The building of scale models is a enjoyable pastime. There is something pleasing about seeing big things in a tinier form. For one thing their overall shape can be better appreciated if we can see them from a kind of ‘imaginary distance’. What is useful about models and miniatures is that an understanding of the method of constructing, say of boats, planes, houses, can often better be achieved (and the full scale project be then tackled with more knowledge) if several scale models have been made before the real thing is realised to proper scale.
Dry stone bridges are no different. A lot can be learned about how to build them, and why and how an arch works, when you go about constructing a model one first. If they are built outside in some natural setting, an imaginary scene can be created too where small crevices in rocks, or spaces between boulders, are made to appear like deep ravines or canyons. This is kind of a magical thing.
When John Shaw-Rimmington first saw the deep criss-crossing cracks in the surface of the limestone bedrock on Inisheer Island he felt like he was flying over it, looking down on a vast canyon or plateau landscape. The rugged contour of the Aran Islands has a fractal quality that enables one to imagine the geology on a smaller, or bigger, scale.
John chose to build his tiny bridge over a 30 cm wide gap that he found, which was a natural crack, about a metre deep, running through a slab of bedrock sloping down to the sea. He hoped the miniature would make the ‘gap’ look like a life-size bridge spanning a huge chasm.
John chose a spot far enough from the path that people would not be aware of it unless they were looking for it. Having the bridge too close to the path too would mean people would see it more from directly above, rather than looking across at the bridge, which is how we most often view them.
John used a plastic bucket, wedging rocks in the gap below it, to support it so that half the bucket appeared above the surface of the bedrock. He had already collected suitable pebbles and all kinds of tiny flat stones, in that very same bucket, along the trail on his walk to the tiny bridge site. Both approaches to the bridge (the tails) were built up carefully with thin stones then he laid in a radiating pattern over the bucket form ‘ the centering’ with tiny v shaped stones, laid in proper voussoir pattern. The inside of the bridge vaulting was done just the same way he would do a full scale bridge, but on a tiny scale.
John paved the whole upper surface with one or two layers of thin flat stones. Most of the them could have made good skipping stones if he’d not been in a tiny bridge building frame of mind. He returned later and landscaped with tiny plants and paved it again this time with gritty sand.
John had brought along his thumb sized, plastic Dr Who on the trip, and pulling him from his pocket, placed him standing by the bridge. It looked appropriately like he had been transported from some other dimension of space and time. The mysterious miniature bridge was discovered by all kinds of people over the weekend John was on Inis Oírr. Kids played with Dr Who, walking him up over the chasm and back.
That part of the path became a favourite stopping place for the horse drawn carts. Visitors aboard could ponder the tiny structure from their seats and perhaps merely wonder why someone would be so crazy to spend all that time making it. Perhaps it all has to do with scale and perspective.
While John Shaw-Rimmington was making his bridge, time stood still. He became small enough to explore that small patch of island bedrock as if he’d shrunk to an Inisheer fraction of my normal size.