Friday 31 March 2023

Philosophical Friday

Click to enlarge 

It’s Friday again, gosh they come around quickly, and as one rapidly heads towards later life the whole week feels like 3 days did when I was 21. Much this is no doubt due to routine and familiarity of course. That’s why those idle 2 week holidays in the sun feel like only 2 days, with most of them being identical apart from possibly the level of hangover and inevitable variations of mild food poisoning. 

A short while ago Bertie hound was thrown outside for his morning ablutions, with the weather and light level not dissimilar to this photo here. With the back door wide open, Bertie looked up at me like most Border Terriers do with that ‘you must be joking’ expression of ‘do really need to go out there, I have a very strong bladder you know’. But he knows that he won’t get breakfast until he’s completed this part of the daily routine, so obliges in anticipation. 

I wonder if animals experience the same apparent shortening of time as they get older? One advantage they have over us is that they don’t fear their ultimate demise, so I guess we should be more like Bertie and live more for the moment. But working for myself, I’m always thinking of my photography and model making business being aware some of my regular customers might go bust, or get a better deal elsewhere, so I’m always looking at the future possibly a little too much. But rather than dwelling on the negative, Bertie hound is now lying next to me snoring like a trooper, I’m so jealous of his ability to switch off just like that. Such a clever dog. 

And the photo, I almost forgot about that. Some of you might recognise it from a few months ago, but here it is again reworked with the glitter of Photoshop to make it look just like today here in the full sized Little England. 


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Thursday 30 March 2023

Pointy Patrick

Thursday morning at the colliery greets the little people with golden rays as the sun creeps over the horizon. This almost certainly means that it will rain shortly, for of course this is Little England, and anyway, if the sun continues to shine we’ll have nothing to moan about. Moaning being only second to fishing and eating cheap supermarket pizza whilst watching Love Island on TV as Little England’s favourite pastimes. 

Pointy Patrick likes to point at things, in fact he’s always pointing at things, rather like Waving Wayne who’s always waving. Today he’s pointing out Nasal Nigel and his chum Adenoidal Andrew who are just out of shot to the right in the bushes behind the signalbox. Patrick’s keen eyes noting that Nigel and Andrew are comparing OO gauge Triang Hornby English Electric Type 3, aka Class 37 locomotives that they’ve just extracted from their sweaty special pockets. This is quite a departure for them, for we all know that their real passion is the TT gauge ‘Flying Scotsman’ A3 Pacific class locomotive.

I know that many of you are very keen on the Class 37, and will want to know more, well I can tell you that Nigel’s loco is green with small panel yellow panels, and that Andrew’s is in that new fangled ‘BR Blue’ colour with full yellow ends. But sadly I can’t tell you the numbers, something that I know will almost certainly upset any miniature ‘spotters here. For you, I can only apologise. 

And finally, what’s Beryl’s Austin 7 doing dumped under the tree to the left? I’m pretty sure Barry Bullhead from The Ministry of Misery is involved. 


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Monday 27 March 2023

Armstrongs & Bulldogs

It’s Monochrome Monday again, and because the colour meter isn’t topped up until Tuesday morning, and because of excessive colour during the week prior, it usually runs out on Sunday night resulting in Monday’s monochrome post. 

The morning service from Templecombe arrives at Combwich, the almost overhead midsummer midday sun creating a contrasty scene. Such lighting suits black and white well, for it’s all about strong shapes, light and dark more than with colour, but of course with photography there are no rules, unless you wear scratchy tweed underwear or are a camera club competition judge. 

Good old ‘Armstrong’ 44417 of Templecombe shed is on the train today, it deputising for the more regular Midland 0-4-4 tank, Ivatt 2-6-2 tank engine or Midland ‘Bulldog’ Class 3 engine, the SDJR loco men engine liking their locomotive nicknames. And of course there are the swans….


Colour is expensive, please help top up the colour meter

Sunday 26 March 2023

Clock Change

Click to enlarge 
Twice a year (‘2 times’ for those under 35 or Americans), the ancient stone ironstone circle has to be moved to reflect the clock change here in Little England. Luckily these days it’s a little easier with cranes and other such fangled machines of the modern age. However, a little manual manoeuvring is still required to adjust for the minutes, the big machines taking care of the hour change. 

I rather wish that ‘Pickaxe’ Eddie wouldn’t use his pickaxe on the ancient stones, for I’m sure since he’s been involved twice a year, there are more stones than there used to be. I’m also sure some of the stones have changed shape too. 

Each time a stone is relocated, Double Denim Dando does a little shimmy, you can see him doing one right now. And of course Waving Wayne is here to coordinate things, though to be honest he’s been waving ever since he arrived on site, so he’s mostly ignored by everyone apart from nearby dog walkers who think he’s being friendly. They of course wave back, apart from the ‘lockdown’ dog owners who avoid all eye contact. 


Spread a little joy to keep me motivated

How it was done

Saturday 25 March 2023

Hire Boaters

Click to enlarge

It’s Saturday morning down at the coal wharf and the supply narrowboat has arrived on its weekly tour of the Somerset Coal Canal. But its stock has changed from the regular haul of useful and not so useful goodies. 

Regulars will know that the moonshiners have tried all sorts of mobile moonshiner production, with one of the more recent having the still and associated gubbins on a train, but the constant bouncing around in the rough old tracks caused a few near fatal hazards involving flaming hot liquor and a drunken engine crew. 

However the supply narrowboat with its gentle motion and walking speed has proven to be ideal, apart from when drunken suit wearing office dwelling day-hire-boaters crash their boats in to our lovely old steam powered vessel here. But luckily in these rose tinted times of yore, such incidents are few and far between. 

Readers of my nonsense from a week or two ago might recognise the boat here being that of Hairy Horacio Locke-Paddle, you are indeed right. That’s him and Terry Tuttle-Thomas-Smythe who are coming to a deal for Terry and his merry band of moonshiners to lease the boat for a further few weeks. This suits Hairy Horacio Locke-Paddle well, because he’s heard that Bognor is rather nice this time of year, and anyway he’s always fancied staying in a seaside guesthouse run by an eccentric couple. By the way, the BBC comedy Fawlty Towers was supposedly inspired by one of Hairy Horacio Locke-Paddle’s stories upon his return. 

And finally, today in charge of the moonshine run, we have new boy Waving Willy, brother of Waving Wayne. And finally finally, Doug has turned up with his trusty barrow in anticipation of buying a few jars of ‘shine to take home for his mother. Such a good boy. 


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How it was done…

Thursday 23 March 2023

Thunderbolt Thursday!

It’s Titfield Thunderbolt Thursday, the day of the week inspired by that much loved cult movie. And as we can see, the little people are playing with the camera again. 

Bob Geeza Cat has lined his head up perfectly with Deliberate Dave’s leg giving the impression of a superb circus inspired balancing act. Though of course Dave would never be so bold in real life, for it would take him at least 3 weeks deliberation weighing up the pros and cons before saying “no”. 

The locomotive has lined its chimney up with the brick chimney behind, and the crane has lined itself up to look like it’s holding the chimney up. Such wonderful coordination I’m sure you’ll agree. By the way, the locomotive is being driven by Waving Willy, Waving Wayne’s cousin. 

And finally to the right, Rufus Hound looks like he’s rubbing his shiny doggy nose on the cold metal point lever. Though because he’s a dog, it’s most likely that it simply smells nasty, for Nasal Nigel touched it yesterday with the same hand that lives much of the time in his sticky pocket. Deidre looks suitably impressed as she leans back in awe, though to be honest she’ll have little idea of what we can see from this angle. 


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Monday 20 March 2023

Andrew & Barclay

It’s Monochrome Monday again, and because the colour meter isn’t topped up until Tuesday morning, and because of colour overuse during the week prior, it usually runs out on Sunday night resulting in Monday’s monochrome post. 

High Vis Henry (his orange vest being a shade of grey today, so you’ll just have to believe me) watches Andrew and Barclay having a good natter before running the loco around a short rake of empty wagons that have just arrived. 

Monday is always a bit of a slow start, but the mine doesn’t produce a huge amount of coal these days, so the workload is light. And anyway, Andrew and  Barclay are getting on a bit, so this suits them. But sadly it’s rumoured that the mine might close in only a year or two, for the coal is getting difficult to mine due to the increasingly fragmented nature coal seam which is at best only 4 feet from top to bottom. This is of course not helped by ever reducing demand. 


Colour is expensive, please help me top up the colour meter

Sunday 19 March 2023

Foiled by the Cat 🐾

It’s Sunday morning, and as usual Clive has lost the key to the colliery shunting locomotive. This happens most Sundays, it being a ploy to get a little more weekend overtime. Clive usually hides the key in his back pocket and plays dumb, but today he really has lost the key. 

‘High Viz’ Henry is on hand helping with the search, the key being possibly dropped into the tall grass. To the right, George’s identical twin brother who’s also called George has climbed up on to the old derelict cottage to see if he can get a better view. This was a good move, for moments later, Bob Geeza Cat does a loud “meeeeoooowwwww” to alert Clive, Henry and George that the missing key is on the locomotive cab roof. Such a clever cat 🐾

But alas Clive isn’t so impressed, for now his overtime shift won’t need to overrun to complete today’s shunting manoeuvres.


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Saturday 18 March 2023

Double Denim Dando

Saturday mornings down at the coal wharf tend to be busy, with today being no exception. 

To keep one step ahead of ‘the law’, this week moonshine production has been on a narrowboat, but I’m not sure the inland waterways of Little England can legally be regarded as ‘international waters’ though. But in the land of the inch high we don’t worry too much about such minor triviality. 

That’s ‘new kid’ Double Denim Dando in charge of the moonshine run today, and for those struggling to keep up, he’s a regular runner up at the West Country Cider Festival Dance Championships. Double Denim Dando (aka DDD) is rather like Waving Wayne in that he’s always performing a little shimmy, though of course Wayne is always waving, but hopefully you get what I mean. 

Right now DDD is having a little tap dance to celebrate the fermented liquor which is just coming to the boil, whilst Deidre is poised to get the cue to start putting the resulting ‘shine in to mason jars. What a team, for it’s rumoured that she’s taking tap dancing lessons. 

There have been problems with the wharf siding catch point for the last few days, it being jammed shut. So in response, the sturdy ‘men who work the track’, ‘plate layers’ or ‘gandy dancers’ as our US cousins call them have arrived to address the issue, but there there does appear to be some lack of discussion as to the best approach. 

Roger Wrench is waving his big spanner whilst ‘Pickaxe’ Eddie jumps in axe-first wielding his mighty  tool. Eddie uses his pickaxe for everything, including opening freshly boiled eggs at breakfast time. Luckily he doesn’t operate the gas cylinder used by the moonshiners. 

And finally Nasal Nigel can spotted there over to the right. Many of you enjoy knowing what’s in Nigel’s ‘special pocket’, well today it’s his much thumbed diecast TT gauge English Electric ‘Baby Deltic’ with its throbbing miniature T9-29 9-cylinder engine. He’s been running it in on his trainset all morning, so it’s nicely warmed up and ready for further silky smooth action. Pwarrrrr.


To inspire more regular nonsense like this, please

Friday 17 March 2023

Champagne Darlings

#FEF aka Front End Friday.

We’re not seen former ministers from The Ministry of Misery, Teresa & Dizzy Lizzie for some time. The main reason for this is that they’re midway through a nationwide tour of establishments that sell gin and of course champagne, darlings. Though in Little England of olden times, few pubs sell such a decadent fizzy liquor, for here we are deep in cider country, but I’m sure they won’t struggle too much. 

After a boozy overnight stop at The Railway Hotel (these days known as The Culm Valley Inn) here they are continuing their way to Hemyock where they hope to indulge in more gin and hopefully champagne tasting. But in Little England in these rose-tinted halcyon days of yore, pubs have rather limited opening hours, this being ordered The Ministry of Misery during the Great War. This miserable plan was to try reduce drunkenness and hangovers in the ammunition factories in an attempt to increase productivity and reduce faults, but all people did was to drink more during the reduced opening hours. And then there was the introduction of ‘the lock in’, hush hush. 

Rufus Hound has adopted Teresa & Dizzy Lizzie for this step of their tour, they’re cat ladies really, but Rufus has charmed them in to submission with his smouldering ‘please love me’ eyes. He’s such a clever dog🐾. 

And finally, Bob Geeza Cat jealousy looks on, and when no one is looking he’ll jump on to the locomotive footplate and follow the trio to Hemyock. Never trust a jealous cat on a mission 😼

πŸš‚This is a scene on my current layout build, which is part of a garage sized continuation of the Hemyock branch line. Still a work in progress, but almost there.


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Thursday 16 March 2023

Perfect Alignment

Thursday morning deep in The Forest of Dean at the little known Fountain Colliery, ‘Hi-Vis’ Victor and ‘Moody’ Malcolm have spent the last 10 minutes perfectly positioning the engine so it looks like it has a tall chimney growing out of the cab roof. 

Average photographer Ivan Locksmith didn’t have to heart to tell them that he could have simply moved his camera to achieve perfect alignment rather than all the messing about with the engine, forward a tad, back a little, you to me, me to you…But what happens in The Forest stays in The Forest.


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Wednesday 15 March 2023

All About Catcott Burtle - 2023 update!

 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.

‘Forget 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.

Pre-contruction sketch
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 down stairs.
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 this layout.

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 outing. 
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. 

Point 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 – who knows?

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 counters.

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 remains!
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.

Concrete Platform
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 Region.

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!

The Backscene
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 possible.

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 Southern?

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 ‘wetness’.

Vegetable patch
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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Canine Charm

Deidre the darling of the butter blending department at the local creamery, Farmer George and posh photographer Ivan Locksmith are enjoying a drink or 5 at the station pub. But Rufus hound has taken off on one of his adventures, something he does regularly especially now he’s discovered the art of rail travel. 

The other week he managed to get to Exeter and back without buying a ticket, not that he’d be able to of course, for he generally doesn’t carry money. Rufus’ trick, like many a handsome hound is all to do with the eyes and the ability to melt the heart even the most hardened cat lover with that well rehearsed ‘look into my unloved eyes’ trick. 

Luckily today, though maybe not for Rufus, he was spotted escaping the pub via the kitchen, the chef alerting Deidre, George and Ivan. Any pub-going dog owners here will know that our furry canine friends are experts at sneaking behind the bar or into the pub kitchen unnoticed, especially if food is being served or the landlord or landlady is in the cellar changing a cask of ale. 


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Tuesday 14 March 2023

The Special Pocket Club

Every Tuesday, the Special Pocket Club aka SPC meet down on the docks to chat about and show each other recently purchased pocket sized diecast model buses and locomotives. The founding members are Nasal Nigel and Adenoidal Andrew, that’s them standing there to the right. 

They chose the location because it’s a great spot to watch the railway activities, and it also has a convenient loo should too much Tizer be drunk. Mother has told them that it’s bad to ‘hold it in’ if a toilet break is required. Mother knows best of course and Nigel and Andrew are good obedient boys who love their mother. 

PC Rob Banks has been collecting pocket sized locomotives and diecast buses for quite some time, and because of his awkward shift pattern has struggled to make friends outside work hours. Hearing about the new club, he’s come along to meet Nigel and Andrew and to introduce himself as a potential member turning up in his shiny new panda car. But to be fully accepted in to the club he will need to buy a waterproof raincoat with the obligatory ‘special pocket’ which allows quick access to that all important diecast bus or locomotive. 


You can checkout the Special Pocket Club here

Monday 13 March 2023

Conversational Vectis

It’s Monochrome Monday of course, and because the colour meter isn’t topped up until Tuesday morning, and because of colour overuse during the week prior, it usually runs out on Sunday night resulting in Monday’s monochrome post. 

Going through my archive I found this old photograph of Hartley the only horse that can chat in conversational Vectis, the ancient native language of the Isle of Wight. Here he is as a young horse before he left the island and headed for mainland pastures to further his career as a prolific shunting horse and part time language teacher. 

The location could be confused with that of Catcott, but scholars of the railways of southern Little England railway architecture will know that the crossing keeper’s cottage is of a standard design which popped up at several locations including the Isle of Wight, allegedly.  

The Nasal Nigels here will no doubt comment at the lack of crew on the Isle of Wight Central Railway locomotive, but this easily explained. Driver Reg is having a quick lesson in ‘Vectis’ from Hartley, with the photograph being taken by young average posh photographer Ivan Locksmiths, who briefly was a fireman before daddy bought him a photographic studio. 


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Sunday 12 March 2023

Hairy Horacio Locke-Paddle

Sunday down at the coal wharf, and the charming red bearded boatman Hairy Horacio Locke-Paddle is passing through with his supply boat which comes through every 3 or 4 weeks. Horacio is quite a charmer and always has a good story to tell about his antics travelling the Somerset Coal Canal. He can entertain camera toting Gongoozlers for literally hours with his tales, and then has the uncanny knack of being able to sell his dubious wares to even the most sceptical.

Horacio stocks almost everything from air dried bottled water to chocolate jelly moulds and even ‘safety paraffin’ which is designed not to burn for safety reasons. And if that isn’t enough he even sells rubber chairs aimed at accountants who want to spice up their dull lives and become weekend lion tamers. A latex lion mask is included for the submissive one who wants to be tamed. Nasal Nigel is a huge fan by the way and endorses these products enthusiastically, especially the mask with its realistic whiskers from real hair. 

Meanwhile a bagged fertiliser train rumbles through from the docks at Portishead hauled by one of Stanier’s graceful 2-6-4 express tank engines. It’s rare to see such a steamy beast in this part of Little England, but I’m sure you’ll agree it looks most splendid on this fully fitted goods train. 


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Saturday 11 March 2023

Sweet Revenge!

It’s all kicking off down at the docks!

Barry Bullhead is surrounded by Hubert the conversational Latin speaking horse, Herbert the conversational Mayan speaking horse, and Hartley the only horse that can chat in conversational Vectis, the ancient native language of the Isle of Wight. Also some of our other regulars from inch high Little England are here to witness the antics, and they’re not happy, oh no. 

A few days ago Barry Bullhead arranged for our three favourite stallions to be carted off to the pet food factory, but due to help from you my loyal readers, Hubert, Herbert and Hartley have managed to escape their unjust fate. 

Sadly for Barry, looks very likely that he will end up in the water, for not only are there three angry horses after revenge, but two crane drivers and a mechanical front shovel driver are also after evil Barry Bullhead in support of Hubert, Herbert and Hartley. Boo hiss Barry! 


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Friday 10 March 2023

Heading Home to Shrewsbury

Front End Friday #FEF, not only do you get the front of a locomotive, but also the front of a horse, Hubert in fact, though it might be Herbert, it’s so tricky to tell. 

Regular readers will know that this former LNWR Webb Coal tank has been unofficially working on the Combwich line, but now it’s slowly working its way back to its home shed of Shrewsbury. And here it is deep in The Forest of Dean at Fountain Colliery pottering about with a few trucks in no particular order. 

Hubert (or it it Herbert?) has just given Colin a crate of moonshine as a thank you for getting him away from the pet food processing plant, but Colin is more of a cider type. Though he is secretly thrilled, even though he’ll be trading it for cider later. 

Bob Geeza cat is messing about with George’s identical twin brother who is also called George. Quite why George is following Bob around I’ve no idea, but it makes for a fun photograph I’m sure you’ll agree. 


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Thursday 9 March 2023

Titfield Thunderbolt Thursday

It’s Titfield Thunderbolt Thursday and there appears to be a problem with a flatbed lorry that’s ‘broken down’ on the crossing.

Standing in front of the engine, Terry Tuttle-Thomas-Smythe is always on the lookout for a business opportunity, and just like in that well known scene in our favourite Ealing Comedy thinks ‘ah, a stand-off, how very wonderful, please place your bets with me now”.

Waving Wayne cues the stand-off to begin, though there is a little confusion because Wayne has been waving for years, he even waves in his sleep by all accounts. Meanwhile Bob Geeza Cat sits on the dinghy in the canal watching the proceedings and quickly comes to the conclusion that he’s probably in the best place especially if things get explosive. 

And finally, Deidre shouts over to George and says that she’ll dump him if he sides with the road haulage company. 


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Wednesday 8 March 2023

Jump Start

Today in Little England unexpected overnight snow at Ankle Bend crossing greets the 8.05 goods from Highbridge. 95 year old Beryl finally has her driving license back after yet another ban, so is taking her not very reliable Austin 7 out for a spin to top up the battery. 

She had to hill start it to get it going, an easy job for practical Beryl who was a race car driver and mechanic back in the day, also living on the top of a hill helps. Release the handbrake, slap it in second, turn the ignition key and hope the engine fires up before the sharp bend at the bottom of the hill. We’ve all done it I’m sure, I did it for years on my old Renault 5 back in the day when I was too tight to replace the failing battery. I also lived on a hill. 

Barry Bullhead is walking to work today, for his car also has a flat battery not helped by the cold weather. And unlike Beryl he is mechanically inept and reliant on others to do his dirty work, he also lives at the bottom of a hill. I hear some of you cry ‘surely Beryl or Barry have a battery charger?’ we must remember that it’s the olden times, and few homes have electricity in this most rural and remote part of almost forgotten Somerset. 


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Tuesday 7 March 2023

57 Years Ago

 57 years ago today in 1966, the former Somerset & Dorset Joint Rly system closed forever. During the final year, there were many enthusiast specials. Here we are at Combwich in the summer of ‘65, and as usual many the regulars are to be seen, even though very few of them ever travel by rail, they preferring the convenience of the motor car. 

Monday 6 March 2023

Titfield Thunderbolt Week!

It’s Titfield Thunderbolt Week, that official! Okay not really, but let’s just go with it because it’s 70 years since our favourite Ealing Comedy was released. Though I must say that Ladykillers is right there at the top as well, well in my mind anyway - and of course it has some great railway scenes during the climax. 

Looking through some photos earlier, this image of Pannier Tank 4631 trundling over the un-gated crossing next to The Miners Arms reminded me a little of the Titfield Thunderbolt scenes with the stolen locomotive performing a little street running. Apparently those scenes were shot in Richmond Park and Woodstock in Oxfordshire, the 14xx Class loco being a mock up mounted on a road vehicle. And talking of road vehicles, that looks like Beryl’s not very trusty Austin 7 parked up. She’s probably having a few gins I imagine. 

We’ve not seen Beryl for a while, the reason being like many of the other little people is that they’re all looking a little worn, the paint rubbing off with all the constant repositioning required to make up these cameos. But with this in mind, for a couple of hours yesterday before the dog took me for a walk to the pub, I touched up (no, not that way) the paint on some of our inch high regulars. I’ve also a couple of new characters as well, including a friend for Nasal Nigel who also has a special pocket. I think he might be known as Adenoidal Andrew, but if you my loyal readers have any suggestions I’m always listening. 


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Sunday 5 March 2023


Sunday morning at the mill, and Deliberation Dave is building up courage to tell Terry Tuttle-Thomas-Smythe that his flies are undone, or ‘flying low’ as we say in Little England. Terry has a bit of a habit in this region, this probably the result of constantly saying ‘look, no hands’ and then forgetting to do up his zipper. 

To the left Colin and Eric are waiting for the engine to return with a wagon load of freshly harvested turnips. Turnips, for those reading this post in foreign climes, are the main source of food in Little England. They’re used in everything, replacing staples like tomatoes, fish, cheese, Dairylea slices and even turkey at Christmas time. A well known fast food chain even has a much celebrated turnip burger, where a hearty slice of warm turnip is sandwiched within a succulent turnip bun garnished with turnip purΓ©e. And for vegans, you can even buy turnips picked by vegans for a paltry 15% premium, what’s not to like? 

To the right, Farmer George’s identical twin brother who is also called George,  has arrived to stock up with moonshine (made from turnips of course). As usual the moonshine will be disguised to look like large turnips, because of course in Little England, cheese has been replaced with cave aged turnips by order of the cigar smoking lady at The Ministry of Misery. 


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Saturday 4 March 2023

Trip to the Canning Factory

Once a year usually around this time, the old engine from the museum is fired up and taken on a spin of the dockland lines. The weather doesn’t look great, and the lack of suitable cover for both crew and passengers won’t go unnoticed. But seeing that the event has been arranged by Barry Bullhead from The Ministry of Misery, this is very much expected and of course very much of its time. For in olden times, we were expected, and indeed did expect to suffer and be grateful for anything thrown at us. Actually, this sounds rather like Little England of today, but I mustn’t go down that wormhole. 

Today’s lucky passengers are Hubert the conversational Latin speaking horse, Herbert the conversational Mayan speaking horse, and Hartley the only horse that can chat in conversational Vectis, the native Isle of Wight language that vanished midway through the last ice age. 

Barry Bullhead is a thoughtful man, and has arranged for each lucky horse to have a small wagon, just the right size in fact. This to to prepare them for the canning process at the local pet food factory. Bob Geeza Cat and Rufus Hound look on in awe, much like posh types eye up lobsters awaiting their untimely demise in a seafood restaurant. 


Click the link to buy Hubert, Herbert & Hartley a final pint at The Nag’s Head

Friday 3 March 2023

Victor & Albert

Templecombe shed’s 3206, a former GWR engine, rumbles over Ankle Bend crossing on the outskirts of Combwich with the daily goods from Evercreech. The first wagon behind the engine is a milk tank, but regulars of these posts will know that the contents are likely to be quite different. 

The weekly boat from Flat Holm in the middle of The Bristol Channel arrived a short while ago with a bulky supply of moonshine, moonshine being produced on the tiny island. Those with a vivid imagination I’m sure will put two and two together, but of course we must remember to ignore such local tittle tattle. Until 1952 the island was known as High Holm, but due to the numerous moonshine plant explosions over the years, the island was renamed to that of Flat Holm. 

As usual the loco crew on this turn is Victor and Albert, not because they’re always rostered, but because they’ll regularly swap shift just to do it. Victor says that the salty sea air is good for his ageing joints, and Albert says that the sea breeze is soothing for his adenoids and make him sound less like a bus spotter. 

Celebrated pipe smoking and Bentley driving average photographer Ivan Locksmith took this delightful photograph. To achieve the elevated view he attached his new Nikon F filled with Kodachrome II to a long pole and fired the shutter with a long cable release. The composition probably could be better, but considering it was all guesswork, getting the angle is more than passable I hope you’ll agree. 


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