Jump to content

Lochdubh - Gateway to the Isles in the 1980s…

Recommended Posts

I figure that if I can get the station built for Lochdubh, then the rest is relatively straight forward. Like eating dinner, worst first, best to last this time, hardest first…

Lochdubh is of course fictitious but in my previous post I shared a sketch of the scheme and ‘almost’ pier like arrangement of the station and yard, heavily inspired by Kyle of Lochalsh. I wanted a station building that wouldn’t dominate the scene, I was also conscious of not copying Kyle, Wick or Thurso. It needed to feel ‘Scottish’ and specifically ‘Highland Railway’ though, so a drawing found on the internet was scaled down to ‘feel right’ and cut down to caricature proportions to fit.




A few challenges here though, this is N. This is small, yet I wanted to capture a few key features - namely the windows and roof line. The windows seemed harder - so they were tackled first. The thinner glazing bars and outside edges were drawn in with paint in a bow pen and 1mm square styrene was pre-painted before being cut to 11mm lengths and glued on with glue and glaze. Some strip was also pre-painted, and this was cut to 3mm lengths for horizontal bar. The result, whilst not setting the world on fire felt neat enough and matched the feel of the windows at Dornoch. A piece of wall was cut in 1mm planking and painted white, 30thou styrene set behind it with the opening painted the same blue. 


The result, definitely what I was after, and with this initial success propelling me forwards the build progressed over the weekend. Walls were built and pre painted before gluing together, the chimney was assembled and painted off the model and glued in place, things were looking promising but I was putting off the inevitable challenge of the roof. In the end I needn’t have worried, using Evergreen H0 scale board and batten upside down gave the familiar outline at the roof edges, slates were cut in 4mm strips overlapped by 2mm. Although I’m not quite finished here I really love how things have turned out.



What’s more important though is I’ve really enjoyed it. Just as much as the farm house, it feels like I’m learning again and that’s a great feeling.


  • Like 16
Link to post
Share on other sites

Sometimes I do wonder if I'm crazy. This latest project, part of the Scottish N gauge diorama 'Lochdubh' is a representation of the Land Rover that Hamish Macbeth drives in the BBC television series...



I believe the real example to be a Series 2, but alas the Oxford model is a Series 1 - but beggars can't be choosers and this thing is tiny, so bear with me on the first discretion. I used a Royal Mail example because it had the right style of metal roof, and scribed on the back door, and sanded off the logos. I also cut off the headlights either side of the grill and smoothed the arch extensions so I could drill and fit jewels on these, to at least 'suggest' this is a Series 2.


I chose the Royal Mail example as it also had the silver window frames, so these were masked before the model was sprayed white. The orange band with blue edges was applied using a bow pen (!!) and the Police beacon (which although wonky in these photos is so small you can't see this in real life) is cut from plastic sections - the Police being a tiny print out of paper. The mud flaps are also from paper, superglued in place and painted black.




Lightly weathered with Humbrol 72 to soften the finish a little, it looks the part on the platform of Lochdubh. I may go as far as adding the number plates in time, but for now it was a pleasant distraction from the next job on the layout, building the access road ramp and retaining walls.




Most of this post touches on the 'how' the model was produced - the 'why' is probably more interesting, but also more difficult to explain. Quite why I am going through a period of childhood nostalgia I don't know, but I find the Speedlink era N gauge layout a tonic as I research old magazines I find familiar from simpler times. Hamish Macbeth was one of my favourite shows as a young teen and I had always loved a West Highland Terrier - living in a small rural community such as that portrayed, albeit rather comically, in Hamish Macbeth was and has always been a draw for me too - so nostalgia yes, with a blend of the wistful - fuel for the soul never the less, and the creative mojo that keeps you and me entertained.


  • Like 11
  • Craftsmanship/clever 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

I like the planning  and detail you  have shown,  it all helps to capture the feeling of the area.

Kyle is not a place I know a lot about but ever since seeing Pete Matcham's rather iconic version of the place in 2FS I have thought it an ideal prototype to use as the starting point to base a very small layout on.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you, I’ll probably not cover the whole build here but that which seems worth revisiting. There are plenty of photos to share as now it’s finished the scene is a wonderful back drop to my imagination.


Back to the story…


Over the Easter weekend I took a little time for my own projects and over a lazy Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning took Lochdubh beyond just a wooden box...



The 'picture' included a turnout, one of a pair of British Finescale examples I built some time ago - I've pondered for some time about turnout control in a shelf layout and the need for a polarity switch of the frog in a thin baseboard had me stumped. In the end, as one, this may never be operated, and two, the 37 is a long wheelbase multi wheel pickup locomotive I've modified the turnout to effectively be 'dead frog'. The turnout isoperared by a brass rod buried in a 'cut' in the track bed, a second piece of 6mm MDF. I used tube to make it neat at the front, and some styrene to backfill the slot and protect the wire from glue ingress during scenic work.



The platform is formed from 9mm MDF and has been glued into place. I intend add a front surface in styrene, but there is no need to remove them for this - in fact I think this may well be easier in this instance. Painted and sealed with 'satin wood' paint, I quickly moved to cut, solder and lay the track. In lieu of fishplates I soldered the rails together, in this small size I think this is both strong enough, and much neater. The wiring makes use of some DCC decoder wire I bought and haven't used - it's 32AWG IIRC, and nice and fine. This is all hidden down the left hand end of the board.


The result is I can now pose the station and stock on track, and get a glimpse of the completed scene, very much the small slice of Scotland I'd dreamt of creating for some time. It's nice to work on something for myself, with no expectations on the output or the duration of the project. It will be done, when it is done. I can enjoy it as it is already, and good too, to practice ideas and work through solutions to seemingly trivial problems that can both help sharpen the saw (i.e. practice my skill) and be useful on future projects.



I wonder, if looking at the photo above you can see as much as I can? As my eye traces the familiar shapes and colours, from the large logo 37 to the Mk1, I imagine the line of the distant hills yet to be painted on the back scene and look forward to making further progress when the time is right. Until then though, more soon...


  • Like 7
Link to post
Share on other sites

  • RMweb Gold
1 hour ago, James Hilton said:

I wonder, if looking at the photo above you can see as much as I can? As my eye traces the familiar shapes and colours, from the large logo 37 to the Mk1, I imagine the line of the distant hills yet to be painted

… and if you look to the right the waters of the Kyle and towering hills of Skye.


I am looking forward to seeing how this developed. 

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you, I’ll keep the story going - there is plenty more to tell.


Above the fireplace in my lounge hangs a moody photograph of a Scottish croft, black and white, clouds gathering, a Loch behind and mountains rising in the distance. The three holidays I’ve taken in recent years north of the border have all been based out of Crofts (Uigg, Brora and Crieff). Quintessential yet never cliché, and missing from Lochdubh…


Modelling friend Brian McCulloch (Braeside Models) has rather a nice line of crofts in his range, crafted by his fine hand they are wonderfully neat and so full of character. Rather overscale for my N gauge cameo, I asked for a little help with approximate dimensions and he produced some rather lovely scale drawings, thank you Brian.





Brian’s drawing of the single storey Croft lacked the dorma windows I was keen to include, so I modified them in Graphic on my Mac, printed them out and mocked it up on the layout. It was a touch too large so I shrank it all a little, it is towards the back of the scene after all. Perfect, so out came the styrene and a fresh blade and the parts were cut and formed quickly whilst enjoying some music one evening last week (Tip: Windows are formed by drilling a hole in each corner and cutting between the holes and then squaring the corners up).


The roof was layered up with paper, secured with glue and glaze strip by strip whilst enjoying a catch up call with good friend Chris in Canada, and perhaps overscale in this structure as I forgot to scale them down, the effect is generally pleasing.




Textures were built up as with the farm house (featured in my new book), Matt 27 for the majority of the roof, dry brushed with 28 in vertical strikes, built up around the chimney pots. The walls were gloss white, touched in with some grey to introduce some variation in tone, whiter under the dorma and dark staining down from the chimneys, and whilst still wet liberally dusted with talc, producing the texture you see above. Windows are drawn with a bow pen on 40 thou clear styrene, the door and gutter added in styrene. 


Sat on the layout the model looks as I hoped, Scottish, lending a further sense of place and familiarity. A quick job, full of the character I hoped, not as neat as the farm no, but hopefully in position it will play a supporting roll to the best of its ability. I can picture myself there, calling it’s thick stone walls home, the faded red front door feeling comfortable to my hand as I push open the door to the warmth of the fire in the kitchen and the smells of my supper on the stove, pausing just a moment I turn to take in the scene before me, the 37 just about to leave, it’s revs increasing and a plume of exhaust announcing its departure and the harbour returning to quiet and the call of the seagull.




  • Like 9
Link to post
Share on other sites

  • RMweb Gold

James as always your micro layouts are meticulously planned. I like the weathering to the police land rover. The station building along with the croft looks splendid. 

Looking forward to seeing more of this build.👍

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you Kevin, that is very kind. Let me continue the story…


A quiet May bank holiday weekend meant I had the opportunity to engage in some more personal modelling time and headspace with Lochdubh, my slice of 1980s Scottish escapism in N…



Since it last appeared in its own stand alone blog post there has been a fair amount of progress. A small layout like this is a real tonic as tasks are quick and fit easily into the available time I have in the evening. The platform edging was fixed in place after the sleepers and rails were painted and then the track has been ballasted, probably still my favourite job on a project, the mindful caressing of grains of faux stone around to form a neat appearance, even in this minute scale.


The Croft, in place on the hill led me to consider more the exit of the railway from the layout, I had in mind the mountains here would be taller and feel closer than those behind the station - to give contrast and suggest distance. Another period photo of Kyle with Skye in the background lent its mountains to the project amd these were tweaked and adjusted a little to soften the contrast and saturation before being test fitted for size. In place at the back of the scene the Croft is modelled about 85% scale, and fits the space well but if viewed from above still protrudes further forward than ideal with the back siding also needing to exit under the road bridge. A cardboard mock up of this piece of land has been made so I can begin to get a feel for the angles required so that in normal front viewing the subterfuge is disguised.




This left the right hand end I’d the cameo feeling a little unbalanced. There were no distant islands visible and a gap in the right foreground too, so perhaps a photo on the backscene might work. First choice was a boat or ferry, I tried a few but couldn’t get the angle to work so a simple faded out island mountainous outline was added which I proved things greatly. However whilst looking back at old holiday photos I came across a wonderful building I’d snapped at Craignure on Mull, from the ferry as we left the island. This warehouse could look great in half relief in that space, a cardboard mock up was made and photographed to check, shortly followed by a recreation in styrene. By the end of the afternoon an almost complete structure sat in place, it’s blue door swapped for green so as not to clash with the station, and although there is more clutter to consider, and road ways and scrub to plan its feeling ‘just right’.



I reflected that this project is very much an emotional nostalgic escape. Yes I’ve got a job many would kill for but life in the family can be difficult with a variety of challenges. The large logo 37 and railway concept are from childhood, the croft with red door is from a holiday on Skye and now the warehouse connects to a trip to Mull. These personal elements mean the composition isn’t just going through the motions, it’s drawing on deeper meaning, each part taken in turn yet blended to create a warm feeling of calm, somewhere I’d perhaps rather be in those moments of challenge. Art can be a channel for expression and escape, model railways are art. Until next time more soon…

  • Like 8
  • Friendly/supportive 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

The little things. Looking at period photographs and soaking up their atmosphere. Considering a composition, colours, shades and textures… 


The fairly pale consistent palette of shades on the building, platform, track, background all feel as one. The red phone box and yellow Ice Cream sign points of colour. Small, rather than dominate they sign post, helping your eyes move through the painting, sorry photograph (!). This same process helps determine other areas of detail. The Post bus has a home now alongside the small warehouse, it and the grit bin adding those small points of colour, consistent colours too, in the overall scene and in this composition.



This thought process is quite organic, whilst I have an overall feel in mind for the layout I don’t have every last detail mapped out. Working through smaller parts in this way is enjoyable and fits neatly into short bursts in the evening. Cataloguing the work as I progress, and sharing it here is part of the same journey and describing my process helps me understand more of what I’m trying to achieve. The art of railway modelling. 


  • Like 8
Link to post
Share on other sites

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of getting lost in the box that contains Lochdubh, but as the scene progresses then ‘out of the box’ Farish models were beginning to jar…


I wanted the character of the prototype but was cautious of overdoing things, the real 37s in the period quickly lost their box fresh pale grey roofs but whilst in reality these ended up black I wanted a cleaner, perhaps less realistic but more nostalgic effect. How to build up layers of dirt without over doing things though?



The first step was a careful wash of Humbrol 245 on the roof, wiped off with a wide flat white spirit moistened brush, resulting in a dirty grey brown green residue around panels and exactly as I had hoped. A darker wash, as I would normally use may well have over powered the model. My hope was this subtle streaked finish would snow through the later stages quite nicely.



Coach roofs were also tackled, these has the same shade applied to represent peeling paint. A wash and removal with the wide flat brush was used on the second coach. The usual mix of 98 and 33 were applied to the underframe of the locomotive and stock, as well as various shades painted into panels on the same coach roof, being concious that the patterns of weathering are deeply engrained in my pshyche from years of absorbing prototype photos, but it’s always worth checking reference material, which I did over a pleasant coffee with the dog on the sofa. I decided there wasn’t enough relief in the trucks so a wash of ‘Nuln oil’ from Games Workshop was applied, which toned things down just a touch and added a little artificial shadow.



Next the roofs which would receive a heavier weathering than usual, so sides (and windows) were masked and 133/245/27004 was sprayed over each model. The masking removed the same shade was sprayed over the underframe and lower body sides. To finish things off some neat 27004 was sprayed over the exhaust.




Seeing 37418 here at the end of the head-shunt on Lochdubh I can almost hear it’s melodic idle. Whilst I walked around from the platform to the quayside she had propelled her carriages back into the loop and was preparing to run around… a cold wind despite the time of year, the lapping of waves against the shore, gulls screeching as they circle above and the ‘ting ting ting ting’ of the rigging on a boat in the small harbour.



I love this small layout and the possibilities for time travel. It’s the perfect example of how ‘gateway models’ such as a Large Logo 37 can be such a tonic for the weary mind. Until next time, more soon…

  • Like 11
  • Craftsmanship/clever 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

Absolutely love this James and not just because n and northen Scotland are my big modelling interests.


The sense of space despite having little of it to play with, and the way it would scream Highland Railway even without a 37/4 as a major clue really do tick all my boxes.


Enjoying the read and looking forward to more



  • Agree 1
  • Friendly/supportive 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you Rob, I’m pleased you see connections and are enjoying the story. I’ll certainly continue…


I will never tire of getting lost in this box, I’ve said it before and then, again. In a little over 1000 centimetres squared it feels that I have somehow managed to capture the pure essence of the ‘1980s Highland Rail’ and I love it…


Over a weekend I was indulgent and spent a whole day tinkering with the layout which has meant lots of progress and a very meditative few hours. Bursts of energy like this are possible with the thoughtful planning of what I want and is possible to achieve in the time, honed over years and mulled over during commission work. The plan was to get the bridge in and see how far I could get scenically in the time by juggling jobs around to let things dry. In the end I got a bit of time over the second day too, so as well as the road approach I managed to green things up too!


The approach road is a balsa core covered in Slaters embossed styrene painted with Humbrol 245 as a wash which is a good way to get some subtle variation with less work, and work it does - some 28 was used for lime staining, being careful to ensure none was higher than the road surface behind. It feels the tone blends well with the back scene and sets off the weathered Mk1 carriages beautifully. Before these were fitted and whilst the paint dried I had glued down the balsa ramp and blended this with the platform surface to allow that to be painted and dusted in talc in my now tried and test method for tarmac. The station building was glued down with PVA and weighted over night to ensure no gaps. The stone cladding was added to the approach road too and propped in place with various aids to ensure a good bond even with just PVA.



The opportunity to begin to green things up couldn’t be passed up either, a blend of 1mm Peco and 2mm green scenes fibres are the base, with 4mm Peco in a few spots for variation. More work on this to follow. The overall picture is how I imagined it, and now the basics are all in place and coherent the fun work of choreographing the scene with smaller details and touches can begin in earnest. Next will be the bridge and finishing that off before lamp posts and platform furniture, but for now, I’m happy turning on the LED layout lights in the evening and just enjoying the scene as it stands. Until next time, more soon…


Edited by James Hilton
  • Like 7
Link to post
Share on other sites

I tinkered with the muddy earthy texture on the left hand foreground and although not happy yet, it is moving in the right direction. This is a blend of DIY emulsion tester pots sponged and dabbed on to the talc over grey paint base. The variation is quite pleasing and from a side perspective, the normal viewing angle, pretty effective, I might call this a day and move onto finishing the last few elements I want to add, most obviously finish off the road and bridge edging, and bed the croft down.


  • Like 7
  • Craftsmanship/clever 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Whilst of course the ubiquitous Class 26 was the stalwart of the Lochdubh line during the 1970s it was the introduction of the radio token block signalling in the 1980s that saw them displaced by the Class 37…


So this is indeed a rare image, a visitor not on a rail tour, but a regular service train at Lochdubh. The summer of 1990 saw a shortage of tractors and with the new 156 stretched already on the Kyle and Far North lines a pair of the remaining 26s transferred north to Inverness for a summer holiday. 26037 is seen here at the terminus about to depart with the 12.05pm lunchtime train for the Highland capital on the 8th August.




  • Like 10
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you all, yes there is something quite special about this little layout for me…


I woke late that morning, tired from the journey the previous day and well rested thanks to the fresh Scottish air. I'm not sure if it was the mew of the seagulls or the gentle burble of the English Electric 12CSVT that brought me round but leaving the bed and breakfast in Lochdubh I was drawn back to the station...



I had arrived on the evening train and things were dark as I'd walked to my accommodation. In the warmth of the mid morning sunshine I strolled down in short sleeves to where I found 37418 awaiting the 11.08 departure for Inverness, it's short train certainly won't trouble the Tractor but somehow it just looks right, it feels right sat on the quayside at this quiet Scottish terminus, the gateway to the Inner Hebrides.


Whist these photos show that Lochdubh, my 600mm slice of Scottish 1980s British Rail is nearly finished I see all the little things I have left to add, the small details that will help draw me in and help to tell the story of arriving in this little known location 30 odd years ago!


  • Like 13
Link to post
Share on other sites


Lochdubh is a layout fuelled by my imagination and a curious blend of primarily second hand inspiration and a smattering of first hand memories…



The layout is moving through the maturing phase where I enjoy looking into it, and imagining what final touches are required. One thing I was keen to include was a smattering of the human element and I look no further than the wonderful Modelu figures. If you click on the image above remember that this is N gauge! The definition on the figure and the character of the locomotive beautifully captured by their manufacturers, and too, the artists hand in their finish as well as the scratchbuilt elements that require such precise finishing to belie their size. 


These human touches allow us to imagine ourselves in the figures position, drawing us into the scene and our own memories. Nostalgia and model making are great bed fellows, until next time, more soon…

  • Like 9
  • Round of applause 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I still haven't built a fiddle stick for Lochdubh. How can a model railway that is basically inoperable be such a wonderful place to get lost, if only for a few moments...


Perhaps, as the cover and title of my new book suggest because this isn't a model railway. It is a work of art - of my hand - representing my connection with the railways of the Scottish highlands and woven with my own experiences of the area along with hopes dreams and a decent amount of inspiration from other artists and TV shows!



The layout itself nears 'completion'. In this shot not usually achievable with the lid fitted I have given the track and ballast a weathered wash, I have added some fencing (top left) and bedded in the croft (top right). What you can't see is a little more vegetation along the back of the platform where water has been leaking out of the retaining wall. Still to do? I think I'd like to add a road sign at the top of the bridge, I will have to see how that looks. I am also scratch building some litter bins for the platform, which I suspect may be the finishing touch.




So, what future for a layout that doesn't run? What is the purpose of a model railway if nothing moves? For me, this little slice of Scotland is a wonderful think to enjoy and just look at. I'm not sure it will have a home here forever but when it's time to move on comes, I can sell it as a complete package with locomotive and coaches, Landrovers and all - and someone else can enjoy it's calming nature in their home. Until next time, more soon...

  • Like 12
Link to post
Share on other sites

I am really impressed - both by the speed in which you developed and completed that but also by the precision: For me it is hard to believe it is N-Scale ...

Looking at it, it leaves me frustrated with my inadequate abilities ...  :-(


Very, very good work - thank you for sharing that with us.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...