I can’t recommend this service enough. There is something distinctly romantic and antiquated about waking up with a cup of tea in bed to watch the mountains, lochs and desolate moorland meander past your train window. And it saves me taking out two extra holiday days from work to travel to and from Scotland. I’ve compiled a list of (hopefully) useful things every first time traveller should consider before taking the train.
1. Standard berths are pretty darn good
The very basic ticket is a seat. I’ve not tried it. It looked pretty miserable.
A standard berth on the Caledonian Sleeper, on the other hand, consists of a bunk bed and a flip top sink, which doubles as a table when closed. Toilets are located at the end of each carriage. Although the interiors are dated, everything is spotlessly clean and you are provided with a face towel and basic overnight kit (soap, ear plugs and eye mask). The power plugs are USB only.
If you travel in a larger group or as a family, you can combine two rooms by unlocking a partition between the rooms. In the morning, you get coffee or tea with biscuits served to you in bed or, for an extra £7-8, you can upgrade to a full breakfast. It’s all very civilised.
There is space above the sink and the top bunk to stow luggage and, if you have a fairly slim suitcase, also under the bottom bunk. Do not attempt to enter the berth both wearing large rucksacks. This will not work and you will be wedged in like sardines, squirming to stow your things. On balance, I do think you get significantly more space than on comparable sleeper services such as the Berlin to Krakow service (4 beds to a berth) or the Moscow to St Petersburg service (6 beds to a berth).
2. Solo travellers are put in single sex cabins
If you travel alone or in an odd number, you will only share a cabin with someone of the same sex, something I would have appreciated knowing the first time I took this train when I booked into First Class. Bear in mind, however, that you may end up cooped up with a variety of different characters which have been described to us by a regular traveller as possibly including but not limited to, inebriated and gassy Scottish MPs returning to their constituencies and bishops who pray aloud in their sleep. Ear plugs can only remedy so much.
3. The train from London splits at Edinburgh
A fact to overlook at one’s peril is that the train splits at Edinburgh, with one part going to Fort William and the other to Inverness. Our same well informed regular traveller recalled an incident of a business woman travelling to Aberdeen for a meeting, having too much too drink on the train and shacking up with a semi-famous folk singer travelling to Fort William. She only realised her mistake in the morning having appeared in the dining carriage in a skimpy night dress asking why breakfast hadn’t been served. By this time all her clothes and belongings were a good four hour drive away on the other train. She sprung off the train in the middle of the Highlands in nothing but her negligee to get a very expensive taxi. She wasn’t seen on the train again…
4. First Class is not that different to Standard Class
A first class berth is the same as the standard berth except the top bunk is stowed away so you have the cabin all to yourself, the wash kit is a bit more luxurious and breakfast is included. You do however get priority access to the bar and dining carriages, which are really quite decent. Is it worth the eye-watering price tag? I say no.
5. Enjoy the bar and dining carriage
On our return journey to London, despite having standard berth tickets, we spent an evening in the dining carriage and had a very good venison salad and cheese board to accompany our drinks. The Caledonian Sleeper has one of the few on board dining carriages in the UK where you can sit down and have a three course meal. Make the most of it.
6. Get up early to enjoy the views
Have a few drinks to aid your sleep but get up early in the morning on the journey up to Scotland. The last two hours of the trip are really spectacular as you wind your way through the mountains and moors. Enjoy your morning coffee and breakfast in the dining carriage, which has much larger windows than in your berth.