Travel review: The Caledonian Sleeper train
There is something quite magical about going on an adventure. It gets the heart pounding and the brain buzzing with excitement.
Well it does with me anyway! So I was literally fizzing as I stood on a lonely platform at Preston Railway Station at 1 a.m.
Just four other people joined me at the usually busy station, as we waited for our adventure to begin. We were all anticipating the arrival of The Caledonian Sleeper train for our trip up to The Highlands.
And at 1.04 a.m. precisely, it did just that! And as the huge train chugged into the station, I knew I was in for some fun.
Met by a member of staff, I was ushered gently (remember the time!) on board to my bed for the night, but not before I had pre-ordered a hearty breakfast of apple juice, smoked salmon and scrambled egg and a good old cup of tea.
The door to the bedroom or berth as its called on the train, was open and inside was a nice comfy bed with modern bed clothes, space to hang clothes and a table. And to help me settle down, there was a sleeper kit, with lavender spray to put on my pillow, hand wash and body lotion, plus ear plugs, bedsocks and a sleep mask, plus a very interesting brochure full of tales of the train to read as I settled down.
Before the journey, I thought sleeping would be impossible, but the gentle rock and chug of the train soon has you snoozing. I knew I had to be up early to see the impressive scenery, which is why most people use the service which starts in London.
So five hours later, I unclipped my blind and looked out of my window to see one of my favourite places in Scotland, Blair Atholl and just for me, the sun was out and deer were running down the hill.
What a perfect start! A quick brush up and then to breakfast in the nearby lounge. George the chef was an incredibly kind guy and he soon had me enjoying the smoked salmon and scrambled egg as we gently rolled through some of the most impressive scenery in Great Britain.
The sleeper train has now been taken over by the Serco company and there are big plans ahead to transform the old-fashioned service it is now, into a modern, slick one.
But I rather liked the train as it is. The carriages are the old style ones, with windows you can pull down and look out of (even though there are signs warning you against this, for obvious reasons!) and the furniture is old and comfy.
In 2018 a new fleet will be launched and coming with it will be new features including ensuite berths, Pod flatbeds and a brasserie-style Club Car.
Over Â£150m is being invested in the new fleet, which is part funded by a Â£60m capital grant from the Scottish government and the new look berths and flatbeds will replace the current solo ones in first class and shared ones with the same sex in standard class. Seat only options are also available.
The sleeper train has a number of routes, with the London to Fort William one, voted in the top ten of journeys by travel guide Lonely Planet, rubbing shoulders with the Johannesburg to Cape Town and Chicago to San Francisco routes.
Our journey to Inverness though must rate as one of the top ones too, as the countryside was stunning in the early morning sunshine. Fellow passengers ranged from businessmen wanting to get from England to Scotland without the expense of a hotel, to tourists from home and abroad who just wanted to experience this very British experience.
Upon arrival in Inverness, I spent the day exploring this fine city and then it was back on-board the sleeper train, but not before a nice shower and some lovely drinks and nibbles in the first class lounge which is just across the road from the station.
Then it was back on board to bag a seat in the lounge and enjoy George’s cooking once more. For a train with small cooking facilities, it was fabulous. Haggis, neeps and tatties were among the dishes served up, alongside a lovely venison dish or for the more traditional, lamb and seasonal vegetables. A Highland cheese platter or blueberry cheesecake was dished up for pudding and there was a range of soft and alcoholic drinks on offer. Prices ranged from Â£7 for the haggis to Â£10 for the lamb.
And then it was a case of sitting back, relaxing and enjoying the scenery the opposite way around, before retiring to the berth for a few hours sleep and back to Preston, arriving at 4.30 a.m., feeling refreshed and full of vim and vigour after a wonderful adventure – just hope I can jump aboard the new look service in 2018 and do the journey all over again!
The Caledonian Sleeper train runs a range of services from London via Preston to Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William.
The beauty of the service is you get to enjoy a good night’s sleep before waking up in some of Scotland’s most picturesque landscapes.
Bookings can be taken up to 12 months in advance and for more information on what is on offer, log onto www.sleeper.scot