Every now and then when I need a bit of inspiration there are a couple of issues of Model Railway Journal that I keep returning to: 40 and 106, which feature layouts by Martyn Welch -'Hursley' and 'Monks Eleigh'. These two layouts never cease to provide an instant and seemingly endless source of inspiration.
The last few days I've been poring again over the photos of 'Monks Eleigh', soaking up the atmosphere, examining the detail, just trying to inwardly digest what exactly it is (sheer artistic brilliance aside) that makes it such a great model.
It's a difficult job trying to come up with an answer to that one, because it all just all looks 'right'. It's far easier to point out flaws than analyse perfection! I guess a number of things contribute to this: careful observation of the prototype - right down to the way grass and weeds grow in uncared-for corners, to the way things are weathered. There's not an over-filling of the available space with unecessary clutter. The details tend to be in the stuff you could easily overlook like ivy climbing up a telegraph pole, or grass growing up through the cracks between paving slabs. Another thing that stands out is that it seems to work from every angle - the entire scene has been conceived and thought out rather than just plonked together in a hope-for-the-best manner.
I'm not a big fan of figures on layouts. Obviously it depends on your prototype as to whether you can get away without them, but I just feel that, especially in 4mm, its almost impossible to make them look anything close to lifelike. 'Monks Eleigh' is 7mm scale, but there are no figures in the photos at all, and it actually adds to the atmosphere. You feel as though it's a sleepy, quiet backwater of a place, on one of those baking hot summer afternoons (which don't happen very often but we all remember nostalgically from our childhood) when most people are indoors keeping cool. Open doors etc. suggest the presence of people close by without needing to actually have figures visible.
I'm also a great fan of the unkempt, slightly run-down feel apparent in this layout. I've never been particularly inspired by layouts depicting beautifully clean locomotives and rolling stock, buildings that look as if they've just been built the day before, neat ballast shoulders and gleaming rails, and manicured lawns running down to the lineside. I'm sure there was a time in most railways' history when everything was new and shiny, but that's not a period I'm terribly interested in. Give me overgrown, run down, dilapidated, neglected any day!!
I could wax lyrical for ages about all this but I'm sure most of you will have got bored and moved on to something else by now so I'll stop there.
Oh, just out of interest - I don't suppose anyone knows what Martyn Welch is up to these days? Its been 10 years since the last layout that we saw in MRJ...