The Caledonian Sleeper train: London to Edinburgh Review
Sometimes it’s hard to summon much enthusiasm for travelling by train in your own country. The associations with the frustrating and deadening commuting routine can be hard to shake, and plus if you’re a Brit then complaining about your local train service is almost as obligatory a custom as crumpets with Marmite and a nice cuppa Earl Grey tea for breakfast. But at the same time, it’s often all too easy to overlook what’s on your doorstep. So earlier this year I gave the Caledonian Sleeper a whirl, zipping me from my from my hometown of Edinburgh to my old stamping ground, London. This goes shuttles between the two cities with just a few unobtrusive stops en route (Carstairs, Carlisle and Watford Junction) and we were fortunate to bag a bargain mid-week single for around £30 a piece. Admittedly it was just the first leg of an amazing journey on the Orient Express, but more of that later…
Getting on board
The train sets off from Waverley at 11.30pm, but we were hopelessly early as usual and had plenty of time to stock up on vending machine provisions for the long night ahead. Our steward didn’t exactly greet us with open arms, but we were boarded efficiently enough with plenty of time to settle into our cabin. Maybe capsule is a better word. Space in our 2 person bunk was tight indeed, but it’s fine once you’re decanted and our cases fitted neatly in the overhead slot.
Lounge car facilities
Once we were moving we headed for the lounge car. The atmosphere in the car was very relaxed, populated mainly by businessmen chatting civilly, a few lone travellers and the odd couple. We enjoyed a surprisingly tasty tapas plate and a few decent half bottles of red served at our table. We lingered til around half one but got the impression that we could’ve hung about as long as we cared to.
Rather dumbly I’d managed to wedge all our toiletries and night clothes into the very depths of our case which further added to the gymnastic challenge of unpacking and readying for bed. Scotrail provide you with a very dinky little toiletries set comprising mini toothbrush, soap, floss a strange plastic receptacle of water (although there are sinks in the compartment) not unlike those used in cool bags and quite possibly the smallest tube of toothpaste ever invented.
Do you sleep in a sleeper?
We probably managed a good four or five hours shuteye, as good as you can expect on a sleeper. It’s the sort of strange, skittish sleep that seems to pass quickly often experienced after a bottle of wine. Not altogether unpleasant, just slightly odd and heightened. My tip: down at least a few glasses on the journey and then you won’t really notice the difference!
Even when sharing a berth with a same sex stranger, tickets are generally not too cheap, but it’s always worth checking for bargain berths on the Caledonian Sleeper. Midweek nights are your best bet.
My body clock seems to have a built-in GPS when I take sleeper trains – I always tend to stir a good thirty minutes before reaching the terminus and this time was no exception. As we eased smoothly into Euston station our shiny, happy steward delivered our standard issue coffee and croissant to our cabin and left us to ready ourselves for the surreal daylight world outside.
Although the train gets in around 6.30, you can in theory stay on until 8 for a final power nap or ablution, but alas Mr Happy, clearly impatient to seize the rest of his day, winkled us out of our little shell around 7.35.
Being cast out into the maelstrom of a major London commuting hub always makes me feel a little shell shocked and wonder exactly how I stuck it there for so long and wrote off that part of my daily routine as common and garden normality, but of course the journey that was to come was anything but.