I'm often asked about Catcott, so here is a repost of my 2008 blog post about the layout with a couple of more recent updates.
motor cars. Get rid of anxiety. And here, to the rhythms of the
Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway dream again that ambitious Victorian
dream, which caused this long railway still to be running through
deepest, quietest, flattest, remotest least spoilt Somerset.’ Sir John
Betjeman 1963 |
Size: 5’00”x15” (11’00”x15” including fiddle yard).
Scale & Gauge: 00/16.5mm finescale.
Era: 1950’s & 1960’s British Railways, former Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway.
Location: Somerset Levels.
Scenario: Part reality and part fiction ‘what if’ scenario, had the real Catcott Crossing become a small halt with sidings.
Track: Hand-built using C&L components and C&L flexi-track.
In this delightful area of Somerset also known as ‘Sedgemoor’, the
topography in this area just to the south of the Mendip Hills is very
flat with the boggy land being only a few feet above sea level. Made
famous by the 1963 BBC documentary ‘A Branchline Railway’ hosted by poet
laureate Sir John Betjemen, viewers of this delightful film will know
that railway between Glastonbury and Highbridge for much of its length
followed the course of the Glastonbury Canal - much of it running
straight as dye for mile after mile.
Many spots where roads crossed the railway utilised manned level
crossings rather than bridges, with each crossing having its own
crossing keeper and railway cottage. Several of the cottages had no
running water or electricity right up to closure in 1966, the water
being delivered by train in milk churns!
The model here, is a ‘could have been’ scenario is heavily influenced by
the aforementioned BBC TV film, with the layout’s creator being taken
in by the wild open feel of the area much dominated by willow, water and
big skies (and the odd jug of rough farmhouse cider!).
Catcott, was one of the many crossings on the line, but it never was a
halt or had sidings. In the ‘parallel universe’ world here, imagine if
to serve the local peat deposits things had been very different?
|Foamboard and ply contruction - light!|
In the summer of 2007, I came across some 5mm foamboard from some
display boards about to the thrown out and it crossed my mind that they
could form part of a lightweight baseboard. This was the catalyst!
The baseboards sort of evolved over a couple of hours messing about on
the longe floor from this lightweight material and then to toughen them
up were finished off with an external shell of marine ply which can take
impacts better than bare foamboard. The result being a very light but
strong main baseboard which is ideal for single handily carting up and
|The whole layout (without fiddle yard)|
Here we see Catcott’s entire 5 foot by 15 inches. The board can be
lifted with just one finger if feeling brave. The backscene is formed of
2mm marine ply to allow a nice arc with no corners – for they would
destroy the ‘big sky’ effect which is so important to the character of
|360 degree fiddle yards reduce stock handling|
With previous layouts, I’ve used cassette type fiddle yards to
manipulated stock when it is off stage. This is a good system, but I
felt that with a small layout like Catcott and awful lot of time would
be spent precariously turning whole trains around for their return run.
For this reason I adopted the Denny Type Fiddle Yard which allow the
turning of a whole train 360 degrees without risk of chucking it all on
the floor or having to couple or uncouple locomotives and stock. The
only downside I can see is that if I wanted to hide the fiddle yards,
the baseboard would have to be as wide as the longest train, though I
find that people are often happier looking at this part of the layout in
the open than the scenic section! The slightly tatty effect of spinning
the 360 degree plate around will shortly be addressed with some fine
slippery cloth that I’ll bond to the surface before the layouts next
The plate that can hold 4 complete trains with engines can rotate
360 degrees. This means that there is no need to lift the engine from
one end to the other. This design of fiddle yard was made famous by the
great Peter Denny of ‘Buckingham’ fame – not surprisingly this design of
yard is often referred to a ‘Denny Type Fiddle Yard’.
|Track down and platform under construction|
This was a chance to built my own again; I hadn’t done this since
Combwich in the early 1980s. Much to my surprise I managed to locate the
roller gauges that had been lying dormant for quarter or a century
through various house moves! One thing that hasn’t been lying dormant is
what there now is available to aid the mad keen souls who wish to built
there own track – well pointwork to be more precise, for gone are the
days of replicating bullhead rail chairs with big blobs of solder. Now
we have the like of C&L who produce highly realistic ready to lay
bullhead flexitrack and the various components to make great looking
pointwork. With a layout this small I felt that there was no excuse not
to use the best that is available.
To make up the plans for the points, I used the inexpensive downloadable
software called Templot. Whilst the initial learning curve to get the
best out of this package may be a little steep, there is plenty of
online help though the Templot Forum and RM web. Actually to be honest,
one very kind soul sent me an email with precise instructions to create
exactly what I wanted! The resulting crossover is around 2 feet long,
and is pretty well scale length, it being the minimum I could get away
with to unsure no buffer lock when propelling a 4 wheeled 16 ton mineral
wagon with a long Western Class 52 diesel when using scale couplings.
control is via SEEP point motors operated by a small panel on the left
hand end of the layout. They're attached with double sided tape.
Once the track was laid after following the C&L instructions for
making up the pointwork, it was ballasted in two different ways; firstly
I wanted to replicate the fine ash and clinker used in sidings. This is
an area frequently misrepresented with course granite – quite often by
the rivet counter brigade too! I think this is due to people making
models of models rather than using old photographs of the real thing –
To create this effect I used DAS modelling Clay, working it in and
around the track with a screwdriver and then pummelling it into place
with a stiff brush. In turn it was painted with pale greys and beiges.
Ash and clinker is of course dark when seen close up, but when outside
from some distance it takes pale tones – this is known as scale colour.
|'Mainline' ballasted with beach sand|
The main running line required something coarser. Many use N gauge
granite chippings. To my eyes at least it still looks too coarse and is
the wrong colour, it is also tricky to use. With Combwich my 25 year old
layout I used sieved sand from the beach, so with Catcott I decided to
use the same, the locality I chose on the south coast having a nice
beige colour that makes a good base for what I wanted. Sand, because
it’s formed by erosion over millions of years is made up from little
spheres. The shape really helps the ballast to literally roll into place
prior to dribbling with diluted PVA to fix it into place. By complete
contrast, granite chippings being shards of rock do not roll where you
want them to, making the whole procedure a taxing exercise. Colour
adjustment can then be performed with thinned down matt enamel until the
desired effect is achieved by copying photographs of the real thing,
not other layouts.
Be inspired by the real thing!
In the days of steam, only the main running lines were ballasted with
granite chippings. Sidings were usually ballasted with fine clinker or
ash. This is an area often ignored by the most dedicated of rivet
|The view that greets the motorist|
Catcott crossing keeper’s cottage is based on what few photographs I
have been able to uncover. Typically after I more or less finished the
little building, I then came across some 1930’s pictures revealing that
the entrance on the front of the building is in fact a later addition
after the railway shut. Oh, well, it doesn’t detract and removing it
would be tricky, if not impossible without spoiling the side – so it
|The real Catcott Crossing in the 1930's|
The cottage is made up mainly from plastic card using commercial
available brick effect sheets. The roof has several hundred small
‘slates’ made up from junk mail stuck on individually. This really
doesn’t take very long if a fresh pointed hobby knife blade is used to
position them. Nothing comes close in my opinion, not even strips of
scribed paper which look like just that. A bluish grey enamel paint was
used to complete the effect. Chimney pots are made up from rolled up
paper, and the sash windows are thin strips of self adhesive label stuck
to clear plastic sheet.
The brick effect, after painting it in ‘brick red’ (whatever that is)
was then washed over with magnolia matt emulsion and wiped off to leave
it in the groves. Colour pencils were then used to create further
variations of brick colour. The wonky guttering and downpipes are from
plastic strip and some leftovers from a Wills good shed kit!
|Watiting at the crossing|
The level crossing gates were very kindly acquired second hand from 009
guru John Thorne are Model Signal Engineering white metal ones which can
be hacked about to represent various different railways. Whilst they do
open and close and holes are in the base to allow remote operation
eventually, though to be honest mechanical gizmos are not really my
thing so that might be years away!
The little good shed, is a quickie, it starting life as the well known
Wills kit. The base has been changed to stone and the moulded tile roof
slates have been replaced with corrugated iron.
|Standrad Southern Railway pre-fab platforn and shelter|
The structure I’m most proud of is the pre fabricated Southern Railway
concrete platform which is similar to that of Ashcott & Meare
Station and Stourpaine & Durweston halt on the actual S&DJR and
other stations on the former Southern that survive to this day.
The thought of carving out the platform supports filled me with dread
until I found that Monty’s Model Railways aka Dart Castings produced
them in white metal. A quick look at there website would suggest that
the rear section is now not made any more (please prove me wrong, for
there’s a business opportunity for somebody!). To aid construction if
what could be a very weak structure was built up on a 2mm plastic base
to allow me to work ground up allowing me to drill holes to accept the
supports. The concrete platform tops are made up from little squares of
1.5mm plastic sheet. Rather than scribing one long sheet for the
surface, using individual squares like the real thing allowed the
slightly wonky effect often seen on the prototype.
The shelter, again based on Stourpaine & Durweston is scratchbuilt
from plastic card using photographs of the real thing. Like with the
platform, it is a standard design still seen on the former southern
The concrete effect seen on this and other structures on the layout is a
doddle. It is just white, red, grey primer and matt black misted on
from aerosols from a few feet away. The slightly speckled effect is
dumbed down with buff coloured interior matt emusion washed on then
mostly wiped off. Simple!
|Backscene, composed from 6 photos, printed 8 feet long|
With a layout as narrow as this, it to me was important that the
backscene is a nice neat job, for there would be no room for paint brush
marks and dodgy handiwork. The Somerset Levels are known for their big
skies, so I was very keen to represent this feature as effectively as
Taking pictures for the model railway press has also made me very aware of
layout backscenes, or frequently very low or even total lack of. Unlike
in the magazine where I frequently have to remove the layout owners
front room or garage from the pictures digitally and then pop in some
kind of sky in place, I was very keen with this project not to have too
do any clever electronic jiggerypokery picture wise, wanting the viewer
at a show to see the layout for real just as it is here.
I’d been messing about merging photographs in the past – usually
panoramic scenes taken off the top of buildings when on holiday and
whilst these had been fun technical exercises they were really of little
use. At last though I had a plan for the technique, and a visit to the
actual area on a nice summer’s day (the 9th of July 2007 actually)
allowed me to take a selection of photographs with a good overlap – and
what better way to commemorate 40 years of the end of steam on the
After a little work in Photoshop using panorama tools I ended up with a 7
foot by 14 inch file, which was printed on sticky
backed plastic. The seamless 7 foot long photograph was pressed into
place onto the curved plywood backscene base and then sprayed with matt
varnish to make it ‘wipe clean’ and to get rid of the shine.
|A rare visitor to the branch, |
note the canal winding along the front
My favourite bit, and in my view the most
important element of any model railway; scenery is the element that can
be judged by someone with no interest in our weird obsessive hobby. Some
people judge realism by the correct number of spokes on a particular
locomotive or whether the motion bracket on their Ivatt Class 2 was
correct for the 12th of March 1949 – though to be honest unless you have
the drawing or a photograph in front of you, it’s most likely that
you’re going to be painfully dull person to invite to a dinner party
where nobody is ever going to know or care.
My quest is the impossible task to make model railways ‘cool’, OK, I’m
probably asking too much so will settle for ‘tepid’ if nothing else and I
try to get the bits right that will appeal to the unconverted – with
scenery being one element at least that most can relate too. The public
usually perceive model railway enthusiasts as grown men dressed as
engine drivers playing with a train set on the dining room table, though
increasingly I find that when they see the scenic aspect of the hobby
if done well they’re frequently gobsmacked.
|Static grass is an important feature with a layout like this|
The grass – this is something that for years people have been
representing using that wretched lurid green ground up sponge from the
local model shop. Even those rivet counters who can probably tell you
the inside diameter of that hidden bolt not seen since the locomotive
was put together at Crewe Works in 1889 will often use that product,
which if you were just an inch high looks like that squidgy thing you
wash the car with every second Saturday afternoon (or in my case maybe
once of year). Grass is fibrous; it even was in the halcyon day of steam
and these days we have many alternatives available to use, either from
the local DIY store or model shop.
|Flowers are great, but limit them to small areas|
On Catcott I used a mixture of three different materials, each having that all important fibrous characteristic.
Hanging basket liner – get the green fibrous one hanging basket liner is
a very economical means to a great looking result, the trick after
gluing it down is to then thin it out and trim it well. A little water
colour or acrylic can then be applied as needed to vary the colour.
Silfor grass matting from International Models was used extensively,
their ‘Long Winter Pasture’ suiting the English landscape the best, some
of their other colours are just too rich for my liking. I find the
trick with Silfor is to cut it into small random shapes and stick it
down like a large jig-saw rather than try to lay it all in one big
sheet. In some places the tips of the Silfor fibres were dry-brushed
with beige to lighten the ends for that late summer look.
|Canalside grasses, plumber's hemp was used here|
Noch Static Grass applied with their famous Grasmaster was randomly applied in varying amounts. I
really like the ‘tall’ 6mm grasses mixing together mainly beige with a
dash of green for that later summer look.
The few trees and bushes are either ‘sea foam’ dusted in that dreaded
green foam (which looks more like leaves than grass) or made up from
twisted wire, covered in masking tape, plaster before spraying grey. The
foliage is Woodland Scenics ‘Polyfiber’ stretched out like a gossamer
and coated on more of that ground up foam.
|The remains of the Glastonbury Canal, note the lilies|
Much of the railway was built along the course of the Glastonbury Canal,
but nearer the coast the waterway ran parallel with the railway giving
that distinctive character. Reeds are made up from some coloured
plumber’s hemp and asparagus tops sprayed with diluted PVA glue. The
water is borrowed from ace modelling guru Allan Downes, which consists
of several coats of thick PVA over brown and grey paint. Water lilies
are little circles of olive green paint and the whole lot is sealed
under a thin layer of Humbrol gloss enamel to give a little extra
|A unusual visitor|
In the ‘olden days’ before ready washed clingfilm wrapped food, much use
was made of the trackside to grow vegetables and the little crossing
here is no exception. The soil is from Treemendous (I can imagine a big
hole in the producer’s back garden) and the various horticulture
represented is coloured foam, rolled up paper and blobs of paint to
create the desired effect. The highlight has to be the bamboo frame for
the beans, or is it peas or even hops for the homebrew? That is brass
wired soldered up.
(updated 15 March 2023) Catcott was a chance to try lots of new
techniques, but above all provide a bit of theatre in a pint sized area
whist trying to represent something that gives the impression of much
bigger space, the big sky being the key ingredient.
15 years on
since the original build the layout is still in great condition, it
being covered when not in use to keep dust a bay. Dust is the biggest
factor which ages a layout.
Would I use foamboard these days to
such a great structural degree for a layout of this size? The answer is
no. But I do continue to use foamboard as a track base, but it is bonded
to a more traditional and sturdy plywood base.
|The local preservation group is running steam on the peat tramway, must be a Sunday|
|The photographer's car, posed in front of the mixed train from Bridgwater.|
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