by Sharon Whitley Larsen
“Is this your first time on a sleeper train?” asked affable David, the ScotRail lounge car attendant, as he poured me a glass of wine, the lights of a small town passing fleetingly by in the dark window.
I assured him that I had been on numerous overnight trains: from London to Edinburgh, Paris to Rome, St. Petersburg to Moscow, even from Los Angeles to Chicago.
I’ve always been partial to the overnight trains in Europe, and especially in the UK, which my husband Carl and I have taken on several occasions. (Our most scenic and memorable overnight train was the 12-hour trip from London to Fort William, Scotland. From there we caught a steam excursion train to Mallaig, a charming fishing village.) To me, taking an overnight train is relaxing, exciting and romantic – a real sense of adventure.
And you can use every valuable moment of daylight to sightsee and save on the cost of a hotel room while you journey to your next destination.
Here we were on the Caledonian Sleeper (which also serves end-of-the-line routes to Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen and Fort William, among other cities), on our way from London’s Euston Station to Glasgow Central, a journey of about eight hours.
Earlier that morning, we had stashed our two suitcases and carry-ons at the station’s Left Luggage counter (for about $13 each) to spend the day sightseeing and to visit the Imperial War Museum. Then, after a pub dinner, we headed back to the station to wait for our 11:45 p.m. train.
We kept our eyes on the lighted train schedule board, anxiously waiting for our platform to be announced. Finally, at 11:05 p.m., there it was! Platform one! We grabbed our bags and joined the other passengers – which included businessmen, university students, young families with children – and headed for our car. Prior to boarding, our attendant took our 6:30 a.m. wake-up call order: “What would you like, luv, tea or coffee?”
We stepped up into the car, walked down the narrow corridor and located our air-conditioned compartment. Although tiny (my guess: about 6 by 9 feet), it was comfortable: This time we were in a standard-class compartment, since first-class was sold out. We had all the civilized comforts: a mirror, sink, electrical socket for shavers, coat hangers, reading lights, attendant call switch, full-length mirror on the back of the door, a complimentary toiletry kit, towels and bottled water for each of us.
We had two berths, upper and lower (the first-class compartment has one lower berth, with adjoining compartments available for two people traveling together). And, of course, there was a window to gaze out. Men’s and women’s bathrooms are at the end of each corridor. There are no showers onboard, but shower facilities are available at various UK train stations.
After storing our luggage on the racks above the berths, we closed the door and headed for the lounge car.
The carpeted car, which was about half full, with a small section reserved for first-class passengers, was furnished with comfortable chairs and tables. (Other first-class lounge cars we’ve been in have had an elegant, clubby feel.) We could order beer, lagers, cider, whiskey, red or white wines from Australia or France, or champagne. There were also lounge car specials: haggis, neeps, tatties, and sandwiches. Passengers could also order hot meals including meat ravioli, pork casserole, penne pasta, burgers, soups and paninis, cold salmon, soft drinks, tea and coffee. And desserts. They could even take to-go orders back to their compartments.
Since we had already eaten dinner – and as it was approaching midnight – Carl ordered whiskey and I sipped wine. Between that, the late hour and the rocking train, we were getting sleepy, so we headed back to our compartment, a wobbly walk (not due to the drinks!) two cars away.
We are each partial to the upper berth since we like to look out the window at the scenery racing by. But this time Carl took the top berth and I settled into the lower. Despite the occasional flashing lights, jerky train stops, noises and horn blasts, we didn’t have any trouble sleeping.
The next thing I knew, I heard a slight tap on the door and thought I was dreaming. Then I heard another tap, this time a bit longer. Carl switched on the light and opened the door. The attendant greeted us good morning as he handed each of us a little bag, which included a cup of steaming water, a packet of coffee to pour in and stir, a small orange juice and muffin. First-class passengers also enjoy fresh fruit salad, yogurt, bacon or egg “bap” and mini pastry as well. Groggily, I sat up and sipped the coffee, which was welcome and tasted good. However, I wasn’t quite ready to get up and face the world. I wanted to sleep more and extend the train ride!
I looked out the window and noticed that we were slowly rolling into Glasgow. Not wanting to miss a thing, I took my camera out in the corridor to snap some photos. Soon we rolled to a stop and the sign “Glasgow Central” welcomed us.
I couldn’t wait!
Note from BritRail: BritRail Pass holders can purchase a supplement for travel aboard the Caledonian Sleeper. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-866-938-7245 (toll free for Canada and USA) for details and fares.