The Caledonian Sleeper

Having decided I was going to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (hereafter called simply “Edinburgh”; sorry) this year, there came the subject of how to get there. It’s 430 miles, mostly on motorway and I bet there wouldn’t be anywhere to park, so that’s a no to driving. Last time, I flew, but I have emetophobic reasons for not really liking Flybe so that was a last resort. Hence the train – specifically the overnight sleeper train. This has the assorted advantages of train over plane (can get up; can run away etc) combined with essentially buying you anywhere between half an extra day and a whole extra day. The train arrives in Edinburgh just after 7am, about the time my plane would be leaving Southampton – and two years ago I was stuck at Manchester on the way for too many hours, so this is a huge time-saver.

Mind you, the last long-distance train I took featured an epic mistake – long story short, I got on the wrong train, which went off to the depot and I went through the train wash! Full story here if you want to hear more about that adventure.

Having said all that, I’ll probably go back to flying next time I come to Edinburgh.

I’ve been reading about the Caledonian Sleeper. Provided I’ve got the time and energy, I do like to do the reading before I go somewhere or do something and I’ve been reading about this one. “It’s so romantic” is basically the general consensus. Yeah, maybe, if you’ve either got a First Class cabin to yourself or you’re sharing a Standard Class one with your other half. If you’ve got a seat, it’s another matter. You’re spending a seven hour journey sitting up, surrounded by strangers. One of them got on at Euston and immediately went on a rant for forty minutes about “I don’t understand” and “they don’t advertise it properly” because she was under the impression she’d booked a cabin, not a seat. I don’t know about anyone else but when I booked, the word seat appeared prominently on my screen, followed by a little diagram showing pictures of seats to help me choose my seat. No one else seemed to think they should be in a cabin and quite frankly, by the time we set off, I’d had enough of this forty-minute whine – in an actual whiny voice – and wanted to throw her under the wheels of our sixteen coaches.

The seats aren’t too bad. They’re quite big and chunky, they recline – sort of. That is, you press a button on the armrest and the seat cushions slide forward. I didn’t actually find it all that comfortable to sleep in recline position. You get a little pack with an eyemask and earplugs and a reading light and of course, you can do what you want with your section of curtain. The 3D tour on the website makes it look like a Barbie nightmare of pink and lilac and fortunately it’s actually vaguely purple and mostly navy blue. Lights are kept on but dim all night. I didn’t go looking for the food counter service – nothing I can eat – but I can confirm that the toilets are a very old-fashioned train style and not somewhere I wanted to go in the morning after my neighbours had been in and out all night.

sleeper1

I’ve also confirmed that I “sleep cold” – looking around the carriage, seeing people in thin pyjamas, in t-shirt, in shorts and I’m fully dressed and using a polartec jacket as a blanket and can’t stop shivering. That, fortunately, did get better after about Preston. I need to find a small lightweight blanket while I’m in Edinburgh for the journey back.

It takes forever and it’s over in a flash simultaneously. I slept for a little bit until about 1am when I woke up in a kind of panic over the fact that because it’s dark outside I can’t see us moving and am therefore guaranteed to get train sick. Never mind the fact that I’ve never had any kind of motion sickness in my entire life. I’m not good at sleeping and I am good at worrying. So then I deliberately stayed awake as long as I could, peering at any points of light outside. At about 1.15am we stopped and waited for three trains – we were stopped for easily half an hour and I began to wonder if something was wrong with the train. We stopped at Preston, for no reason that I can see, and we made our scheduled stop at Carlisle, at about 5.25am – no idea why here either. You don’t seem to be able to get on or off. I’d managed to drop off a little after 3 and give or take waking up to look at Carlisle and miss it and wish I could go back, I more or less slept on and off until Carstairs. By then it was 6.30, it was very light and my fellow passengers were waking up and they were giggly.

Once you’re half-awake and looking at Scotland in the bright light of day, suddenly the night which seemed so long at the time seems to have vanished. You’ve been asleep for the last few hours and you’ll be at Edinburgh in only about half an hour. Better hurry up and pack away the few things you unpacked and get your boots back on.

It’s a handy thing, the sleeper. But I think it’s worked against me today. I couldn’t get into my flat until 3pm, and that’s a lot of time to wait when you arrive at 7am. I feel like I’ve spent a good chunk of today just killing time until I can settle into my new home. I’d arrived, had breakfast and found my flat by 9am, only to be told I can’t go in for another six hours. It doesn’t feel like I’ve saved time. On the other hand, when I flew, I’d only just be getting settled in about now anyway and I certainly wouldn’t have done a bus tour and a half around the city, been to the geology museum and collected all my tickets (well done people at the Fringe shop, because my card and bookings were spectacularly uncooperative – it took four people to poke and prod it before it finally spat out tickets) and got my head around where most of the important places are.

I have a headache but I don’t feel as dead and tired as I was expecting to at midnight last night, so I think I can cope with taking the overnight train back home but next time – might just go back to the plane.