Hills of the North – the Spirit of Shap in ‘OO’

This superb 35ft long ‘OO’ gauge layout sets out to capture the challenging railway on the approach to Shap Summit on the West Coast Main Line. See it at the Great Electric Train Show this October.

Gauge: ‘OO’ | Period: 1930s-1960s | Region: Midland | Operating team: Graham Nicholas and friends

Stanier 'Princess Royal' 6201 Princess Elizabeth heads down grade from Shap Summit representing a train from the pre-Nationalisation period on Hill of the North.

Above: Stanier 'Princess Royal' 6201 Princess Elizabeth heads down grade from Shap Summit representing a train from the pre-Nationalisation period on Hill of the North.

No ‘OO’ gauge model railway could ever truly hope to capture the vast expanse of wild north country fells that are the setting for one of the country’s most iconic stretches of mainline railway – the formidable 1-in-75 climb to Shap summit on the West Coast Main Line. The Spirit of Shap is presented as vignette of this famous piece of railway, centred around the scene at Shap Wells.

The layout takes three places on the climb of Shap Bank and blends them into one continuous scenic presentation some 35ft long. In the uphill direction, trains enter the scene at the right hand end under the Greenholme road bridge. This then transforms into the ‘classic’ location as the railway runs along an embankment, crossing the road to the Shap Wells hotel. The majority of the viewing section is given over to this scene, allowing sizeable length trains to be positioned in the landscape.

A Stanier 'Princess Coronation' leads a heavy north bound express towards Shap Summit.

Above: A Stanier 'Princess Coronation' leads a heavy north bound express towards Shap Summit.

As the trains enter Shap Wells cutting, this becomes deeper on the approach to Shap summit itself, passing beneath the distinctive lattice footbridge that takes a public right of way high over the railway. Emerging from the cutting, trains pass the sidings and signal box at Shap summit before disappearing off scene again.

The layout is set on a gradient which represents the 1-in-75 incline so the trains really do have to work to make it past Shap summit. This includes the facility to recreate the banking arrangements for some of the heavier trains, with the banking engines dropping off at Shap summit before returning down the hill towards Tebay. The scenic work attempts to capture the bleak open moorland setting, with plenty of drystone walls (51ft to be exact) but few trees.

A Stanier 'Black Five' 4-6-0 has charge of milk train on Hills of the North, recapturing the BR steam era on the West Coast Main Line.

Above: A Stanier 'Black Five' 4-6-0 has charge of milk train on Hills of the North, recapturing the BR steam era on the West Coast Main Line.

The layout is set in the pre-1973 era, prior to the electrification work that swept away the old steam age infrastructure. Various periods can be depicted – from 1950s pure steam operation, with the West Coast Stanier fleet still holding sway on a mixture of crimson/cream and maroon stock, through to the 1960s transition era with a mix of steam and diesel traction and BR standard classes and blue/grey coaching stock in evidence. The layout is signalled with the correct (working) semaphore signals of the period, augmented by the Shap Wells intermediate block colour light signal.

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