Its relatively short span masks its danger. The waters flow fifty feet below it’s arch, and they carry echoes of a terrible mystery.
What is it about the Overtoun Bridge that causes dogs to leap over its parapet to their deaths on the rocks below?
Before considering that question, it is worth noting how dearly dogs love to go for walks with their people. This comes as no surprise to those who have had dogs as members of their families.
Some people who have never lived with dogs, however, are unaware of just how powerful this drive is. There is but one thing a dog loves more than a good walk—and that is a good meal. (For a dog, a “good” meal is any and all meals.) In fact, some canines love walking so very much that they would willingly delay their repast if able to precede it with a vigorous hike.
C.S. Lewis was an avid walker. He often undertook long sight-seeing hikes with friends. And, during different periods of his life, he enjoyed the company of a canine companion.
In January of 1940 Lewis describes one such trek to his brother. Warnie, a “regular” officer in the British military had been recalled to active duty and dispatched to France. He describes an inter-species encounter his dog Bruce had recently experienced during an Oxford walk.
It seems almost brutal to describe a January walk taken without you in a letter to you, but I suppose “concealment is in vain. . . .” I was coming home from a walk and had just reached the Bourdillon’s hedge when I saw Bruce standing across the path with his head erect and his tail wagging furiously.
There is a very slight bend to the right in that path just after the Bourdillon’s, so that I could not see what he was looking at. Presently a cloud of steam in the frosty air appeared to descend towards him-to be followed by the long grave face of the mushroom-white horse who lives in that field.
Dog continued looking up and horse’s head leaned down till their noses almost touched: then they withdrew with every mark of mutual esteem. Now that I have at last written it down it hardly seems worth much: but it was an odd sight at the time.
Curiously, two months earlier (writing to Warnie) he had alluded in passing to the fact he was frequently accompanied by a pet on his walks.
Wednesday I lunched in College and attended a College Meeting, which was over by about 3.30-after that the rare pleasure of a dogless stroll & tea in our own rooms, glancing through Mammy’s old copy of the Water Babies, and after dinner the unusual pleasure of an evening to myself.
There is something about having a dog accompany one on a walk that makes it an even richer experience. Observing their frenetic joy at discovering some new scent is vicariously exhilarating.
When walking in certain locales, leashes may be required. Certain impetuous dogs demand their use even when not mandated. However, most people who accompany dogs on their explorations would prefer to leave them free to range a bit, if given a choice.
And it precisely this freedom that poses such a danger to those who enjoy the Scottish countryside and dare to cross the Overtoun Bridge.
Apparently, since the 1950s, more than fifty dogs have lunged to their deaths over the edge of the bridge. A 2006 article in the Daily Mail reports that during a six month period the previous year “Five dogs jumped to their deaths. All of the deaths have occurred at virtually the same spot, between the final two parapets on the right-hand side of the bridge, and almost all have been on clear, sunny days.”
Strangely, there are even several cases where dogs who had survived the terrible fall proceeded to dive from the same location during a subsequent crossing. Lacking nine lives, it is assumed their luck did not hold on the second occasion.
Due to the frequency of these “suicides,” the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals sent a scientist to investigate the cause of the heartbreaking phenomenon. He determined it was nothing that the dogs could see or hear that would account for their fatal actions.
Various theories have been posed. Some attribute it to ghosts or the fact that “In Celtic mythology, Overtoun is known as ‘the thin place’—an area in which heaven and earth are reputed to be close.”
Psychic Mary Armour took her own [psychic?] labrador for a walk along the bridge to test the theory. However, she reported no unusual sensations. “Animals are hyper-sensitive to the spirit world, but I didn’t feel any adverse energy.” In fact, Mary said she experienced a feeling of “pure calmness and serenity” but admitted that her dog did pull her towards the right-hand side of the structure. (Daily Mail, 17 October 2006).
The SPCA investigator eventually concluded the most likely cause for the suicidal impulses of the canines was the scent of mink musk from the valley below. Apparently to some dogs the lure is irresistible, and they cast aside their normal wariness to leap into the unknown.
Whether or not this is the true cause of the mishaps or not remains debated. Some, for example, attribute the suicidal impulses to “picking up on suicidal or depressed feelings of their owners.”
Whatever the cause, it is probably wise to avoid the risk and steer very clear of Overtoun Bridge if you value the life of your dog. Still, when traveling to Scotland it may well be wise to leave your dog in the care of a family member or an approved kennel.