Creating capitvating caves

Model Railway CavesWhile trains are the centre of attention on my railways it’s small scenery surrounding the track action that I most enjoy making. They lend legitimacy to a railway while being easy to create. And one of the easiest and most interesting scenic features you can add is a cave.

Go underground

Mysterious, foreboding portals to the underground, caves are all around us in the natural world and lend legitimacy and interest to a model railway.

Millions of years in the making, these dark doorways are formed by groundwater seeping down and dissolving rocks – usually limestone, dolomite, gypsum, and marble – making channels in their wake. Over time, volumes of water at upper levels carve caverns, leaving a cave. Where the water flows from rivers and outside sources, the cave entrances become visible.

Alternatively, underground channels can also be exposed by surface rock falls. The result is the same, entrances becoming visible, leading to caves.

Mine are around my mines

I’m a huge fan of caves and have quite a few dotted around my layout. The hills for a Tin mine provide a convenient and natural setting for them – and their dark unseen interior adding mystery to the scenes. They’re great for creating intrigue and story telling.

And it’s not just me.

The world’s largest and most popular model railway, Miniatur Wunderland in Germany, has them all over its vast layout, just one is shown in the picture above.

And the delightful Caledonian Coastal Model Railway also makes good use of caves and inventively also has a side-on-view showing the goings-on inside the cave.

Create your cave

To make my caves, I first find a picture of a “prototype” cave – a real one I can mirror in miniature.

For me, this is just a case of grabbing my camera and taking pictures of them on my trips to Cornwall – on which many of my layouts are based – but a quick search of Google Images for caves +location (eg caves +cornwall) will give a ready source.

With a reference found, it’s time to make them.

For this, I cut out the the rough shape and depth of the cave in the hill foundations and then adorn the walls and entrance with plaster before carving the texture to match the pictures.

As a shortcut, tree bark will give a good rock-like texture.

Adding extra touches

Finally, paint with colours and shades matching the rocks of the prototype and place vegetation around the entrance. If you’re feeling adventurous you could also place the insides of Geodes (available cheaply on eBay) in the cave to add crystal effects.

I always strive to add a bit of humour my mini-scenes, adding some mini figures in and around cave entrance to tell a story. On one of my previous layouts, I had a miniature version of the Time Machine from George Pal’s 1960s film visible in the entrance of a cave, my homage to one of my favourite films. Miniature Wunderland also has a bit of fun with occasional trolls and other fictional creatures making appearances around their 16,630 square feet layout.

The choice is yours.


Adding caves adds realism and brings a bit of the unexpected to your model railway. It adds a sense of adventure to layouts taking the viewer away from just the railway aspect.

To be most effective, don’t have too many and place them in out-of-the-way places that aren’t immediately obvious. If you have any questions about making them I’d be happy to answer them either in comments below, on Twitter @modelrailwayeng or on Facebook.

> 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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