On the night train

Sorry for the recent silence: I’ve been on the road a bit – or rather, on the rails. First, a dash around the country, taking in Cardiff, Leeds and Edinburgh in the space of 4 days, and then a week later, I took the Caledonian sleeper to Fort William, which was a first for me, and highly recommended.

Inside the sleeper carriage

Oh it’s very pleasant when you have found your little den
With your name written up on the door.

So this is what it's like to be in prison

And the berth is very neat with a newly folded sheet
And there’s not a speck of dust on the floor.

There is every sort of light – you can make it dark or bright;
There’s a button that you turn to make a breeze.

Comfort kit on the Caledonian sleeper

There’s a funny little basin you’re supposed to wash your face in
And a crank to shut the window if you sneeze.

Caledonian Sleeper lounge car

Then the guard looks in politely and will ask you very brightly
`do you like your morning tea weak or strong?’…

Breakfast on the move

[Poem: TS Eliot’s Skimbleshanks, of course]

And this is what you wake up to the next morning:

Dawn viewed from the Caledonian Sleeper

[The following is from a mail I wrote to someone who asked how I’d booked it and what it was like]

There are four sleeper services to Scotland that I know of, between London and:

— Glasgow
— Inverness
— Aberdeen
— Fort William

The Glasgow service leaves London very late – 11.15pm or so, I think – and arrives into Glasgow around 6.40am. This is a bit of a problem because then you’re stuck in Glasgow before breakfast, so if that’s where you’re going, I’d recommend taking a daytime train. London – Edinburgh is about 4 hours, and Lon-Gla is about 5 during the day.

But if you’re going further north, then the sleeper is a good option, in at least one direction (I took the sleeper up and then a daytime train back down – it’s possible to do the journey from Oban – London in a day, but it’s a lot of sitting on trains!)

The sleeper I took left London at 9.15pm, and arrived in Ft William about 9.45am. Clearly it didn’t take that long to do the journey, but the train was moving (slowly) for most of the time, stopping a few times in sidings for 30 mins or so. It’s one big long train until Edinburgh when it splits into the three sections – Aberdeen, Inverness, Fort William. I was asleep for most of it, though I was vaguely aware of waking up at one point, peering out of the window and finding myself at Edinburgh Waverley station.

I think the route is something like: London Euston – Watford – Crewe – Birmingham – Preston – Carlisle – Edinburgh – Crianlarich – Rannoch – Fort William.

I woke up about 8am with breakfast being delivered to my cabin, which I ate looking out over Rannoch Moor – a stunning bit of the world.

In terms of photos, I took most of the pics through the (rather grubby) window of the carriage, either in my berth or in the seating car a little further down the train. The secret is to take lots and lots and lots of shots, and one is bound to come out well eventually.

Related: Night Mail

And Slow Train by Flanders & Swann:

6 thoughts on “On the night train

  1. Hey, you actually make the train sound rather glamorous! But there is something about avoiding the hoi polloi and having your own train cabin that is fairly exciting, no? 🙂

  2. It’s probably the only regular service in the country that qualifies as “civilized”. I try to use it one direction or the other whenever I head up that way. Though your friend is right about the downside of being dumped in Glasgow or Edinburgh before anything’s open. If it’s a weekend, they’ll at least normally let you much about a bit so you don’t actually find yourself on the streets until a quarter past 7. You can find *something* open then if you know where to look.

  3. The Glasgow train splits en route. The front half goes to Glasgow, the rear to Edinburgh. I use it a lot to get to a contact centre I have up there. Living in central London without a car makes early morning flights from Luton a challenge, but wandering up to Euston for 23:45 is fantastically easy.
    There are showers at Glasgow that cost £3 including a fresh towel and an assortment of gels. I tend to get into the office for about 07:30. The return is more of a drag as you have the whole evening to kill. Often there is someone in the office that I can persuade to come out ‘to play’, but if not it can be a dull evening.
    All of the sleepers normally head up the West Coast line unless there are engineering works, when they head up the East cost instead. The breakfast on the East Coast route is inferior to that on the West Coast so I assume they stop somewhere en route to pick these up.
    Whilst they are normally civilised, I have seen some uncivilised behaviour in the lounge car. It resulted in the train being stopped at Preston and the culprit being escorted off the train by the BTP. Goodness knows how (and when) he managed to continue his journey.

  4. There’s the sleeper to Edinburgh too 🙂 The Glasgow train isn’t so early, it gets in at 7:20am. I’ve caught the Edinburgh one and arrived also at 7:20, perfect for breakfast.

    To sum up the London departures: 21:15 for Aberdeen (via Inverkeithing, Dundee, Arbroath) arriving at 7:35; 21:15 for Inverness (via Stirling, Perth) arriving at 8:30; 21:15 for Fort William (via Helensburgh, Crianlarich, Rannoch) arriving 9:54 (with sneaky getting on at Edinburgh at 4:50!); 23:50 for Edinburgh (arriving 7:20); and 23:50 for Glasgow (arriving 7:18).

    Search for Bargain Berths to get the cheap ticket website (down to £19 each way if you’re lucky).

    “I think the route is something like: London Euston – Watford – Crewe – Birmingham – Preston – Carlisle – Edinburgh – Crianlarich – Rannoch – Fort William.” – you’re way past Birmingham by the time you’ve got to Crewe 🙂 Birmingham is bypassed on the West Coast Main Line, the rest of your route seems spot on.

  5. Would love to do this one day. Alas, living in the Midlands actually makes it more difficult (or at least, not as comfortable) to get to Scotland than living in London.

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