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.