Bassenthwaite Lake in N gauge

27 September 2018
Bassenthwaite-03-13170.jpg Bassenthwaite Lake N gauge model railway
Don Annison's N gauge tribute to the Lake district captures vistas and water using scenic modelling at its best.
  • Gauge: N / 2mm:1ft
  • Era: 1947-60
  • Location depicted: Lake district
  • Owner (club/indivudual): Don Annison
  • Dimensions: 6ft 6in x 2ft 6in
  • Control: 12V DC
  • Signals: semaphore
  • Run: continuous loop

Bassenthwaite Lake station is based on the one on the Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith Railway at the northern end of the lake. The lake is north-west of Keswick and, as every Cumbrian and many visitors know, Bassenthwaite is the only lake in the Lake District, all the others being waters or meres. The stationmaster's house still stands beside the A66 trunk road.

Don chose to base the layout on Bassenthwaite for its attractive buildings and picturesque location. It brings back happy memories as the Annison family stayed at Bouch House Farm, between Embleton and Cockermouth, for their two-week summer holidays two-years running in the 1960s.

Bassenthwaite in N gauge

Ex-Midland Railway 3F No. 43808 of 1906 vintage would survive until 1963 when it was cut up at Derby works. Here, its N gauge equivalent soldiers on still past a row of autumnal-looking trees.

Design and construction
The layout was built to show how scenic modelling can be applied to a small train-set oval layout, and hopefully inspire some exhibition visitors to have a go at home. The scenic baseboard is only 6ft 6in x 2ft 6in, which surprises many people. The layout is a classic train-set oval with a station and goods yard on one side of the oval and a simple passing loop on the other. However, unconventionally, the scenic scale model part, i.e. the station and yard, is at the back of the layout and the passing loop at the front with the whole lot visible except where the track goes through a short tunnel and behind a scenic break in the form of a small hill. The layout can be operated from the front so it is equally suitable for home or exhibition operation.

Construction is conventional with a frame of 50mm x 25mm softwood supporting a board of 4mm ply with a track-bed of 12mm thick Sundeala. The sides and back are 4mm ply 350mm high and the fascia is 100mm x 12mm softwood, which provides longitudinal rigidity. The backscene is 3mm hardboard glued inside the ply. Shaped fillets of 12mm ply support the coved corners, which provide a smooth surface to continue the backscene onto the sides.

Bassenthwaite in N gauge

An eagle-eye overview of Bassenthwaite Lake station provides vistas of water, stone-buildings and towering tree-covered hills. A delightful subject for the scenic modeller.

Don ballasted the Peco code 55 Streamline flexitrack on the scenic board with finely sieved tea leaves rather than crushed stone. Don prefers tea leaves which are kinder to finger-tips than real stone and stray bits do less damage. He stained the tea leaves with dark grey paint when the glue had dried, then painted the sides of the rails rust colour. Short and medium radius live frog points are used with the point motors mounted under the baseboard. Track on the fiddleyard board is Kato Unitrack, chosen for the large selection of curve radii, and for the points with their in-built motor and frog polarity switch.

How Don made the water

  1. The Sundeala raises the track bed 12mm above the ply baseboard
  2. Don cut a hole in the Sundeala before fixing in place to form the basic outline of the river and lake
  3. The edges of the Sundeala were bevelled with a Stanley knife, then the rough bits were smoothed with Polyfilla
  4. Sloppy Polyfilla brushed over the ply forming the lake bed filled the wood grain and he sanded it smooth when dry
  5. The water and waves were formed with ripple-coat Artex with the waves formed using a 1in paint brush.
  6. Black acrylic paint was mixed with the Artex, so it dried a matt light grey rather than brilliant white
  7. Acrylic paints were used to paint the water: brown and green round the lake edge blending into almost black green in the middle
  8. Polyurethane gloss varnish was used as a top coat

Bassenthwaite in N gauge

Running past the signalbox is LMS Stanier Class 5MT No. 4932, one of 18 locomotives from the class to survive into preservation. Here, it is caught at the helm of a rake of 16T coal wagons.

Completing the scenery

Don constructed the scenery after preparing the backscene but before the final painting. Polystyrene foam blocks were glued and carved into shape with a hacksaw blade. He covered the hills with rags and sloppy Polyfilla with black and brown acrylic paint mixed in. The rock faces are more Polyfilla/acrylic paint mix with tea leaves added to the mix.
The trees are from Woodland Scenics, Heki and Green Scene.

Bassenthwaite in N gauge

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Holiday-makers adorn the lake at Bassenthwaite from children dipping their toes to fishermen attempting to improve on their best catch.

The station building, station master's house and the railway cottages are scratch-built using Peco and Ratio moulded plastic stone and slate sheets, with Ratio etched-brass windows and plastic doors. Don drew his own plans from photographs, using estimated dimensions from the doors and windows. He photographed the station master's house and used published photos for the other buildings, guessing at some of the details. The up platform shelter is a kit-bashed Kestrel kit, which is a similar style to the prototype. The small goods yard shed, the coal yard weighbridge and hut, and the level crossing are Ratio kits.

Bassenthwaite in N gauge

Caught emerging from the tunnel and through the cutting is an unidentified Standard 2-6-2T. 

To be prototypically correct, motive power should be limited to Webb Cauliflower 0-6-0s, Ivatt 2MT 2-6-0s and DMUs. Kits for Cauliflowers are only available in OO gauge and the only Ivatt 2-6-0s are Minitrix approximations running on German chassis. In the interests of entertaining the average exhibition visitor, Don pretended all the bridges between Penrith and Workington had been strengthened to take larger locomotives. The Graham Farish roster includes two 4Fs which have had tender pick-ups added, two Black Fives, a 3F 0-6-0T, two BR-Sulzer Type 2 diesels and a Metro-Cammell DMU.

Bassenthwaite in N gauge

The backscene employs simple stipple painting techniques using acrylic paint. Colours are muted and have little change to avoid becoming a distraction.

Rolling stock
Coaches are all Bachmann-Farish, plus Dapol parcel vans. The two camping coaches are repainted Farish LMS corridor coaches, which appear to be the correct type judging by published photographs. They are now complete with Fox Transfers. Some of the compartments have been removed to represent the open kitchen/dining/living area, and the access steps are in the correct positions. Goods wagons and vans are mostly Peco with recent Bachmann-Farish and Dapol wagons providing much needed variety.

Bassenthwaite in N gauge

A scenic bridge makes a picturesque shot as its reflection is caught beneath in the water ripples. Autumnal shades offer a refreshing change from traditional verdant greens. 


Bassenthwaite Lake isn't designed to be an all-out exhibition spectacle, but prove the concept that the average individual who has started in the hobby can greatly improve a basic train set with scenic enhancements. Water, large skies, rolling hills and not cramming every square centimetre with an object are key elements to take away.


Bassenthwaite Lake trackplan

Want to see more N gauge model railways? Click here.