Overtoun Bridge is a category B-listed structure over the Overtoun Burn on the approaching road to Overtoun House,[a] near Dumbarton in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. It was completed in 1895 to a design by the landscape architect H. E. Milner.
Since 2005, media publicity has been given to reports of a number of dogs either falling or jumping from the bridge, resulting in injury or death upon landing on the rocks some 50 feet (15 m) below; the bridge has also been the site of a murder and an attempted suicide. Explanations for these deaths have ranged from claims of ghosts and supernatural causes to natural explanations of dogs being attracted to the scent or sounds of nearby animals in the undergrowth, and consequently losing their balance on the sloping surfaces of the bridge's parapet.
History and construction
Lord Overtoun had inherited Overtoun House and its estate in 1891. He purchased the neighbouring Garshake estate to the west of his lands in 1892. Carriages had been unable to gain access to the Overtoun mansion along the old eastern approach road as the incline was too steep; work commenced on constructing a new driveway as soon as Garshake was acquired.
Designed by the civil engineer and landscape architect H. E. Milner, the bridge was constructed using rough-faced ashlar and was completed in June 1895. It comprises three arches: a large central arch spanning a deep valley at the bottom of which flows the Overtoun Burn, flanked on each side by lower, smaller pedestrian arches.
Unexplained dog deaths
From approximately 2005 onwards, stories of dogs apparently leaping to their deaths from the bridge for unknown reasons have been published online, the first of which – according to the Glaswegian organisation Glasgow Skeptics – was published in 2005, mentioned in passing in a forum thread about lesser-known attractions and destinations in Glasgow. The story gained prominence in 2006 following a Daily Mail article on the subject, after which reported deaths of dogs being walked on the bridge received international media attention.
A number of theories have been proposed as to the behaviour of dogs on the bridge. In 2014, canine psychologist David Sands proposed that the surrounding foliage – giving the in-reality extremely steep drop off the side of the bridge the appearance of even ground – combined with the residual odour from male mink urine in the area could be culprit for luring dogs to jump off the bridge. This theory was protested by a local hunter and resident of 50 years, John Joyce, who stated that there were "no mink [in the area]." However, in an investigation by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Wildlife, RSPB Officer for the Isle of Mull David Sexton found that one end of the bridge reportedly favoured by dogs contained "nests of mice, squirrels, and minks." Furthermore, in an experiment in which ten dogs were exposed to canisters filled with mouse, squirrel and mink scent, seven of the dogs "all went straight for the mink scent, many of them quite dramatically."
In 2019, the owners of Overtoun House, Bob and Melissa Hill, said that in 17 years of residing at the House, they had witnessed a number of dogs become agitated, jump up, and fall from the bridge. Bob Hill, originally a pastor from Texas, stated that the scent of mink, pine martens, and other animals agitated the dogs, resulting in their jump onto the bridge wall:
The dogs catch the scent of mink, pine martens or some other mammal and then they will jump up on the wall of the bridge. And because it’s tapered, they will just topple over.
Hill also stated, however, his belief that the grounds of the House held a spiritual quality.
In October 1994, a man threw his two-week-old son to his death from the bridge because he believed that his son was an incarnation of the Devil. He then attempted to commit suicide several times, first by attempting to jump off the bridge, later by slashing his wrists.
- Category B structures are "buildings of regional or more than local importance, or major examples of some particular period, style or building type which may have been altered".
- "What is Listing?: Categories of listed building", Historic Environment Scotland, retrieved 29 March 2019
- "Overtoun: Site history", An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland, Historic Scotland, archived from the original on 14 April 2015, retrieved 14 April 2015
- "Overtoun House", West Dunbartonshire Council, archived from the original on 14 April 2015, retrieved 14 April 2015
- "Overtoun House, Bridge at Garshake Drive (Ref:24908)", Historic Scotland, archived from the original on 9 April 2015, retrieved 9 April 2015
- "Flogging a dead dog? - Glasgow Skeptics". Glasgow Skeptics. The Wayback Machine. Archived from the original on 28 March 2019. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
- Yeginsu, Ceylan (27 March 2019). "'Dog Suicide Bridge': Why Do So Many Pets Keep Leaping Into a Scottish Gorge?". Retrieved 27 March 2019 – via NYTimes.com.
- "Lost Giants of Georgia and Bridge of Death", The Unexplained Files, season 2, episode 8, 16 September 2014, The Science Channel
- Dunning, Brian (24 July 2012). "The Suicide Dogs of Overtoun Bridge". Skeptoid. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
- "Father who threw 'devil' baby from bridge sent to Carstairs". The Herald. 1 February 1995.
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