Imagine travelling up through the entire UK in the dead of night, slowly clip-clopping along the tracks as you pass by sleepy towns and deserted rail stations before waking – sun breaking the horizon – as you enter a new country, then pulling into a vibrant new city to explore… magical!
London to Edinburgh is over 400 miles, about 6 hours drive in a car, 4 hours by fast train or an hour in the sky. Any option for us to get from one end of this Isle to the other is quite a journey. We wanted to break convention for our latest staycation and do things a little bit differently. Let us introduce you to The Caledonian Sleeper.
Affectionately dubbed The Deerstalker, this cross-country train has been running between London and Scotland since the heyday of railways in Britain. There’s a really special feeling when you climb on board – we think akin to the glamour and grandeur of rail travel in the 1960s and 70s. The Caledonian Sleeper leaves Euston Station in north central London six nights a week with final destinations including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort William, Aberdeen and Inverness.
We’ve suffered through the claustrophobic London Underground over the last few years, so a train service which guarantees personal space is instantly going to win our hearts. Not a lot of space, mind, but enough!
We boarded the service at the stroke of 11pm from Euston for a 11:50pm departure. We found that Euston has very little open in it at that time. The large Marks & Spencer and a few restaurants are still open before boarding, so it’s the perfect opportunity to grab a few nibbles and a (necessary) mini bottle of wine to have on the train. After finding the coach we were booked on, Terri – our friendly and lovely attendant – checked us in and made a note of whether we would prefer tea, coffee or juice the following morning. So far, so impressed.
On board the Sleeper you have three choices of accommodation: a reclining seat, a standard sleeper berth, or the first class sleeper berth. We travelled standard, in a twin cabin. In the room, space is tight – that’s not going to be anything you didn’t already expect. Even for two skinny boys like ourselves, it was a case of only one of us being able to stand in the room at any given time. But there is enough space to leave a suitcase and other luggage in the room, provided they aren’t ridiculously large.
On the beds themselves, you are given a small pack with an eye mask, ear plugs, and a bar of soap. You’re also provided with a towel and a small bottle of water in the cabin. We made ourselves at home before venturing towards the dining car…
The evening we travelled, March 31st, was the first evening of a new operator (Serco) on the Caledonian Sleeper, so there were a number of improvements and changes that were implemented that day. One of which was a new and improved menu, slightly tweaked from before and slightly heightened prices. The dining car feels like real luxury- we’re guessing that anyone who travels first class all the time would experience this often.
Comfortable, large seats, window light, power points and most of all, attentive service, this time provided by Karl. The choices were extensive, ranging from soups and sandwiches right through to larger mains like fish pie, macaroni cheese and the iconic Scottish dish, ‘haggis, neeps & tatties’. We both ordered a portion of this, Patrick having the new accompanying sauce made with Whisky, while Russell went for the classic “Aberdeen” Port Sauce. We also ordered some wine to go alongside, obviously! The food was cooked fresh and served on a plate with knives and forks.
Forget all that you know about dining on the go. Wrapping your lips around a messy sandwich on the tube, being served a plastic-tasting micro meal 30,000 feet in the air – we were served on real plates with silver cutlery while sitting on a comfortable seat with lots of space. Win win all around! In fact, the Caledonian Sleeper was awarded a Taste Our Best Award by VisitScotland in 2017!
By the time we were served, the train just began its journey out of London. While heading away from the capital we both took a risk by trying haggis for the first time. Luckily, we weren’t disappointed, as it simply was very like black pudding, a firm favourite of ours! The neeps (turnip) and tatties (mashed potato) were seasoned perfectly, and mixed in with our choices of sauce, the whole dish was the perfect way to begin our trip to Scotland, as well as being a great late-night supper.
There was no rush to get us out of the dining car, despite it being after midnight. We had contemplated having a wee dram of whisky before hitting the hay, and even a Scottish Cheeseboard, featuring Highland Brie, Strathdon Blue and Tain Truckle Cheddar, alongside oatcakes and chutney). Sadly though, it was well past our bedtime, and with the rules being that we must vacate the train by 8am, we couldn’t waste any more time.
In the cabin, we got ourselves ready for sleeping. On the night, we didn’t discover the in-cabin basin for washing hands and brushing teeth, but each individual carriage has separate male and female bathrooms which are clean. If you are planning on taking a trip on the Caledonian Sleeper and you, like us, are part of the smartphone generation, listen up. There are NO power points in the standard or first class cabins. However, there are USB sockets in all cabins to keep your phone or tablet full of juice overnight. There is a power point by each seat in the dining car, handy for laptops.
New rolling stock will be delivered in 2018 and will address plug and socket issues.
In terms of how you sleep, it’s hard to say. Obviously, we all enjoy a nice quiet nights sleep in virtual silence, which you’re never going to get while travelling through the Great British countryside, but likewise you won’t get while on an overnight flight across the globe. There is always that constant noise, whether the hum of the engine, the rattling of the tracks, the noise reverberating while travelling through a tunnel. The beds, duvets and pillows were surprisingly snug and comfortable, and the cabin temperature is simply controllable too. Half way through the night, the train will stop for a wee while just near the Scottish border and splits in two, with one half heading to Glasgow and the other to Edinburgh.
We both woke more refreshed than we expected, energised and not in anyway like we had a disrupted nights sleep. We suppose this is why the sleeper pack contains an eye mask and ear plugs – it’s not an ideal night’s sleep but it’s exciting and they are trying their best to make it as comfortable as possible. As promised, Terri knocked on our door around 6:30am with two hot cups of tea and a shortbread biscuit. You can pre-book a breakfast to have in the cabin, from a Full Scottish Breakfast, to Smoked Salmon and scrambled eggs and porridge.
While supping on your beverage, you have the pure joy of watching the sunrise over the rolling hills of the Scotland. As the two of us grew up somewhat in the countryside in Ireland, this was one of the most beautiful sights we could’ve seen. It felt really special. Once we’ve arrived in Edinburgh Waverly, we went on our merry way around the town to explore… More on that in some future posts!
The Caledonian Sleeper is a real gem in the National Rail network. As only one of two sleeper services on the British Isles (the other, The Night Riviera between London and Penzance) it’s really a unique experience. From start to finish, it’s so relaxed. None of the worries and annoyances that you face with airport security, none of the priority boarding and cattle-like corralling in airport queues.
You simply get on a train, have a snooze and wake up in another part of the world. The food and drinks were enjoyable and the service was impeccable – though probably on their best behaviour for the first trip of the new service. Working through the night is not easy, not matter how accustomed you are to it, so the constantly smiles and attention to detail is greatly appreciated.
The great shame about this, was how short the journey was (yes, only we would say an 8hour train journey is too short). To really make the most of the experience, we’d want to take one of the Caledonian Sleeper Highland services, boarding from 8:30pm, remaining on the train until just after 8am the next day. These go to/from Inverness, Aberdeen and Fort William.
Our tickets were bought one way using a Two Together Railcard via www.sleeper.scot and cost £77.20. If you do make regular journeys with a partner, friend or family member etc. we’d highly recommend getting the Two Together Railcard as it provides you with a third off rail fares. The meal on board the Caledonian Sleeper of two portions of haggis, one half bottle of wine and one glass cost £23, plus tip.
Pre-booking is essential. Book up to one year in advance at www.sleeper.scot
*Please note: This is not a sponsored post. We paid for everything ourselves and this review is completely personal opinion We were not contacted by Serco, Euston, National Rail or any other business mentioned in this post for this review. *