Boisdale Life Magazine (Issue 18) - Flipbook - Page 72
I’ve smoked, had
sex, thrown up,
and sipped single
malts on this train
ut this carriage-based Culloden of
bad PR is finally abating – partly
because the Caledonian Sleeper
is, to its admirers, an intoxicating and
ebullient lover whose beauty and poise
is such that it’s impossible to stay angry
with her for long.
There is simply no better travel
experience on the planet than being
woken up in a bunk-bed cabin at dawn
with a comfortingly appalling coffee, a
bacon roll, and a copy of The Scotsman,
and then rolling up the blind to see the
Highlands rushing past your window.
Conversations the night before in the
club car are always joyous experiences.
Everyone on board has a fealty to the
train, so the badinage has the same
nods, ticks, and reference points that,
I imagine, endear the gentry to one
another at White’s or the Turf Club.
Stories of grouse-shooting disasters,
enfeebled aunts in Dornoch, ski trips
to Aviemore, romantic trysts on Loch
Ness – nobody who travels the sleeper
is in a hurry to get anywhere, and the
barman keeps serving until the last
passenger stumbles back to their cabin.
The nights of impromptu bunk-bed
passions that have followed a dram in
the bar would sate the sexual appetites
of an army of lusty Jacobites!
But, despite the improved food and
drink, if you spot me on the Caledonian
Sleeper, I’ll almost certainly be staring
out of the window, particularly on an
early morn as we curve through the
edges of the Cairngorms.
I see brick- and buff-coloured
heather, golden grass, and woods where
rustling movement turns out to be
pheasants among the leaves. I see
smoke coil from chimneys of whisky
From top: £150 million of
sparkling new rolling stock,
launched in 2019; the comfortable
double-bed cabins; the revamped
menu includes haggis, neeps,
tatties and whiskies
distilleries, miasmas of mist hanging
above a green quilt of glens, spruce
forests, and fields dabbed with Tipp-Exwhite smudges of sheep. We trundle
past narrow, forgotten stations: Dunkeld
and Birnam, Blair Atholl, Kingussie,
Newtonmore – names to make you
pinch yourself, such are their essences
of rough tweed, oatmeal, and venison.
It’s after 10am when we arrive in
Inverness, a town of stout granite
buildings that hunch up against the
wide curve of the River Ness. Passersby
seem oblivious to the bleary-eyed
passengers who emerge from the station.
For a moment, I admire the statue of
a soldier that stands on the station
forecourt. Made of Portland stone, it
was erected in 1893 to mark the
centenary of the Cameron Highlanders
and later became a war memorial for
campaigns in Egypt and Sudan. The
statue is an appropriate full stop to
mark the end of a train journey that,
despite innumerable attempts to cancel
it by successive governments that
bemoaned its maintenance costs,
remains ever popular.
“Anything is possible in a train,”
wrote Paul Theroux in The Tao of
Travel. “A great meal, a binge, a visit
from card players, an intrigue, a good
night’s sleep, and strangers’ monologues
framed like Russian short stories.” But
when it comes to the peculiarly Scottish
hush of the Caledonian Sleeper, one
finds something more reassuring.
Something that, in an age of budget
flights, frayed tempers, overcrowded
departure lounges, and jammed
motorways, puts one in an unusual
mind-set – travelling for the journey
as much as the destination.
igh-speed train lines continue
to sprout across Europe as
the need for speed, to compete
against the airlines, increases. Yet,
somewhere, amid the bird’s nest of
tracks that weave around Scotland,
the Caledonian Sleeper rolls serenely
by, its whistle echoing into the fields,
valleys, and mountains beyond.
The Caledonian Sleeper runs every
night but Saturday, north and south
between Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Fort
William, Glasgow, Inverness and
London Euston. Comfort Seats start
from £45; Classic Rooms from £140 solo
or £170 shared; Club Rooms from £205
solo and £250 shared; and Caledonian
Doubles from £335 solo and £400
shared. Visit sleeper.scot to book your
tickets and check for any restrictions.
T H O M A S JA N I S C H /G ET T Y
drinking water, trains overshooting
platforms, mutinous staff, and epic
delays were a heather-and-tartan-strewn
field day for the press, and genuinely
heartbreaking to sleeper lovers who,
like anxious parents at Sports Day, were
willing their beloved to succeed.