Like me, the chances are you will have to look that up, but it is a geographical term relating to the effects of thawing and freezing of, for example, soil above permafrost. Each year, the thaw on the surface leads to over saturated soil above the permafrost, and it slips. Then it freezes again, and the cycle repeats. The consequence of all this is to create small steps in hillsides, etc, as show in the (linked) photo below from this very helpful page.

Solifluction in the Cairgorms

What has this to do with model railways? Well, recently there has been some discussion in various places, but particularly on Mike Cougill’s blog, about how great our hobby is from the perspective of personal satisfaction. We don’t just model a locomotive, as would someone building a radio-controlled vehicle, aircraft or boat. We model the whole scene, and also add movement and logical operation. (Nothing moves on a real railway without there being a purpose. This is also true of some layouts, where the builder has taken the trouble to find out about the real railway.) What the hobby teaches us, more than anything else – more than joinery, basic electrics and often some electronics, sculpting (of landforms), architecture, geography, history, economics, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, metal working, use of tools,  and so on – is observation.

Observation of the real thing.

All good models start with an observation of the real thing. Generally speaking, unless you are building a model of something akin to the creations of Roland Emmet, railway modelling is not an abstract art – it is nowhere as difficult as that. As an art, it starts with observation. I learned about bonds used in brickwork from Iain Robinson (who has today introduced me to the word solifluction!), via the Railway Modeller, I have learned a lot about texture and colour from Barry Norman and Gordon Gravett. I have developed a love of history beyond railways thanks to the hobby – school put me off that! I could go on. (I often do, according to some many…)

Sometimes it works the other way round, too. I was motivated to learn about shading and perspective at school in art lessons by being allowed to do a perspective drawing of a railway station, with shading to show the direction of the sun. I also learned about observation from my 5th form (year 11, eleventh grade) art teacher, when trying to paint a tree and failing because I had used brown and not a few shades of grey (fewer than 50, I hasten to add!) In fact, I put my astounding performance* in my art exams at the age of 16 down to the drive to observe, rather than anything else, and that came from the hobby.

So, solifluction is another thing I have learned from the hobby, and I shall keep an eye out for it in future!

If you weren’t, you will now…


*In case anyone is wondering, the words “astounding performance” were used by my art teacher (not sarcastically), who had “inherited” our class from someone who had left part-way through the year, to describe my achievement against my natural ability. I failed. 

6 thoughts on “Solifluction

  1. teigl

    I am very pleased that the article on bricks in the RM had stuck in your mind and was of use! I couldn’t agree more about observation. I once tried to paint a sheepdog for a model farm I had built, and couldn’t get it to look right. It was a black and white sheepdog, for goodness sake…a no-brainer, surely? But it just looked wrong, no matter how I painted it. My partner found some photos of real collie farm dogs, as opposed to the idea of a sheepdog that I had in my head, and hey presto – authentic sheepdog livery and totally believable!
    I think that including as many prototypical landscape features, such as sheep tracks, circles of mud where cow feed bins have been, quagmires at gates, rabbit holes, undercutting of slopes by animals etc …all add to the story of the landscape and help bring it to life…all part of that “authenticity” thing that David jenkinson used to go on about.

    School put me off history, too…now I realise, perversely, that industrial history is really my main interest!

    1. Dunks Post author


      Credit where it is due, I say. Thank you, belatedly, for all of those lovely sketches and articles – to me, the finished models were almost incidental to the learning process, but they gave me an idea of what might be possible if I observed the real world and applied myself to acquiring the necessary skills. And again we are back to the simple fact Nothing worthwhile is for free…

      that “authenticity” thing that David jenkinson used to go on about

      Unfortunately, David didn’t like to weather anything, which for me ruined the authenticity completely!


  2. geoff52

    I had come across the term Solifluction thanks to the programs presented by Aubrey Manning who travelled around the country explaining it’s geology and geography, if you missed the series and have an interest in the subjects then do keep an eye open for repeats.

    Someone once remarked in the letters column of ‘The Railway Modeller’ that our hobby should form a part of the national curriculum because it taught so much in a variety of subjects. When you think about it you can teach practically every subject under the sun and in an interesting way.

    As another fan of Iain’s articles I wholeheartedly agree with your comments and I still refer to them to this day. Until I read his articles a brick was just a brick and I was totally ignorant of how a real building was constructed so it’s no wonder my early efforts looked wrong.


    1. Dunks Post author

      it’s no wonder my early efforts looked wrong

      So that explains your early mistakes, what about what you are up to now? 😉

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