(james benedict brown) on the road

A bed in the capital (and elsewhere)

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 22 September, 2008

How does £36 sound to you for a bed in London? The capital is an expensive place to spend the night, but last week I found a comfortable single bed with clean linen, soft pillows, a good reading light and a sink with plentiful hot and cold water. There are some downsides to this cosy bed, though. Namely that the room this single bed is in is quite small, with only a narrow standing space beside the bed.

And that when you wake up in the morning, your bed will have moved by as much as 800 miles from London.

£36 is the cost of a standard berth reservation on board the ScotRail Caledonian Sleeper between London and Glasgow. For £51 you can have a first class reservation, which guarantees the same size of cabin but without having to share it. You’ll need a ticket for travel in addition to those upgrades, although all inclusive “bargain berths” are available online from £19 when booked in advance.

It can still come as a surprise to some British people to discover that our little country still supports full service sleeper trains. There are five routes still in operation: London to Penzance (the Night Riviera); London to Edinburgh and Glasgow (the ScotRail Lowland Sleeper) and London to Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort Wiliam (the ScotRail Highland Sleeper), all operating six nights a week. There are about sixty additional intermediate stations, although the services between London and Scotland’s two biggest cities are relatively uninterrupted. If you find yourself booked in the last compartment of the last carriage (as I did a southbound journey last week) you may feel a jolt as different train portions are shunted together at Carstairs or Edinburgh. But aside from that, the sleepers offer a smooth and extremely comfortable way to cover the miles. I find the gentle lateral rocking of the train particularly comforting, and bonded rails mean there is much less of the disturbing clickety-clack than you might think.

This photograph just about shows you everything you need to know. The sleeper carriages are specially constructed variants on the basic design of the Intercity 125 carriage, normally with twelve compartments. They’re smooth riding, solidly built and well heated and ventilated, although opening windows aren’t included in the cabin. The cabin is simple and compact, with two bunks (limited British railway clearances mean that we don’t have enough height for European-style couchettes or, for that matter, the double deck sleeper trains you’ll find in Germany and Switzerland) in standard class or a single lower bunk in first class. There’s a small sink under the lid by the window, and space for suitcases and bags under the lower bed or above the window. The panel between the door and the beds has switches for the main light and the reading lights, and a call bell for the attendant. Behind the door (on the left of this picture) is another door allowing two compartments to be conjoined for a family.

My train left Glasgow Central just after half past eleven on Thursday night and arrived in London almost an hour early at six the next morning, although if you would like to slumber a little longer, passengers aren’t disturbed until nearer seven when the attendant brings a hot drink and snack breakfast box. I snubbed the offer of the breakfast box, preferring instead a cab over to Smithfield Market for a greasy breakfast and mug of builder’s tea.

At the end of the day’s business in London, I adjourned with trusted friends and colleagues to a pub off Oxford Street. We discussed work and studies over pints of independently brewed Yorkshire lager and I watched the bright afternoon sunlight fall on the rooftops of Margaret Street. At about half past six though, one of our small circle had to leave. He was watching the clock for his journey home, which would consist of a tube over to Liverpool Street station, followed by a train to Stansted Airport. Then check-in, security, a long walk to the Stansted satellite terminal, boarding, taxi, take-off and then a short flight to Newcastle Airport. Then two buses to get home.

I, however, stayed for another pint. Then I took a bus over to Clerkenwell for another couple of pints and dinner. It wasn’t until nearer ten that I began my journey home. A bus to Euston and then… I slept my way home. I know how I want to travel between Scotland and London from now onwards.


2 Responses

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  1. Robert Ramsay said, on 30 September, 2008 at 04:52

    What a lovely way to travel. thanks for posting the report link on Amtrak Forums.


  2. Jan Dignan said, on 8 September, 2009 at 21:17

    My husband used to travel by sleeper Edinburgh/London until a nasty experience recently with a carriage infested with bed bugs. Don’t recommend it.

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