We visited the Pendon Model Railway Museum on Monday. On a snowy Bank Holiday with a toddler to entertain, we thought it worth a look. And we were right.
It's a low-profile attraction to say the least: tucked out of the way in the village of Long Wittenham near Didcot, with a cramped car park at the end of a narrow lane. But the welcome from the volunteer staff was warm and friendly - they seemed genuinely grateful that we had visited (and we were by no means the only people doing so). And once we got into the display rooms, Pendon revealed itself to be an inspirational place, especially for a budding modeller such as me.
There are three large models, two of which are fully functional. The extent of the models is breathtaking. With the massive hills and viaducts of the Dartmoor Scene you experience a vertiginous three-dimensionality that is just absent from most models: even at 1:76 scale, the high tors tower over the visitors. The Vale of White Horse Scene on the upper floor is 70 feet long and housed in a huge barn of a room - but the fine detail and realism of the models would justify any superlatives you cared to throw at them. The guide we spoke to said it would take another 15 years before everything on that layout would be complete, and it's easy to see why. Every length of track (EM gauge), every sleeper, every chair, is hand-made, individually assembled and individually weathered. Every contour of the landscape is carefully crafted. Every building is based on a real example somewhere in the Vale, and reproduced in loving detail. Even down to the hollyhocks blooming in the gardens. If I can capture even a fraction of that realism on my layout, I will be happy.
I heartily recommend Pendon for anyone who appreciates good scale modelling - not just in the railway sphere. They are always looking for volunteers to work on the modelling; if I had more time and more talent, I would jump at the chance.