While 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.
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 channel in their wake. As the water carves it’s way down through layers of rock, the upper levels are left exposed leaving a cave. If the water flows from the surface, the cave entrances can be seen, alternatives underground channels are exposed during rock falls.
Mine Are Around My Mines
I’m a huge fan of caves and have quite a few dotted around my layout. The hills for the Tin mine provide a convenient and natural setting for them – and their dark unseen interior adding mystery to the scenes.
And it’s not just me.
The world’s largest and most popular model railway, Miniatur Wunderland in Germany, has them all over it’s vast layout. 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 my layout is based – but a quick search of Google Images for caves +location (eg caves +cornwall) will give a ready source.
Cut out the the rough shape and depth of the cave 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. 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 places the insides of Geodes (available cheaply on eBay) in the cave to add crystal effects.
For entertainment, add some mini figures in and around the entrance. On my layout these are miners with ladders. Miniature Wunderland has more modern caver’s but the team also has a bit of fun with occasional trolls and other fictional creatures making appearance. The choice is yours.
Adding caves adds realism and brings a bit of the unexpected to your model railway. 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.
Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. 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.