The Caledonian Sleeper, the night train that connects London with the wilder reaches of Scotland, is comfortable, romantic and, if you book in advance, very cheap – and it’s one of very few long-distance services left in the UK.
I was pouring whisky sauce on to my haggis when the Munro Bagger on the next table along said that the train service was always under threat. It would be a scandal, we agreed, if it were to disappear.
The Bagger explained that the train made a loss, often ran late, and struggled to compete with no-frills flights to Edinburgh and Aberdeen. It needed investment; it needed political will. We had a couple of malts while we fixed the world and then I staggered – the train wobbled as it sped through the northern night – to my cosy couchette. I slept until the carriage attendant brought me hot coffee and a bacon bap. On rolling the blind up I saw a dense mist, patches of snow, beautiful ochre-coloured mountains and hirsute cows.
After checking in to my hotel I went for a walk around Fort William. The tourist information service was a Polanski film: ‘Can I climb Ben Nevis?’ ‘It’s windy up there.’ ‘Do I need a map or is the footpath well marked?’ ‘Not when the fog rolls in.’ I went to the pub for a haggis.
The next day was horrendous – more pubs and haggis – but on the Sunday I set out for ‘The Ben’ – the nickname, I gathered from a leaflet, used by summitters.
The Caledonian Sleeper (aka ‘The Deerstalker’) to Fort William costs from £19 single if booked 12 weeks in advance. Leaves Euston Mon-Fri at 9.15pm and Sun on alternate weeks at 8.15pm or 7.30pm. The Sleeper also calls at Watford, Crewe and Preston before reaching its first stops in Scotland. No services on Saturdays. For more information see www.scotrail.co.uk/caledoniansleeper/index.html.
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