The Far North Line

In my last visit to the Highlands, I took my father up to almost the extremity or our island to Thurso.  The purpose of doing so was to mooch around portions of the Highland Railway north of Dingwall but also to drop in on Richard Doake.  Richard is a fellow follower of the Highland Railway and has a rather nice layout depicting a pair of the Far North line’s more interesting stations; Helmsdale and Thurso.

Although Richard has sought to use a large degree of ready to run stock, most of the infrastructure on his model has been scrachbuilt so that it captures the Highland flavour.  This includes signal boxes, goods sheds, water tanks and the like – the combined effect works as this is one of the most authentic feeling Highland layouts I have seen.

Richard high level Thurso

An overall view of the main part of Thurso.

Richard Black 5 at Thurso

The train shed is a reduced liength version of the real thing (which is still there for those that don’t know).  This view would have been a daily occurance in the late 1950s as a hiker concludes its long journey from Inverness with the Thurso portion of a Far North train.

Richard Thurso cabin

The signal cabin at the station throat.

Wee Ben at Thurso

A small ben, Ben Wyvis, does some shunting in Thurso’s yard.  This has been converted from a Hornby T9 with a replacement tender.  The wheels are in reality 6 inchs to big and the boiler is consequently too high, but I bet the Highland fans that read this didn’t notice until I told you?


Brn Wyvis’ sister, Ben Clebrig acting as station pilot at Thurso.

Richard Helmsdale Black 5

The other station is Helmsdale and here we have the Hiker once again returning south. passing a typical Highland goods shed.

Black 5 Helmsdale

Richard Helmsdale shed

A Pickersgill on shed at Helmsdale, along with a pannier.  A pair of panniers were regularly found at Helmsdale in 1962 as they worked the Dornoch branch at this time following the failure of the last operational Highland locomotives, some small tanks.

Richard Passenger Tank Helmsdale

And here is an example of this tank – aptly named Passenger tanks as they specialised on lightly loaded trains on the short branchlines the Highland had a number of in their region.

Richard Clan off to the sunset

Like on the Kyle line, van traffic was a big feature of the line and here we see a clan pull out northwards with a train of vans and non-passenger stock.  The eagle eyed will notice that the clan is in BR livery where in reality they did not last long enough to carry this.  Richard is quire relaxed about this as it enables him to include locos he fancies!

Black 5 heading south

And a similar working heading south with the almost enivitable (for the real thing) black 5.

So thank you Richard for entertaining us and also for the use of your photographs – rather better than my own!

About highlandmiscellany

Just playing trains; my weekday life is a bit more serious though!

Posted on May 9, 2016, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on Max Stafford's Kennel and commented:
    Apologies for the lack of home grown content of late, I’m working on it. Meantime here’s one of my favourite bloggers about a visit to one of my favourite layouts/modellers of recent times. Richard’s modelling is superb. Although his track is to OO, the overall quality of his modelking creates an overall atmosphere that has few rivals. Hope you enjoy it!

  2. Hi.

    Where did you get the cloudscape done. Looking for one for the back of my layout Holmfirth

    Many thanks


  3. Very impressive: I also believe that one’s layout is to please oneself. Just one question – how doers a Black 5 from Inverness come to arrive at Thurso chimney first?

  4. Don, didn’t you know that there was a chord built at Georgemas late on in the second war…………… There was an enlarged turntable at Thurso too, to enable Black 5s to be turned there.

    Well, maybe in Richard’s world (certainly he has a nice big turntable!!) In practise, the layout works as a round and round with a spur leading to Thurso, so unless the train were to run round at his Helmsdale, there is no avoiding this!

  5. Richard Doake

    Thanks for featuring this, Mark. The backscene is Hills and Dales and can be obtained in several places although I deal direct with Artprinters (John) who offers a customised service for any of his products.
    The layout consists of the two stations and a hidden run with a number of loops and the way it is configured to suit the space available Helmsdale has to be worked back to front as to the prototype, with trains from the North appearing at what is the southern end of the real thing. This does not cause any problems operationally as a model, but in practice I tend to work the two stations seperately, although goods traffic does tend to find its way to both.

    My approach to the hobby is pragmatic, quite happily using modern R-T-R chassis wherever possible and turning a blind eye to the odd mm or two lacking here and there. This is partly because of my frittering away decades in blind alleys and often glacial modelling progress before realising that there is not the same length of time in front to plod along at the same rate. Therefore I determined to build these two stations and get them operating in a reasonable time scale -they had been planned as a build since 1970 so have had a long gestation. The bulk of the build took a just over a year, at a rate I’ve never done before, but it’s more or less complete now although there are several extras planned. Thurso is getting a smaller turntable that is more British in outline and some appropriate coaching stock is to follow via the Shillouette cutter.

    I also found myself with an alternative timeline, where HR engines benefited from the same decisions as did several CR classes under the LMS, gaining an extended life, and there are several of these gracing the layout, although I do have enough”proper” locos to work it as per the prototype in the fifties.

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