For those that don’t know, the Caledonian Sleeper is one of only 2 sleeper train services still running in the UK, the other being the Night Riviera which goes from London to Penzance. The Caledonian Sleeper runs services every night except Saturday from various parts of the Scottish highlands and lowlands to London (and back again), via a few other stopping points. It had long been a dream of mine to travel on the sleeper and so last year I made that dream a reality. This was my experience.
After packing clothing, overnight items, my APAP machine and some snacks and drinks I drove from Yorkshire to Fort William, rode the sleeper to London, stayed overnight and visited the British Library before riding the sleeper back to Fort William and then driving back home.
Such a great experience. First the road trip through the highlands, where I used to live and which was stunning. Then arriving at the station to find that the platform staff already had a ramp out for me right next to the accessible cabin (wheelchair user).
I asked one of the on board staff if they’d mind taking a photo of me by the name of the train and they duly obliged, with a smile and a bit of chatter. I handed the lass a fiver as a thank you.
Boarded the train and was shown around the cabin, all the features and the toilet etc by a train manager, toiletries and a food menu laid out on the bunk, all presented nicely and bottles of water in a rack by the window.
Made myself comfortable and had a look around, opened a bottle of water when the train manager came back with a coffee for me and asked if I’d decided on breakfast. I chose the scottish cooked breakfast and coffee and was left alone again, with the train manager advising that if I wanted or needed anything I just had to press the call button as my wheelchair wouldn’t fit down the aisles to get to the lounge or restaurant cars.
Eventually we set off (I’d arrived well early in order to make sure nothing went wrong) and it was a lot of fun being able to watch the highlands slide by outside from my own private room, being able to lay down and watch movies on my laptop whilst travelling. I’d brought a couple of beers with me and drank those before turning in for the night as it got darker.
I didn’t get much sleep – the journey itself was smooth and relatively quiet considering, but there was the odd time where there would be a jolt that woke me, plus I was so excited as this was something I’d wanted to do for years – I was like a kid at Christmas!
Approaching London in the morning I was brought breakfast in my room and there was my only disappointment of the entire experience – I’d expected it would be served on a plate and freshly cooked. What I received was a cardboard box with greasy congealed food inside, most of which I ended up leaving. That was the only disappointment though and I resolved that on my return journey I would opt for the porridge – can’t go far wrong with that.
I arrived at London and was surprised to see the ramp had been placed at the door before I’d even left my cabin and I was straight out onto the platform where a chap with an electric buggy thing asked me if I needed a hand with my luggage (2 backpacks and my APAP machine). I snapped a couple of shots of the loco that had pulled the train.
Now to the return journey. Arriving at the station which was eerily almost empty, I promptly fell over backwards in my chair whilst trying to reach for a drink from one of my backpacks and instantly had people helping me up again. The signs announced that the train was delayed but no big deal – I wasn’t in any rush, so I got a pasty from a pasty shop I found (horribly overpriced and hotter than the sun!) and chilled for a bit.
When the train arrived and the staff started boarding I was again shown to my coach where there was a ramp waiting, shown to my cabin and asked if I needed any help which, since I’d already travelled down on the sleeper I didnt. For this journey my cabin had been stocked with more bottled water and the toiletries that first class passengers get (I’d only booked standard class). I assumed that they’d either run out of the standard toiletries (which are nice enough) or that they had been put in my cabin by mistake but either way it was a nice surprise.
Just after departing I was again brought a coffee and the train manager gave the spiel about pressing the call button if I wanted anything. I told him that, although I had ordered and paid for the scottish cooked breakfast, I’d really rather have the porridge and coffee come the morning, which he made a note of.
Again as it got darker I turned in and again I didn’t sleep much – still hyped up that I was once again travelling up the country on a train in my own private cabin with a bed to sleep in. I found it fascinating watching the station staff and train crew re-arranging the train at various points during the night (it splits into 3 somewhere) and I had a chuckle as we departed Leeds station – I could have left the train there and been home not long after.
I was awakened in the morning by the train manager entering the cabin – I’d requested breakfast at 7 and he’d spent some time knocking on the door apparently before opening it himself, I must have been fast asleep. I was presented with my porridge and coffee, which I enjoyed as we rolled across Rannoch Moor – the sun shining on the snow-covered mountain tops and mile after mile of empty moorland, until I spotted a pair of walkers hiking across the scene.
I spent some time outside of my cabin opening the windows in the vestibule and getting some brilliant photos and videos as the train meandered it’s way back towards Fort William. I got speaking to an American woman who had brought her little girl on holiday and decided to ride the sleeper as part of that.
Returning to my cabin I washed and dressed, packed my gear away and made ready to leave.
On arrival at Fort William there was the chap on the platform stood waiting with the ramp, like a soldier on parade I remember thinking. Train stopped and I loaded my baggage on my chair and left the cabin. I asked the chap with the ramp if he would mind grabbing a quick snap of me as I came down the ramp. He obliged with a smile and I gave him a fiver in appreciation.
Leaving the station entrance I was glad to see my Volvo, still sitting there patiently and fully intact, waiting to take me home.
Driving back over Rannoch Moor, which I’d gone through on the train not long before, I reflected on what a great experience I’d had and decided I’d have to do it again when the new rolling stock was in use.