On Monday night, I took the Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston to Scotland. It’s one of two rail sleeper services left in the UK, the other going down to Penzance in Cornwall. I wasn’t trying to win any speed records (it leaves at 11:50pm and arrives after 7am), but taking a sleeper was on my bucket list. I needed to head up to Scotland for a family visit anyway, so it seemed like the perfect excuse.
Unfortunately, I got a call from the train company mid-afternoon on Monday, telling me that ‘technical difficulties’ meant that the train wold no longer be going to Edinburgh, and I’d need to either ‘hop off at Motherwell’ or continue to Glasgow and (somehow) get to Edinburgh from there.
It wasn’t a disaster, but it was annoying, as I’d planned my onward journey from Edinburgh Waverley to Dunfermline. There are no trains from Glasgow to Dunfermline, so it would either require a train journey back over to Edinburgh then out to Dunfermline (which is nuts – check a map) or… get the dreaded bus from Glasgow to Dunfermline.
Anyway… I finished up work for the evening and had some dinner. I was putting off the journey from home to London Euston for as long as possible as London train terminals are hellish on a Friday night and it was also cold and raining. I eventually got there about 10:30pm and enjoyed a quick stop off in the First Class lounge.
The Caledonian Sleeper service allows you to get on board from 11pm, and I stepped aboard at one minute past. I found my cabin quickly and explored it. Seven seconds later, I sat on the bed. I’m not saying the cabin was small, but you could see everything there was to see from the doorway. Check out the gallery below for a few snaps of the corridor and the cabin.
I’d opted for a First Class cabin by myself – you can get a two -person version of this that includes bunk-beds. I didn’t fancy sharing with a stranger (does that still happen?) and paid about £99 one way for the journey, which was about the same as a flight, give or take. The main difference is the lack of security and queueing, no need to head to an airport and being dropped in the centre of the city at the end of your journey.
On paper, the sleeper service has a lot going for it. And I wasn’t disappointed. I had pre-booked a meal in the restaurant carriage, but unfortunately had to give it a miss. I’m not specifically blaming the snacks I had at Hyper Japan on the previous Saturday, but I’d been suffering from a really upset stomach ever since. I was left with the feeling that several large men had been punching me in the gut for a few days. So I missed my chance to experience the service’s fabled haggis, neeps and tatties. Maybe next time.
I settled in and unpacked my essentials, turned down the heat (it was cosy, but a little overwhelming) and popped in my earphone to listen to a podcast. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t actually notice when we left the station! I had the window blind down so couldn’t see movement. It was only when we stopped briefly outside of Euston that I could tell we were on our way.
There was a fair bit of noise outside my cabin door, as people moved about, but this calmed down fairly quickly. I was pretty tired and found my eyes closing as I tried to read. I flicked off the lights and left a podcast playing the background, then tried to get to sleep. It wasn’t a whole night’s sleep, really. I woke up a couple of times due to the pain in my stomach (damn you, cheap and delicious Japanese street food) and a couple of times when the train came to a juddering halt at various places.
My alarm went off at 6am and one of the train staff delivered a small pot of coffee to my cabin at 630am. Well, a pot of hot water and a sachet of possibly the worst instant coffee I’ve ever had the misfortune to drink. But it was hot and had caffeine in it. I felt surprisingly awake and, on reflection, I probably slept more than I thought. The bed was fairly comfy and the duvet lovely and warm. I’d worry about anyone over 5’10” getting comfortable, but this hobbit found the proportions of the bed just right.
Now, the train doesn’t have any showers. And toilets are shared, located at either end of each carriage. This can make for some awkward manoeuvring in the corridors between passengers in the night. But each terminus has showering facilities, so after a cheery ‘goodbye’ from two of the train staff, I took a couple of snaps of the outside of the train and gamely set off to explore the showers at Glasgow Central a little after 730am.
I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It may surprise you to know that I’ve never showered in a train station. It’s not something that featured on my bucket list, either. But included in the cost of the train fare, I got access to an extremely clean and spacious ‘wet room’ with shower, sink and toilet. Piping hot water and lots of it made for a great shower, which woke me right up. It was just as well I was chirpy, as the weather outside in Glasgow was rank; dark, windy and wet.
I suppose the bottom line is: would I do it again?
All in all, I’d definitely do it again. I’m actually going to fly back down to London tomorrow morning, but I’d do a return train journey no problem. I ended up getting a bus from Glasgow to Dunfermline, which, as ever, was deeply unpleasant. But if the train had been running normally, I’d have had a shower at Edinburgh Waverley and hopped on a train out to Dunfermline after a wander around the city.
The sleeper service is now run by Serco and they’re bringing in improved facilities from 2018, which look like a super upgrade. They include en-suite cabins, so no more wandering the corridors in your PJs. Some of the improvements are already in place, in the form of an upgraded menu and provision of toiletries in first class cabins. Though where you’re supposed to use the shower gel, I have no idea.
I think the sleeper service has a lot of appeal. You can get bargains as you can book tickets up to a year in advance. It also means you can avoid congested and stressful airports and get dropped right in the heart of your chosen city. I found the cabin basic, but clean and comfortable. Noise wasn’t much of a problem, and I did manage to quite a bit of sleep. Next time, I’ll definitely try the restaurant (and haggis… I love me some haggis) and stay up a bit longer to enjoy the experience.
There’s something particularly nice about going to sleep in one city and waking up in another and at no point having to empty your bag or be scanned by an officious numpty in a uniform.
One more thing crossed off my bucket list!