There’s something romantic about a sleeper train. Being rocked to sleep then woken by your butler knocking on the door with a steaming cup of tea. Ok, well maybe there was in the 1930s, but is there still any romance to a night on the rails today? I’ve taken a few sleeper trains on my travels – stacked in a three-tier bunk across India and propped up on a seat through Australia’s vast Nullarbor Plain – but had never done one in the UK. Because of the country’s small size, there are only two sleeper train routes, as otherwise you’d be arriving as soon as you got your PJs on. Along with the Night Riviera Sleeper to Cornwall, the Caledonian Sleeper runs from London Euston to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort William and other Scottish destinations.
There are two different Caledonian Sleeper routes. The Highland Caledonian Sleeper leaves London at 9.15pm then splits en route to arrive into Dundee the next morning at 6.08am, Aberdeen at 7.34am, Inverness at 8.38am or Fort William at 9.55am. Or there’s the later Lowland Caledonian Sleeper which leaves London at 11.50pm and splits at in two at Carstairs to arrive into Glasgow at 7.18am and Edinburgh at 7.19am. You can book tickets up to a year ahead and if you book early and avoid weekends you can get a bed in a two-person cabin for £75 one way (with a discount available if you have a railcard).
Despite my last-minute Scotland trip planning, I managed to get a bargain ticket for the London–Edinburgh sleeper. London Euston around midnight is not the most glamorous start to a trip, and I was kept company in the station café by a family of mice hoovering up leftover cake crumbs. But things got better on board the train. With beds stretching widthways across a normal-sized train carriage, there’s a narrow corridor leading to the berths – so it’s a good idea to leave the giant suitcases at home. In first-class you get a cabin to yourself, with an adjoining door if you are travelling with someone else. But back in standard class, it’s two to a cabin, and if you’re travelling alone you’re usually allocated someone of the same sex to share with.
My cabin partner was a chatty Aussie on a tour round Europe, and fortunately not a snorer. The cabin was tiny, but designed to pack in as much as possible. Each bunk had a fold-down table, shelf for your luggage and reading light, and each cabin had it’s own sink. There were toilets at the end of the corridor, though if need to in the middle of the night, make a note of your cabin number or you might end up trying to open someone else’s door (luckily it was locked or I may have ended up snuggling up to a random stranger!).
But did I sleep on the sleeper? Well sort of. The beds were pretty comfortable and the noise was soothing rather than annoying. The only thing that was a bit disconcerting was when the train braked or went around a corner I did slide around a bit in my top bunk which woke me up. Breakfast isn’t included in standard class, but you can order tea or coffee and shortbread delivered by the cabin steward around 6.30am. We arrived into Edinburgh on time, and you have until 8am to wake up and leave your cabin. As I came out of the station the sun was coming out and I was at the front of the queue for Edinburgh Castle bright and early with a full day to explore the city (though it did catch up with me and I was in bed that night about 9pm).
So would I travel on the sleeper again? Definitely. It was more of an experience than a normal daytime train and if you book early there’s not much difference in price. Next time I’d go for the longer journey to Fort William though, so you get chance to have dinner in the dining car, a whisky or two in the lounge’s leather armchairs and wake up to the real wild Highland scenery (after an extra two hours’ sleep).
Have you ever travelled on the Caledonian Sleeper or any good overnight trains across the world?