On Trains & Buses

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Just don't forget your earplugs

Posted on December 9, 2009

Reading time: 4 minutes.

Last weekend saw me take the Caledonian Sleeper from Crewe to Fort William. After a none too restful return from Aviemore in August, I booked a berth to make sure of a better night’s rest (being able to turn off the lights helps). It wasn’t the first time that I travelled by Sleeper to Fort William and a January 2006 escapade saw me arriving in Fort William feeling reasonably refreshed so I knew that my plans had some form, to use an expression from horse racing. Since that 2006 journey, memories have faded a little and I had forgotten how little floor space there is to be found even in a first-class berth and the corridor wasn’t very wide either. Yes, I did travel first class on both occasions with the second outing costing less than the first with my getting an advance purchase fare the second time around. That’s never to say that it was cheap at £136 so it has to be a once in while extravagance and the standard single ticket is around £184, which is even more forestalling. Even the standard class fare isn’t cheap either and having two in a berth sounds restrictive.

ScotRail Caledonian Sleeper

The reason for the title of this piece is that there was more audible noise than I’d expected though it was nothing like the brake roar of a Mark II carriage like the one(s) on which I was travelling when going to and from Aviemore. The carriage in which I was travelling was immediately behind the locomotive on the way to Edinburgh so that may have been part of the reason for this along with the general turning of wheels that is unavoidable. Even so, I did manage to drop off to sleep even if it was to be interrupted from time to time. In keeping with the general lack of space, the bed wasn’t the widest but I discovered a duvet that either remained unfound or was absent on my 2006 trip. That was a bonus on a cold night and put a stop to any recourse to coverage with an outer jacket.

It was beyond Bridge of Orchy that I arose and opened the window blind to be greeted by the sight of snow-topped summits with the sun struggling from its slumber. That awakening was later than in 2006 when I looked out at Tyndrum Upper station and the tops were devoid of the white stuff too so that was one previsualisation put out of its misery. Breakfast duly arrived within a few minutes of the agreed time (included in the fare for first-class and costing extra for standard class) so the pull-down tray shelf allowed me to down the allotted portions while gawping at what lay outside my window. In the event, I was left wondering when the glorious sights were to ease off to allow for ablutions (you get a covered sink in the berth) and collection of belongings but there was to be time for those necessities too.

All in all, it was a good journey and I went out into the frosty Fort William air not feeling the worst for wear after the night’s travelling. If I ever get to do it again, I’d bring earplugs to make getting to sleep easier but you cannot do anything about awakenings caused by jolts as the train changes tracks at a junction. Even so, you do arrive feeling far better than you would after travelling overnight on a coach. On the surface, there are issues with value for money but a look at daytime fares helps to put that in perspective. Travelling mid-week helps too and there are bargain berths if you book ahead, especially if you are starting from London. Even with the cost issue and the fact that there are no Saturday night services, it probably is the best way to travel overnight to Scotland. While you could always fly and avoid overnight travel altogether, you’d miss out on those early sights of the hills and lochs and that has to be better than worrying about environmental consequences and luggage considerations. That the airborne option is not always cheaper either makes it less sensible to miss out on those visual delights.