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Issue 38 - All aboard the night train

Scotland Magazine Issue 38
April 2008

 

This article is 9 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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All aboard the night train

Richard Ford climbs aboard the Caledonian Sleeper, a night-time train service that operates between London and Scotland.

We try not to tell people about it – they might come on here!” chortled Jeffrey, the jovial old gent in the lounge car. We were sharing a whisky (or two) aboard the 21:15 Caledonian Sleeper service from London Euston up to Fort William.

My journey began when I set foot inside the first class carriage which was to be my home for the evening. I chose the Fort William service, otherwise known as ‘The Deerstalker,’ as I’d heard that it afforded the best views of all the Cally Sleepers.

I was immediately greeted by Kate, our designated stewardess, who came bounding up to me. Full of Scots cheer, she gave me a hearty welcome aboard and intuitively announced: “I’m assuming this is the first time you’ve been on the Caledonian Sleeper?” As I later learnt, this was actually code for “I haven’t seen you before.” Kate has been working on the route for about 16 years, and knows it, and its regulars, like the back of her hand.

After a short briefing from Kate, my next stop was the lounge car following a tip-off that the haggis, neeps and tatties were worth a shot, but I’d also been told on the sly that the train carried a very limited supply.

Determined to secure a portion, I raced down the corridors, reminiscent of a scene from Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. To my relief, my efforts did not go unrewarded as I sat down to a haggis supper at 80mph.

After dinner, I took my single malt and pitched up next to Jeffrey and several other passengers. Our topic of conversation: why my companions had chosen the Sleeper service over a cheap flight. There is indeed a timeless charm about night-time train travel, but flights take a fraction of the time it takes for a train to chug its way from London to Scotland. However, as my new found friends informed me, flight times might be inconsequential, but it is easy to waste a good half day travelling to and from the airport either end, and checking in. The beauty of the Sleeper service is that you just hop on, sleep and you’re there! There are also the usual arguments over air miles.

Most importantly, as the evening drew to a close and the Sleeper took us further north, it became abundantly clear to me that for those who seek it out, the Sleeper provides much more than a means of getting from Ato B, it also provides a comfortable social scene which you cannot get on a flight.

On Saturday morning I was up with the corncrake, head out the window looking at the view, and what a view it was too. Whilst “ the train meandered through mountain and moorland, I watched, frozen, as we passed picture perfect forest and icy rivers.

Then, gradually emerging from the mist: a stag, stood proudly on top of a heather covered hillock, just a few yards away from the track. I cursed as I hadn’t pressed the camera button in time. From behind me I heard a voice whisper, “I’ve been waiting 15 years for a picture like that.” It was Kate, flying past whilst balancing her breakfast trays. I recalled the prior evening’s conversation about flights versus trains and, smiling, thought to myself: you can’t stand a few yards away from a red deer at several thousand feet!

The Deerstalker’s no Orient Express so don’t go expecting fine dining, wooden interiors or regal furnishings. However, it’s clean, comfortable, and very welcoming.

Put simply, it’s a British Institution not to be missed.

Info First ScotRail’s Caledonian Sleeper trains operate between London Euston, and five Scottish destinations: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fort William and Inverness. The Sleepers offer first and standard class cabins, reclining seats, and First ScotRail is currently offering ‘Bargain Berth’ single tickets (shared cabin, standard class) from £19, subject to availability and restrictions. These must be booked via First ScotRail’s website and become available 12 weeks in advance of travel.

For times and prices go to www.firstscotrail.com, or purchase tickets by telephoning +44 (0)8457 550 033