EUS – INV Caledonian Sleeper – Classic Room

Operator: Caledonian Sleeper

Headcode: 1S25

Route:    EUS-INV

Class:    Classic

SeatRoom: M09

Date:     Sunday 7th November 2021

The last time I travelled onboard the Caledonian Sleeper (read about that here) was in October 2020 in that weird period between lockdowns when the Government were encouraging people to do things but restrictions were still in place and it all felt a bit… well, weird… This journey I was travelling on the same route as my maiden sleeper voyage, from London Euston to the capital of the Highlands, Inverness.

Euston is undergoing building work as part of HS2

Since then restrictions and lockdowns have been reimposed and then removed, with life in England feeling a bit more like the ‘before times’ now. This, combined with my ticket type, meant there were going to be a few noticeable differences to my previous sleeper journey, with the lounge cars having been reintroduced, my ‘classic’ ticket not providing lounge access and, most importantly, I wasn’t travelling alone, with Beth joining me for this jolly north of the border.

With no lounge access included in our ticket we couldn’t make use of Avanti’s first-class lounge at Euston and so headed to the mezzanine level to try and find somewhere to sit for the half an hour until boarding was due to begin. I’ll admit that Network Rail are in a difficult position with seating, especially as Euston, as increasing the number of seats blocks the concourse, the manner in which they have put rows at the back is extremely unwelcoming and leaves many people finding walls to lean against.

A GBRf class 92 in Caledonian Sleeper livery on the buffer stops at Euston

Having found a perch upstairs, we headed back down to the concourse with about five minutes left before the published boarding time (Caledonian Sleeper put these on the timetables), however soon discovered that we had a longer than planned stand as boarding had been delayed without any communication via the station team or online. In fact, when I tweeted Caledonian Sleeper to query the boarding, I only received a response about 10 minutes after we boarded, as I was settling down in our room. Despite this slight annoyance, we were finally allowed to head down the platform about 2035, 35 minutes late. Quick word of warning to anyone heading to Inverness on the sleeper… it will feel as though you are walking to Scotland as the Inverness portion is the far end of platform 1 in the high-lettered coaches.

Making our way to coach M, the second coach behind the loco, meant a walk just shy of ¼ mile and we were glad to reach our room and be able to settle in. The only real noticeable difference between a ‘classic’ and ‘club’ room when onboard is the lack of ensuite shower/toilet in the classic. However, given that these essentially take up the space of what would have been the next room, there’s no difference to the room itself other than lack of door. The other noticeable difference for me was that the room’s ‘cosiness’ is a lot more noticeable when there’s two of you.

Our ‘Classic Room’ with both bunks made up

Shortly after boarding our onboard host came down the carriage taking breakfast orders and answering any questions we had. Discovering we’d probably need to wait about an hour before heading to the lounge car (club rooms are given priority) we decided to relax and read our books as the train was readied for departure. Pulling out of Euston right on time at 2100, we had a short 20-minute run before we pulled into our first stop, Watford Junction. Watford is the only English station other than Euston that is served by both the Highland and Lowland Sleepers, with both stopping to pick up only on the northbound journey and drop off only on the southbound.

As we passed Northampton, a route only taken by the Sunday sleepers, we decided to wander back to the lounge car to see whether we’d be able to get a table. There are actually two lounge cars on the Highlander, with one between the Inverness and Fort William portions serving both of these, whilst another towards the rear of the train serves the Aberdeen portion. At Edinburgh, where the train splits, the forward lounge car remains with the Inverness portion whilst two ‘day coaches’ are added to the Fort William portion, providing the first service of the day from Edinburgh and Glasgow to the West Highland line.

The inside of the lounge car

We timed our trip down to the lounge car just right, with us initially getting seats on the bar stools whilst a table became free just minutes later and our host kindly allowed us to move. I found the lounge car quite nicely designed, with a mix of booths and bar stool style seating, allowing you to dine whether you’re by yourself, in a couple or with a group.

Foodwise, what can I say, it was amazing! We started with a venison charcuterie, which was a bit small for sharing, however the quality of the meat was excellent. I then opted for the traditional Haggis, Neeps & Tatties which was pretty perfectly formed, with decent size portions of all three and tasting excellent. Beth opted for the Salmon and Mash Potatoes which got a good review and I had to agree that the small bite of salmon I acquired was exquisite.

Haggis, Neeps & Tatties from the lounge car

The only negative was the limited options for desert (and some drinks) due to, what I can only assume is, part of the UK’s supply chain issues. The one option that was available was the Rich Milk Chocolate Torte which, considering I’m not usually a fan of chocolate desserts, was just the right level of chocolatey. Finishing with one of the wide range of whisky, the meal onboard was just excellent and definitely rounds off the sleeper ‘experience’.

Heading back to our room full, we decided to relax for a while and it wasn’t long before our stop at Crewe, the second of three stops in England for the Highlander. I couldn’t see anyone waiting to board from our window, however we did stop with our carriage adjacent to a Transport for Wales class 175 that was stabled overnight in one of Crewe’s north facing bay platforms.

The rather sad looking breakfast

Our final English stop was at Preston to allow for a crew change, and shortly after leaving here I drifted off, sleeping through the shunts required to turn one train into three at Edinburgh and woke up just as we arrived at Stirling. With the sky not due to begin to lighten for another couple of hours, I watched our departure before dozing back off and awakening to brightening skies near Aviemore. Having travelled along this bit of railway a couple of times, I was glad I had woken up when I did as this is some of the most beautiful scenery on the route, with the Cairngorms rising above the railway.

The timing was also advantageous as breakfast arrived not long after, although this was the one bit of food on the sleeper that let the whole experience down. In ‘classic’ rooms, breakfast isn’t included in the price and so we had opted to pay the extra £3 each for a bacon roll, which after the meal the previous night we had high hopes for. Unfortunately, what arrived was the saddest looking breakfast roll I’ve seen, with both the bacon and roll extremely tough and dry.

The GBRf class 66 and 73 that had hauled us north from Edinburgh

The passing of LNER’s southbound Highland Chieftain at Tomatin saw us start the final 20-minute run into Inverness, bringing our journey to an end. Overall the journey and experience was impressive, with excellent service onboard; great food (except breakfast); and a comfortable night’s sleep. The lack of an ensuite wasn’t really an issue and once we’d figured out how to move around with two of us in the room, the Classic room was perfectly sufficient for the journey north.

Lounge              0*

Seat/Facilities     4*

Food               4*

Service             4*

Punctuality         5*

Overall Rating      17/25 (read about my rating system here!)

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