Cry me a river – layout update

model railway update riverIt’s been a while since my last update on the layout so a quick progress report.

For a variety of reasons I’m splitting the Great South up into *lots* of small baseboards.

This is to enable me to build the full thing over time without having to worry about finding space for it all at once and also to allow for flexibility in future (read more on this subject here).

Currently, I’m working on one baseboard representing part of Cornwall and the famous mines and featuring a river and this river has been the subject of my recent attention.

I enjoy working on rivers and have spent a lot of time on this one. Much longer than I wanted or intended — whinge, whinge — but I’m reasonably happy with the results so far.

It’s modelled on part of the river near Par (in Cornwall).

River Par Cornwall

A stream near the river in Cornwall that I’m modelling, it’s the colour and surface texture here I’m aiming to match.

I’m lucky enough to be able to visit this area frequently and have lots of reference material. It’s a canalled river (enabling coal for the railway and mine engines to be bought in from Wales and ore from the mines to be taken away) and is a dark, slow moving, waterway and this was the look I was going for.

I made it using my usual river making techniques: painting the river bed a blend of colours, in this case dark greens to create a deep, slow moving, but natural look; simulate depth by building up layers of PVA and repeat. I then topped it off with varnish to get a sheen.

As mentioned, barges were used to ferry cargo to and from the railway and mines and the N gauge barge seen above is one I picked up (see cars, vans and boats for your railway for more information).

It’s not perfect for the era this section of the layout represents but it’s fine for the time being and great for placement and creating a wake to the sides and behind it.

Speaking of which…

The ripples around the boat are created when the PVA used for the water is almost set and stiff enough to be pulled around but still flexible enough to settle slightly after manipulation.  I pulled an old blunt clay carving tool through the glue creating ridges and troughs, very fine highlighting to wave crests was added with a gloss white.

The grass field in front of the river (seen in the first picture above) is a three stage process as I’ve described before in my post on model railway grass. Essentially:

  • Paint the board a green/brown colour,
  • Apply a layer of traditional scatter,
  • Finally, top with a variety of static grass lengths and lengths and colours to match flood plane grass I’d seen in Cornwall. This being N gauge I went for 90% short length static with 10% medium. The grass being applied with the static grass applicator covered here.
  • Finally, top it off with a dusting of hair spray.
making model railway rivers

The river in progress, before the picture above. Showing blended greens, blacks and browns to simulate a weed covered river bed. At this point, the front field has yet to be done.

The river banks are still to be completed.

Some of these will be natural, with weeds and bushes growing over the banks. Other areas — notably near the loading areas — will be stone or wooden walled. There will also be a small wooden jetty but I need some reference pictures before working on this.

That’s it for now. The track on this board is also complete (you can just about see test trains in the background of the pictures) and which I’ll try to get around to writing about in the near future. Pinky promise.


> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.
Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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