REVIEW: The Caledonian Sleeper

Christmas travel is always tricky – busy roads, weather issues and lots of bags means that whatever method you choose it is always going to be a pain in the back side. Brothers both chose to fly up to Scotland this year and both were beset with delays and cancellations; we let the train take the strain this time. As I wrote here, there were lots of options, but the Caledonian Sleeper  won out, especially over the Sleeper bus!

Every night, except Saturday, a 16 carriage train leaves London’s Euston station at 2115 and heads slowly up the west coast mainline towards Edinburgh, stopping only at Crewe. When it arrives into Edinburgh in the early hours of the morning it separates into three separate trains, with one headed for Fort William, one for Aberdeen and the one that we were on, bound for Inverness. There is another train that leaves London later which is for Edinburgh and Glasgow.

We arrived at Euston at about 2030 and collected tickets before the platform was announced. The train was fully booked and there was a queue at the entry to the platform to get on. Once through, we had to find the attendant who was looking after our carriage who checked us in and assigned us to our berth.

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He told us that the lounge car was available to us, but only after an hour or so – presumably to allow those in First Class to have their guaranteed access. I decided that I didn’t want to wait that long for a drink so, given that we had 30 minutes until departure, I hopped off the train and nipped along to the off-licence in the station to pick up a couple of drinks.

The cabins are small – they are probably 1.90m long and 1.20m wide – and whilst there is not a lot of space, there is enough. The two bunks come with a proper duvet, two fluffy pillows and a towel. The upper bunk has two straps at torso-height from the ceiling to prevent you from falling out in the middle of the night.

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There is also a small amenity kit and a bottle of water provided. Each compartment has a window and a sink which is underneath the shelf below the window to give some extra space. There are also lots of coat hangers and other storage spaces to put things away, although a large suitcase usually has to go against the sink to maximise the floor space.

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Our routine for journeys on the sleeper is to watch a film that we have downloaded before settling down to sleep. Lights out for us was about midnight this time, just after leaving Crewe.

The beds are very comfortable and, even with my large 6ft3 frame, there is plenty of space. They are longer than a British Airways Club World flat bed and wider than BA’s First Class beds. The only thing that prevented me from getting a decent night’s sleep was the temperature – it was too hot dispite my repeated efforts to keep cool by removing layers. My brother, who was a regular user of the sleeper for a couple of years, said that this was a common issue, with the heating having only two settings – “off” or “on”!

I awoke just after leaving Aviemore at about 0730 when the attendant brought the tea and coffee that we had ordered the night before which is included in the ticket price. Unfortunately the water was tepid and not suitable for brewing a cup of tea, but I drank the coffee anyway. There was enough time to have a quick wash in the sink and use the toilets, at the end of the narrow corridor.

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We arrived into Inverness 15 minutes ahead of schedule and were soon off the train and into a nearby cafe for a decent cup of coffee. I really love travelling on the sleeper and am looking forward to the return journey, but am hoping that the heating is off.

I am also pleased to read on the Caledonian Sleeper website that there are plans for improvements to the rolling stock in the near future which will hopefully make travel even more luxurious.

From 2018, Caledonian Sleeper will take a leap forward thanks to an investment of over £100million in 75 new state-of-the-art carriages.

On board, guests will enjoy

  • En-suite rooms for the First Class guests
  • Improved Standard Class rooms
  • Cradle seats for Standard Class guests
  • Luxurious new Brasserie Club Car
  • Films and TV available via free WiFi
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