I have always loved trains with their soothing lull and being able to watch the scenery as it gets closer and closer to my destination. When I was little, we didn’t have a car, so we would always travel by train to go on holiday. We would take an overnight train similar to the Caledonian Sleeper between Reims and Perpignan most summers. I fondly remember those journeys with my mum, my baby brother, our dog and I crammed into a small cabin with three bunk beds. I didn’t see the train journey merely as a way to get from A to B. Au contraire! It was a real treat and an integral part of our holiday.
When I last went to Inverness with my family, we drove as we had a range of activities and places to see all over the place, and taking the car was by far the cheapest and most practical option.
When I started planning a retreat for a group of friendly bloggers to Eagle Brae, I didn’t think about how I would get there. I only had the destination in mind, and I focused on our activities, where we would stay and what I would pack.
Then the girls started talking about flights and booking from Gatwick or Heathrow. That’s when I started feeling queasy at the thought of flying. I haven’t flown since my best friend’s wedding, 6 years ago, you see… I could not face the thought of getting into a metal box with wings. I just couldn’t… I buried my head deep (deep deep) in the sand and blissfully avoided the discussions in our Facebook group. I didn’t book a seat on that EasyJet plane when the girls did and simply avoided thinking about it.
I have a terrible phobia of flying and trains have always been my favourite way of getting around. Luckily for me, the lovely people at Caledonian Sleeper were more than happy to have me on board (thank goodness) and all my worries evaporated as soon as my cabin was booked. It would take just over twelve hours to travel between London and Inverness and I would have some privacy in my first class cabin. It is the ideal way for me to travel as Euston station, where it departs from, is the closest Central London station for me.
It turned out that my friend Sara-Jayne, who was coming to Inverness too, was not fond of flying either, so we became travelling buddies and arranged to meet before boarding. I arrived over an hour before my home for the night was due to leave. Since I am never ever on time for anything, that says a lot!
We had a nice cup of coffee and aboard we went. As soon as we had settled in, the attendant took our order for breakfast. We could have porridge, natural yoghurt and granola, a full Scottish breakfast or scrambled eggs and salmon. I went for the latter, with coffee.
We each had a cabin and the attendant opened the door between our two rooms so we proceeded to chat for hours before nodding off to sleep. We had a small bottle of water in our cabin as well as a sleepover kit, complete with eye mask, pillow spray, toiletries and ear plugs. I put on my pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers and it felt like home.
In the morning, it was all very civilised, with a gentle knock on the door to make sure we were awake and breakfast served in our cabins. We arrived in Inverness as the sun was rising, refreshed and ready to explore Inverness.
Nothing could have made me happier than another night aboard the Caledonian Sleeper to end a wonderful retreat, full of laughter, memories, relaxation, welcoming people and immersion in the Highlands’ culture and beauty.
Sara-Jayne and I had lunch in town and spent our evening in the comfortable sleeper lounge where complimentary drinks and snacks were provided. As soon as we were told we could board, we dropped our bags in our respective cabins and headed straight for the dining cart for some food. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact all meals and snacks were made using fresh, sustainable ingredients sourced from Highland suppliers. Sara-Jayne went for the Salmon and Butternut Squash Curry and I went for Scottish the Cheeseboard: Highland Brie, Strathdon Blue and Tain Truckle Cheddar.
Although it is really comfortable and all members of staff are wonderful, there is no denying the Caledonian Sleeper is tired (no pun intended!) and is in need of an update. Later this year, a fleet of new trains will be introduced and they look absolutely incredible, with their wide a range of accommodation options like suites (double bed with an en-suite), club rooms (twin or single with en-suite), Classic Rooms (twin or single) and Comfort Seats.
I am about to get home and I am now daydreaming about the Orient Express or the Maharajas’ Express… I wonder where my next travels will take me.
Disclosure: I travelled on the Caledonian Sleeper free of charge. As always, all opinions and photos are my own, with a little help from my friend Sara-Jayne, who took the photos of me.