it was definitely an illusion, but an absolutely perfect one. But what I liked even more was that there was no queue of tourists paying to try it. There wasn’t even a sign to indicate what it was. It hadn’t been exploited one bit, and was just a piece of country road with a hidden secret. I liked that most of all.

Eventually I managed to tear myself away. We decided to continue up the road to the Long Woman’s Grave before heading back down to spend the night in Carlingford. Once again we passed the man building his wall and waved. He waved back, took one look at our huge grins, and burst out laughing. I guess this was a familiar sight for him.

Directions to Magic hill
Leave Dundalk and take the R173 to Carlingford. Halfway along you will spot a Texaco Petrol Station. Take the first left after this, where you’ll see a sign for McCrystals Food Store, and signs for the Táin Trail and Oriel Trail; there is no sign for the Long Woman’s Grave. Follow the road around and past McCrystals until you reach a T-Junction. Turn right and immediately left on the other side, again following signs for the Táin and Oriel Trails. Follow the road straight to the brow of the hill, go down into a dip and stop immediately next to the big mushroom. Then watch in amazement as your car rolls back up the hill.

© Ian Middleton 2006 update
Ian Middleton Travel Writer & Photographer Check my new travel guide to ancient Ireland:

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