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September 26, 2016

The Caledonian Sleeper from Edinburgh to London

It feels good to be on the move again. Tonight’s journey was not originally planned as part of my London – Istanbul trip, a recreation of the Orient Express for the modern age. I thought I would be starting my trip in London, but in fact I’m a few hundred miles further away from the start line, in Edinburgh.

Waverley Station has a strange atmosphere on a Sunday night. Police officers patrol a fairly deserted concourse. The bar is busy with stag and hen parties winding down after a busy weekend. They mix rather uncomfortably with walkers and cyclists returning from the mountains dressed in a uniform of lycra and sporting impressive outward bound accessories.

The Caledonian Sleeper sits at platform 11 waiting for its passengers. There is no hurry. You can get on  40 minutes before it sets off. I head for carriage C and “check in” with the stewardess. Angela gives me the impression that she has been doing this for years. To her the lifestyle is a vocation, a calling. We quickly establish that I’m having a bacon roll for breakfast and I know the drill. She let’s me on, after scribbling something artistic but without any obvious meaning on my ticket.

I dump my bag in my compartment and head for the bar carriage. It’s not the nicest type in the Caledonian Sleeper fleet (they have leather sofas) but is nonetheless comfy enough. I treat myself to a late night cheese plate and a glass of Chilean merlot. Hopefully they will help me sleep without strange dreams. I know from experience that there is no point trying to go to bed before Carstairs, where the train gets connected to the Glasgow service with some fairly serious jolts and bangs. The bar carriage is busy but not full. As always it’s a mixture of tourists, businessmen, priests and politicians heading for a week in London. I can’t quite work out the accent of the man sat opposite me, maybe it’s Danish. He feasts on haggis, neaps and taties, washed down with a bottle of Irn Bru and some ice.

Back in my compartment I settle in to my eight by four foot space. The carriage is ancient, but at least everything works. The bedding is surprisingly nice, and once I have figured out how to turn off all the lights, I manage to get a few hours reasonable sleep.

I have worked out from past experience that breakfast served in your compartment sounds good, but impacts on sleep, as one feels the need to get up and dressed before it actually arrives. Instead I ask to have it served in the bar. The first light of dawn backlights Watford Junction station as I enjoy a reasonable bacon roll and a terrible cup of instant coffee. Great Britain is an age behind Western Europe in train coffee terms, and I hope it catches up soon.
Euston has to be one of the most depressing stations in England to arrive in. We come to a halt at platform 1 in the underground bunker. It takes me five minutes to walk the length of the extended train and get out into the concourse.
I need to get into my rail adventurer mode today. This means never passing on the opportunity to eat or get clean. Euston has a lounge with showers, so I take full advantage. Depressingly without thought for passenger needs, there is no washbasin in the shower room, so I shave and brush my teeth in the shower. Hard core InterRailing on day one!

Ready for the day ahead I stroll over to St Pancras and drink expensive coffee in Searcys Bar until it’s time to check in for the next leg, to Paris.