I was heading for the Isle of Kerrera, off the west coast of Scotland, which meant I had to get to Oban via Glasgow. Now, I didn’t want to fly or take the bus from England to Scotland so I tried out the overnight sleeper train instead. It departed London Euston at about 10.30pm and arrived next morning at Glasgow Central at around 7am.
It was my first experience of overnight train travel in Britain, so I was unsure what to expect. My experience on overnight trains in Europe told me that I had to be wary of thieves as I slept. Take any international service between, say, Germany, Holland or France, and you can be pretty sure that your carriage will be infiltrated by gangs at some point during the night.
So I was wary but also excited about travelling on the Caledonian service, excited because this overnight sleeper to Scotland occupies a very romantic place in my mind, conjuring up images of ‘The 39 Steps’, of days when people had time to spend on their travel, and understood that the journey was every bit as important as the arrival.
I was lucky enough to get tickets for first class. My friends got second class. If you book three months in advance fares are at their lowest (that’s what I did), but if you leave it until a month or so before (which my friends did) the prices go up considerably as availabilty goes down. Consequently, they paid just as much for second class as I did for first. Some people who booked three months in advance for second class got a bed for around Â£19, which is great value for an overnight trip. More likely though the price will be around Â£30 one way.
Because we’d got first class tickets we could use the VIP lounge at Euston. It was ok. Free soft drinks and coffee, a fairly snooty barman, use of a private toilet and a comfy but somewhat tatty seating area. Overall it was a nice way to chill out as we’d got to the station a little early.
Once the train was ready to board stewards on the platform asked for our names and directed us to our compartments so there was no fuss with finding our beds. Second class was a single room, about two metres wide by three long, with two bunk beds down one side, one above the other. It was adequate for my friends, and if all you want to do is sleep then it’s fine (there’s no room to move about much though). The aisle outside was busy at first as every compartment was full and people were circulating and getting settled.
Our first class rooms were much the same size as in second, except we had two inter-connecting rooms and just one bunk in each, plus a sink each. Not quite what I’d expected actually, I guess I was expecting something extra special considering it was first class. Like, a lounge and drinks cabinet, or private toilet, or something (like in the films!), but saying that it was perfectly adequate and large enough for us and our rucksacks. We even had room to spread out a bit and play cards. Also, another bonus of first class was that the aisle outside our rooms was relatively free of people compared to second class, so everything was a bit calmer, as because there were only half as many people in the carriage the toilets at the end of the carriage were that bit less busy.
After our game of cards we went into the buffet car and drank decent whiskey until the early hours. Our friends from second class joined us, but they were only allowed to do that because we’d invited them – usually the buffet car is first class passengers only. The staff were polite and the carriage itself was very comfy, it was a nice way to end the evening.
The train started off very slowly. The actual travel time from London to Glasgow is around 5 hours I think, so since our journey took 8.5 hours I guess we were in no rush. We seemed to pull into another station in West London at first, not to let people on or off, just to turn around. It was all a bit jolty and annoying, more so if you were trying to get to sleep I think. After that though we travelled smoothly through the night, no large jolts, and we slept well. We had locks on the doors and the windows didn’t open – there was air con to regulate the temperature – so we weren’t worried around thieves visiting in the night.
We were woken by a steward at around 5.30, he left us a breakfast of juice, tea, shortbread, yoghurt and hot croissant plus the morning newspaper. This was the view from my compartment as I ate.
My friends told me that in second class they didn’t get any breakfast or paper, or wake up call. Â We moved into the buffet car after we’d dressed as the windows were larger there so gave a more airy view.
After we’d arrived in Glasgow we were allowed to stay on the train for an hour to get ourselves packed up and ready to go. We didn’t hang around long though as we had to catch a connecting train to Oban. It was a short walk to Queen Street station, about 10 minutes at most, and we arrived in plenty of time to get the onward service. The views as we went further into Scotland were great. It’s a lovely country.
So, to summarize. The Scotrail Sleeper train is a decent way to travel between London and Scotland (it also serves Edinburgh and Fort William/Ben Nevis). It’s safe and cheap – cheap, that is, if you book three months in advance. It’s far more relaxing that travelling by plane (and just as economical if you take into account the cost of airport parking, your room for the night, a bus or taxi from the airport to your destination and the price of on-board refreshments – we took our own on the sleeper) and it’s far easier to sleep on it that it would be on the jolty, noisy, overnight bus. I’d say it wasn’t as luxurious as I expected it to be but that’s down to my unrealistic expectations. It is still my first choice mode of travel between England and Scotland, and I’ll happily do it again.
To check out the Scotrail website and it’s current prices click hereÂ http://www.scotrail.co.uk/caledoniansleeper/index.html