Just a few weeks shy of seven years since my last overnight railway journey, I set off from London to Edinburgh on a night-time trip aboard one of the UK’s last remaining sleeper trains.
Welcome aboard the Caledonian Sleeper.
Country : United Kingdom
Railway company : Serco (contracted by Transport Scotland)
Service type : Overnight Sleeper
Service name/designation : Caledonian Sleeper
Rolling stock (locomotive) : British Rail Class 92
Rolling stock (passenger carriages) : British Rail Mark 5
Line used : West Coast Main Line
Origin : London Euston Station, England (dep. 23:50, Monday 6th June 2022)
Destination : Edinburgh Waverley Station, Scotland (arr. 07:30, Tuesday 7th June 2022)
Journey time : 7 hours 40 minutes
Accommodation type : Club Room
Fare : GBP 235.00
Links : Official Website / Wikipedia
Please bear in mind that the following track is the result of a Google Maps point-to-point search, and is presented here merely as an indication – in very broad terms – of the direction and distance involved. The actual route taken by the train I boarded is almost certainly very different from that shown below, especially since Google searches tend to return direct services running on the East Coast Main Line (whereas the Caledonian Sleeper normally runs on the West Coast Main Line).
Part 1: “Ouch, that ain’t cheap” (Making the reservation)
- Caledonian Double : The best (and most expensive) type of room on the train. Fitted with a double bed and private shower/toilet. Breakfast is complimentary.
- Club Room : Smaller than the above, with bunk beds and private shower/toilet. Breakfast is complimentary. This is the room type I selected for the journey described here.
- Classic Room : Virtually identical to Club, but without ensuite shower/toilet. Breakfast not included.
- Comfort Seat : Just that – a seat. No bed, no privacy, no breakfast, although you do get a small lockable storage compartment for valuables. Think of Economy Class seats on aeroplanes or long-distance trains and you’ll get the idea.
Accessible rooms are also available, but these are very limited in number and can’t be reserved directly through the website. Click the “Accessible Travel” tab on the Accommodation page for details.
Pricing appears to be dynamic – i.e., moving up and down in response to demand and other factors – hence it isn’t possible to present a fixed fare table here. Purely for illustrative purposes, a test search done on 7th August 2022 for travel on 5th October 2022 yielded the following one-way London-Edinburgh fares (all based on SINGLE adult occupancy regardless of room capacity):
- GBP 345.00 for a Caledonian Double;
- GBP 235.00 for a Club Room;
- GBP 175.00 for a Classic Room; and
- GBP 70.00 for a Comfort Seat.
My own Club Room ticket cost GBP 235.00, but I do remember seeing the fare go up to the GBP 290.00-310.00 range on other days so treat that price merely as indicative.
Shortly after making my reservation, I received a welcome email with a link to download the e-ticket. I fed the digital boarding card into my iPhone’s Apple Wallet, but I also saved a backup PDF copy in case anything went awry.
Part 1.5: “Who turned off the taps?” (Travel disruption)
Mere hours before I was due to depart, I received the following email from the railway operator.
Important information regarding your journey tonight
Why are we writing to you?
We are sorry to inform you that due to a technical issue with the water supply to your room this evening there is no water available throughout your room.
What does this mean for your journey with us?
This means that there is no running water supply within your room this includes, shower, and toilet. We have had to lock the en-suite facility as you will be unable to use this.
As our train is fully booked, we are unable to relocate you into another room.
What are we doing about this issue?
Our engineers are working on this now, but we do not expect this issue to be resolved by the time you board with us.
We have processed a refund to the amount of 33% of this room back to the card payment that was used to make the booking. Please allow up to 5 working days for this to go back into your account.
Please accept our apologise [sic] for this issue and its impact to your journey with us. This is not the level of customer service that we strive for and please know that we are working hard to rectify this matter as soon as possible.
Darn it all to heck. (To put it politely.)
Oh well, can’t be helped. I resigned myself to the inevitable and packed an ample supply of antibacterial wipes, disinfecting alcohol, and sanitising gel for when the necessity arose and I was forced to use the carriage’s common commode.
To their credit, the promised (partial) refund did arrive in short order without any further action or chasing on my part. A small consolation but there it is.
Part 2: “Ugh, what an awful place” (The departure station)
Northbound Caledonian Sleeper services depart from Euston Station, in central London.
It’s a depressingly ugly blight on the British capital, and a very unpleasant place to wait in for an extended period of time. One hopes that the redevelopment work currently underway in preparation for HS2 leads to a complete transformation, but Londoners (and visitors such as myself) will have to make do with this ghastly piece of architecture for a few more years at least.
Passengers booked into Caledonian Doubles and Club Rooms are entitled to use Euston’s Avanti West Coast lounge (details here). I elected not to exercise this privilege, preferring to board the train as early as possible rather than waste any time in the station building.
Part 3: “Welcome aboard” (Boarding the train)
Let’s go down to the platform and meet our ride to Scotland. (Note: These pictures of the train were taken on the following morning, after arrival in Edinburgh.)
Caledonian Sleeper services bound for Edinburgh Waverley depart from London Euston at 23:50, and are ready to accept guests by 22:30 – but bear in mind that passengers aren’t supposed to march straight aboard at will. I had to check in first with a member of staff on the platform, who marked my name off a list before directing me to my assigned carriage.
Part 4: “Good night!” (My room for the journey)
The corridors on this train are very cramped indeed, as shown in the following image (taken the next morning). Note the hotel-style electronic door locks.
Let’s have a look at my accommodations for the night.
Welcome to Club Room 6, in Car G.
Next to the sink was a small folder containing my electronic room key. (As for the onboard Wi-Fi mentioned in the instructions, I couldn’t get it to work properly and went without for the duration.)
A small folding table can be pulled out from underneath the sink. This should come in useful for those who’d prefer to take meals in their own room instead of the Club Car.
The lower bunk was equipped with two instrument panels. The one above my head featured a reading lamp, a USB charging port, and controls for the room light and air conditioning. The panel at the other end of the bed was fitted with two USB ports, two conventional power outlets, a switch for the window light and a host call button. (The upper bunk only had one instrument panel, with reading lamp and single USB port.)
This door would have given me access to the ensuite toilet and shower. Alas, as indicated in their disruption e-mail, the door was locked so I couldn’t even take a look inside.
I might add that due to the plumbing issue, even the sink next to the bunk beds was completely dry. I had to use some of the complimentary drinking water to brush my teeth (fortunately two bottles were supplied).
Right, let’s have a look at the amenities laid out on the bed.
Next to the sleep mask was a bag of Scottish toiletries made by Arran. Shame I couldn’t use the bath products on board due to the plumbing issue, but I did use them later in my hotel and thought that they smelled exceptionally good.
We’ll dig into the onboard menus later. For now, let’s plough straight into bed.
I decided to turn in as soon as possible after boarding, in the hope that I’d drift off to sleep whilst the train was stationary and that this would improve my chances of not being roused when the journey began. I don’t know if it was that alone, or in concert with my jet lag or whatever else, but the tactic seemed to work: I got in a good few hours of sleep and the overall quality of my slumber was better than expected.
The bed itself was supremely comfortable, far more so than the one fitted in my bedroom on the Sunrise Izumo seven years earlier. My compliments to the operator for choosing the venerable Scottish manufacturer (and Royal Warrant holder) Glencraft to supply the mattresses.
There was a bit of swaying and vibration and noise and all the rest – par for the course as this was a moving train – but it didn’t have as great an impact on me as I’d feared. That said, light sleepers might have a harder time of it.
Part 5: “Taking care of, ahem, urgent business” (The onboard toilet)
With the in-room plumbing out of service, I had to make do with the common toilet at the end of the carriage.
Coaches C through G (which have similar interior layouts) are each fitted with toilet booths similar to the one shown above. Coach B has two wheelchair-compatible toilets, one at either end of the car and each conveniently placed right next to an accessible bedroom.
The Club Car – the onboard lounge/restaurant – has no toilet facility of its own.
Finally, Coach A has a toilet (fitted to accessible standards) for the use of passengers travelling in Comfort Seats.
Part 6: “Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey” (The view from my bedroom window)
Good morning, Northern England. 🙂
Part 7: “Nothing to write home about” (Breakfast)
Let’s turn our attention to those menus we skipped earlier.
First up is the meal card for passengers travelling in Caledonian Doubles or Club Rooms.
You’re meant to indicate your breakfast preferences and hang the card from your outside doorknob within 30 minutes of boarding. At some point thereafter, a member of staff will come round and collect the cards, and breakfasts will be prepared to match guests’ preferred meal choices and dining times (in theory at least).
Next, there’s a buy-on-board menu card listing hot meals and desserts.
Finally, there’s a booklet with one page of snack items and seven pages of beverages. Needless to say, Scottish spirits (including whisky) feature quite prominently in this catalogue.
I did consider marching up to the Club Car for a late dinner, but ultimately decided not to have a meal right before bed.
The following morning, I embarked on the long journey from Coach G to the Club Car – crossing five carriages between them – in search of a hearty breakfast.
I’d pre-ordered a “Highland Breakfast” the evening before (using the supplied menu card), and based on older pictures/videos I’d seen ahead of the trip I was anticipating a substantial meal of sausages, black pudding, egg, toast, and so on, all served on proper china with real utensils.
Unfortunately, whether due to the pandemic or cost-cutting or the foul mood of the staff or the early hour I’d chosen or some other reason, the meal that arrived at my table fell far far short of expectations.
I won’t even bother describing this, mm, snack (“meal” being an inappropriate description for what was delivered). The pictures speak for themselves.
Part 8: “Fàilte gu Alba” (The arrival station)
The northern terminus of Caledonian Sleeper services bound for Edinburgh is Waverley Station, right on the edge of the Scottish capital’s famed Old Town.
A far better place in many respects than the outdated, decomposing hulk of London Euston Station. That said, Edinburgh Waverley does have a complicated layout that first-timers (myself included) may find rather confusing. Even so, I eventually did find my way out of the terminal and into the historic heart of this ancient city.
So…far from a perfect experience.
The two biggest misses on the Caledonian Sleeper‘s part were (A) the plumbing issue that deprived me of ensuite sanitary facilities, and (B) the very disappointing breakfast. There’s no getting around it: I’m loath to excuse the operator for either one and I certainly believe that a larger refund than 33% of the fare was warranted.
Having said that, and I need to be absolutely clear on this point, I’d happily travel on the Caledonian Sleeper again.
The fare for any private berth – even the comparatively cheaper Classic Room – is nothing to scoff at, but a night on the train saves you a night at a hotel, which should offset the burden to no small degree. (Unless you normally stay at exceptionally cheap hostels or beg free accommodation from friends.) And one can’t ignore the time savings: fall asleep in England, wake up in Scotland. No long drive or daytime train journey to consider; just a seamless, almost magical transition from one part of the UK to another during a period of otherwise “wasted” downtime.
My own predilections also played a part in making the journey all the more enjoyable (plumbing and food quality issues aside). For one thing, I love rail travel. I also happen to be an extremely introverted chap who is intensely protective of his personal space. Long-distance travel in a private room soundly trounces even a short time spent in a daytime train with dozens of people in stiflingly close proximity.
Granted, one’s experience will differ depending on budgetary considerations, personal preferences, sensitivity to movement and noise, etc. It’s certainly important to take all these into consideration before booking passage on an overnight rail service.
All things considered, even with operational problems added to the calculus, I would rate this a highly memorable and enjoyable journey – one that I look forward to repeating in the future.
Needless to say, one hopes that all of the plumbing and catering issues will have been completely sorted by then!
“Now if you’d like to learn more…” (Reviews by other travellers)
If you’re eager for additional information about the onboard experience, do check out this collection of 2022 YouTube trip reports documenting journeys made by other travellers on various Caledonian Sleeper services.