Sleeping on the rails part 2 – off to Scotland on the Caledonian Sleeper

Published on 15 April 2009 in , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve never been a huge fan of air travel. I have no particular qualms about the flight – I have no fear of flying or anything like that. I just dislike airports. I don’t like the queues, the endless waiting and the fact it just takes forever even just to get to the airport. Some people think flying is the quickest route, and flights are quick. It’s just the rest of the experience that isn’t.

As such, I try to avoid fly as much as possible.

And in the UK you can get most places in a reasonable time by train so why fly?

The journey from London to Edinburgh is perhaps pushing it slightly, with a journey of four and a half hours. So trying the sleeper train to Edinburgh seemed a good idea.

And so it came to pass that we arrived at Euston with two friends we’d managed to drag along, and boarded onto the Caledonian Sleeper.

All aboard the Caledonian Sleeper!

For a standard class return, £171 doesn’t look cheap, although when you factor in the cost of two overnight stay it suddenly looks a lot more favourable.

That money gives you a single bunk in a shared cabin – although you can pay extra to get sole occupancy of the cabin if you’re travelling by yourself, or upgrade to first class where you get a single cabin, with the upper bunk lifted up and strapped to the wall. Naturally as I was travelling with Catherine, sharing wasn’t a problem.

Inside the cabin

The cabins are on the compact side – two of you can just about stand next to each other on the floor space and that’s about it – but feature everything you need. The bunks are reasonably sized – slightly narrow but long enough for most – and pretty comfortable.

Under the window is a sink, and there’s a shelf above it for putting luggage on – some of which can be stashed under the lower bunk too.

There’s also two bottles of mineral water (the water from the tap is not drinking water) and a “disposable hygienic kit” which features toothpaste, toothbrush, toothpick, a tissue, and “water for mouth rinsing”. Alas they only give you enough water to rinse once so if you want to swill in the morning, you might be a bit stuck.

If you don’t want to stick to the cabin all journey, there’s also the lounge car – which is where we went.

We’d met in the pub before hand – my logic being that maybe beer would help me sleep (ha!) – so the inevitable visit for whisky served as we thundered through Watford seemed like a good idea at the time.

In the lounge car

Tal and Catherine in the lounge car

There’s no doubt that Scotrail know their market here. The alcohol selection is very good with an impressive range of beer, wine and about ten whiskys – a range of single malts and blends, served in proper glasses. Until they ran out anyway.

On our trip up north, the car was rather busy thanks to staff shortages. The train features two cars – one for the Edinburgh side of the train and one for the section that goes to Glasgow. However due to staff shortages, the Edinburgh lounge car had no one serving hence anyone wanting a sit down and a drink, was crammed into the Glasgow side.

As well as drink, there was food including haggis, neeps and tatties. All microwaved naturally.

We probably stayed in the lounge car just a little too long – it being about 1am before we headed back to our cabins for a nights sleep.

Given we’d be arriving in Edinburgh around 7am this was perhaps not the best of moves for the one thing that takes some getting used to, is sleeping whilst on the move. The journey immediately out of London was reasonably smooth, no doubt thanks to the recent upgrade work on the West Coast Mainline, and eventually I nodded off.

All was going well until the beer and whisky took their hold and at 4am I had to leave the cabin to check out the facilities. After that the journey seemed to get less smooth. At several times we turned round corners and it felt like I was being sucked out of the bed, feet first. And then there was every time the train braked… Oh the noise of it…

As such, it was rather blurry eyed when awoken by the cabin staff just before seven as we sat at Carrstairs station (where the train divides). The wake up call (part of the service!) came with some much needed refreshments. Hot drink and a “breakfast snack box” consisting of a small tub of grenola, a small croissant and a small muffin. Still, the coffee was good.

Edinburgh Waverly the following morning

Tal, Lorna and Catherine at Waverly station

And so it was rather tired that we arrived at Edinburgh Waverly, alighting around half seven and in need of more coffee and perhaps a bigger breakfast.

It did give us a day’s sightseeing, although almost inevitably that was followed by a late afternoon snooze as we caught up on our sleep!

Sleeping on the sleeper is clearly an artform, but the journey back did seem to work better for me – perhaps because I knew what to expect. And perhaps also because there’d been a reasonable bed time and no whisky!

I say reasonable. There had been some delays and we were still on the platform until 23:45, despite the train having supposed to have left Edinburgh half an hour before. And to make things worse, the wake up call came at half six.

Thankfully I wasn’t in work that day so went straight home. But this time, I didn’t need to spend half the afternoon asleep.

Despite the sleep issues, more sleepers seem to be on the cards. Catherine’s brother is getting married near Aberdeen in the summer, and Catherine herself seems to keep coming up with random plans to do things like the West Hightland Way.

We could end up eating far too many of those breakfast snack boxes…

In part three, it’s time for some Russian sleeper experiences.