A Ride on the (Saved) Caledonian Sleeper

The Caledonian Sleeper service from England to Scotland has been rescued by a £50m investment from the Treasury, matched by £50m from the Scottish Government. The investment will not only save the service but pay for the train to be refurbished too. This is great news for a journey that is really quite special.

I went up to Aviemore with a couple of friends in Spring last year, after booking a bargain berth. Scotrail runs a promotion allowing customers to purchase heavily reduced fares if they book twelve weeks in advance (the price rises after that). While it means doing a bit of careful planning, it’s well worth it.

In the evening of our trip we were greeted by a middle-aged blonde Scottish conductor wearing bright pink lipstick. She showed us to our rooms, each with bunk beds for two, and asked whether we would like coffee, tea, or orange juice with our wake up call, which would be around an hour before we were due to alight.

The sheets were crisp and white and there were even little bottles of water in each cabin. The train rolled north and after some excited talk…

…we turned the lights out. The train stops at Crewe for a couple of hours, which can wake some people – but if you’re a heavy sleeper, the berths are more than comfortable enough for a good night’s sleep.

Arriving in Aviemore the first thing I did was take a trip on the Strathspey Railway.

(small stones can fly toward your eyes when sticking your head out the window).

The Strathspey Railway affords beautiful views of the Cairngorm mountains, which are in Spring left with just a dusting of snow across the peaks. The train serves great coffee and is one of the few places left on Earth you can still buy IRN-BRU.

From Aviemore, there are some great day trips to take in a hire car. Loch Ness is a must, especially for fans of cryptzoology – who can enjoy the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, a humorously dated museum dedicated to debunking the myth of the Loch Ness Monster.

Urquhart Castle sits looking out over Loch Ness…

As does this rather prepossesing graveyard…

Near to Loch Ness there’s a writer’s centre run by the Arvon Foundation

Beyond that, another spectacular drive goes through the hills…

(a train in a field!)

…all the way to Balmoral castle.

We stayed at the Aviemore Bunkhouse which is dead cheap from £17 a night. It also has the added benefit of being next to the Old Bridge Inn, which has a cozy candlelit oak interior and serves a fantastic selection of ales and whiskies as well as putting on live music.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Jools Stone

    Hooray for the saved cally sleeper, hope the prices don’t go up too much though. ‘Few places in Britian whrere you can still get Irn Bru’? Ha, there speaks one who does not come north of the border much! You fairly cannae move for bottles of the hideous bright orange stuff here! Nice review 🙂

    1. Sophie

      I should see what else you got that we don’t got.

  2. Megan Eaves

    Fantastic – thanks so much for the heads up on this. Must give it a try this year.

    1. Sophie

      Thanks Megan – go for it!

  3. John

    How much was your sleeper ticket Sophie. My partner would really love to take this trip. But in Summer! Really don’t understand why anyone would want to go to Aviemore in summer when they have a winter! 😉
    Jools is right about the Iron Bru. You can’t even buy alcopops like WKD or whatever it is that is vodka / Iron Bru. They just mix a fresh one for you at the bar. Totally disagree on his assessment of it. I love it and furthermore it isn’t owned by one of the world dominating corporations.
    In response to what else they have up North that you don’t have – lots of young people in beach wear going clubbing in the middle of winter.

    1. Sophie

      Hey John – mine was £20 one way with a railcard and my friends paid £30 without a railcard. Go get it! Be sure to book 6-12 weeks in advance – 12 weeks will get you a better rate.

  4. james

    I’m writing a piece about the Sleeper for a magazine and came across your review which i enjoyed. I think I’ve been to the grave yard you’ve photographed by Loch Ness, did it have pirate graves with skull and cross bones on them and a small hut in the corner? If so it was right in front of Aleister Crowley’s house which was later owned by Jimmy Page. A very eery graveyard indeed.

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