The first steam engine I spotted on arrival at Elsecar wasn't, as expected, a garden rail model but a full-size Sentinel being prepared for a days work on the site steam railway. If I'd done some research, I'd have realised that the centre was home to the Elsecar Heritage Railway as well as an interesting collection of craft and antique shops.
However, it was the garden stuff I was there for, so after a quick walk around, it was into the hall I went.
Inside the hall, I found a 16mm scale modular layout, The Timpdon Lake railway, a G gauge American scene, two layouts from Yorkshire bolted together and Portmadoc. A pretty good selection of layouts, of which I had only seen two before.
Even first thing in the morning, there was lots of action. The modular model had a loco being tested for haulage with a train around 15ft long which it just about managed although slowing on corners. Adding a second loco saw speeds rise but even with one, the children watched with wide eyes as it passed by. If that's not planting a seed of enthusiasm, then I don't know what is.
My first clanger of the day was dropped while watching a superb Garratt running on Portmadoc. Congratulating the owner on the satin paint fish which looked superbly realistic, I suggested it was an Accucraft model. It was actually the results of a 20-year scratchbuild, but he took it in good humour. Once you know, the differences can be seen (narrower cab, finer pipework) but mostly, it's a superb machine that ran perfectly, even on the relatively sharp curves needed for an indoor layout.
One feature particularly impressive on Portmadoc was the scenery. Very well modelled buildings are gradually being bedded into the ground. The track looks like real narrow gauge track and the whole thing is more model than traditional test track.
It wasn't alone - all but one layout were more scenic model railway than test track and the one that wasn't was a test track. I've not seen so many layouts like this in one place before. Buildings and scenic efforts are often pretty perfunctory as the real interest in engines and rolling stock and these will normally run outside. The indoor track is for display and a sideline to the main action.
Trade was excellent. Not as much as other shows but a decent selection with little you couldn't buy and several people I'd not seen before but was pleased to meet.
There was, of course, cake. Lunch was a delicious Aberdeen Angus burger followed by an individual Victoria Sponge eaten in the sunshine. All very pleasent and I look forward ot trturning next year.