View from Glenfinnan

A family trip on the Caledonian Sleeper; London to Fort William and on to Mallaig

Flying has lost its allure and sitting in traffic on the M6 has never had any but there was an air of anticipation as we waited to board the Caledonian Sleeper. Is there a better way to start a family holiday than going to bed on a train and waking up in the hills of Scotland?

Boarding the Caledonian Sleeper

We had booked on the overnight Caledonian Sleeper service which was scheduled to leave London Euston at 9.15pm. Fearful of missing the train we’d arrived incredibly early so endured a long wait on the concourse before boarding commenced.

Boarding the Caledonian Sleeper at London Euston
Boarding the Caledonian Sleeper at London Euston

Thankfully we were able to check in 30 minutes before departure. As there were four of us travelling we’d booked two sleeper berths (each sleeping two) and our steward unlocked the door between them to make one cabin.

Each room has a set of bunks, a small storage area and a sink; compact but well designed. There are toilets at the end of the carriages. There isn’t much space, either in the rooms or the corridors, but you quickly get used to squeezing in to let people past.

Despite its tiny size the kids had great fun exploring the room. Both immediately bagged the top bunks and unpacked the goodies (soap, eye mask and ear plugs). A few minutes later we felt the train move, we were off!

Checking out the beds on the Caledonian Sleeper
Checking out the beds on the Caledonian Sleeper

As we couldn’t encourage the kids to have an early night we all made our way to the lounge car. This consisted of several tables and sofas which face each other across the carriage. We’d eaten earlier but some people were tucking into haggis, neeps and tatties which looked a lot better than the offering on our local trains. We ordered drinks from the steward and enjoyed the novelty of our accommodation before retiring to bed.

Enjoying the Caledonian Sleeper lounge
Enjoying the Caledonian Sleeper lounge

I’d love to say I slept perfectly but I didn’t. Whilst the mattress and pillows were comfortable the sound of the train creaking and squeaking kept my daughter and I awake for much of the night. Conversely my partner and son had a great sleep and slept through until 7am.

Breakfast in the Highlands

We had coffee, juice and Scottish shortbread delivered to our compartment in the morning. Still hungry we decided to return to the lounge car for breakfast. I knew the train had split during the night with separate sections going to Inverness, Aberdeen and Fort William, but I hadn’t realised the lounge car had been disconnected and moved around too!

Views from the Caledonian Sleeper
Views from the Caledonian Sleeper

Fortunately we found the lounge (in the opposite direction) and ordered breakfast. It’s not haute cuisine but eating porridge and watching the Highland scenery go by was one of the highlights of the trip.

The train stops at several stations in the Highlands, including Rannoch Moor. Looking out on the platform I saw a couple of walkers waiting for the train, complete with midge nets over their heads. When I looked closer I could make out the clouds of midges surrounding them. I was very grateful not to get off at that stop!

Arrival in Mallaig

There weren’t any midges to welcome us when we arrived at Fort William. Instead we were met by the car hire representative. Whilst it’s possible to take a train all the way to Mallaig we needed a car to reach our evening accommodation and it was much cheaper to hire in Fort William than Mallaig.

The road takes a similar route to the railway so we didn’t miss out on the views. It was also convenient to be able to stop at Glenfinnan, home of the Jacobite Rising but more recently famous because of its Harry Potter film connections.

Glenfinnan dining car
Glenfinnan dining car

You’d have thought we’d have had enough of railways by this time but I’d already decided on a unique lunch spot, the dining car at Glenfinnan. We enjoyed a great lunch in the restored 1950s carriage; the homemade soups were really tasty although my other half wasn’t so sure about his black pudding toastie. Diners also receive a free ticket to the small Glenfinnan Station Museum which tells the story of the West Highland Line.

Walk to Glenfinnan viaduct
Walk to Glenfinnan viaduct

Glenfinnan viaduct

After lunch it was time to stretch our legs. From the station we walked along the Viaduct Trail which has impressive views over Loch Shiel and Glenfinnan Viaduct. The viaduct features in the Harry Potter films and is a magnet for photographers, particularly when the Jacobite steam train (which travels between Fort Wiliam and Mallaig) crosses on its regular tourist run.

Glenfinnan viaduct
Glenfinnan viaduct

I’d hoped to co-ordinate our walk with that of the Jacobite returning across the viaduct. I had a vague idea of its arrival time but we were too early so instead we sat on the platform at Glenfinnan Station waiting to see if it came through. However something much more exciting happened as a pine marten popped out of some undergrowth and ran along the track!

Road to the Isles stopover
Road to the Isles stopover

Giving up on the Jacobite we drove on to Mallaig. Of course, soon after leaving Glenfinnan we saw the steam train coming towards us. I was able to pull over so we could watch the train although it spent most of the time hidden behind trees on the other side of a loch.

Haggis supper, Mallaig
Haggis supper, Mallaig

Our journey ended in Mallaig, a small port on the west coast of Scotland. We were staying in one of the nearby villages before heading to the Isle of Eigg a few days later. More posts will follow but in the interim I’ll leave you with a photo of the deep fried haggis my partner had for tea!

44 thoughts on “A family trip on the Caledonian Sleeper; London to Fort William and on to Mallaig”

  1. What fun. We used to do this when I was a child. So exciting to got to sleep in London and wake up with the Scottish Landscape outside the window. Not sure if they do this anymore, but we used to take our car on the train too. My parents were obviously into overnight travel. We would get overnight ferries to the islands too. Hope to take my children one day.

    1. I hope my kids remember it when they’re older too – and maybe take their kids on it (assuming they’re not all travelling on hover boards by then).

  2. Lovely. We’ve done the drive from Fort william to Mallaig. One of the most beautiful ever! Plus we stopped at the viaduct. Big Harry Potter fans in our family. However we somehow missed out on the railway museum and the carriage restaurant. Perhaps we’ll have to do it again?

    1. The restaurant is worth a trip back! We’ve somehow missed out on Harry Potter in our family. I was never a fan and, dare I say, the kids haven’t read it either!

  3. The rail network is pretty limited in our area so we occasionally take a train ride just for the adventure. What a fabulous way to start a trip, with its own exciting adventure! I’d be like you and sleep would be limited, I love that the lounge was moved, that did make me chuckle!

    1. We’re pretty lucky with local trains and it really helps having the Family railcard. Don’t think I could afford it during peak travel times though.

  4. I have always fancied taking a sleeper train, it sounds like such a fun way to travel upto Scotland. I think I would have been the same as your son and hubby as I love a rocking motion! It’s really good value considering how much petrol and a long drive would be. I’ll bear this in mind!

    1. It is exciting. We’ve always driven up to Scotland before which usually involves an overnight stop anyway so it isn’t that much more expensive. And it saves the stress of driving (but you do need to pack light).

  5. This sounds so exciting, my brother lives in London so maybe this would be better than driving!

    I took my Harry Potter fan son on the Jacobite a could of years ago. Brilliant experience, and dinner overlooking the Mallaig harbour was lovely.


  6. How absolutely gorgeous!! There’s something so romantic about trains – I love the vintage restaurant car. You’d never believe this was Scotland, it looks like some exotic, Scandinavian Landscape, we forget that all this is on our doorstep, if only it were cheaper to get there – we’re also victims of M6 traffic. Thanks for sharing, I love posts like this 🙂

  7. What an amazing adventure – I really enjoyed reading this post and looking at all your great photos. They really don’t do it by halves, do they?! Black pudding toastie and deep fried haggis! Sounds intriguing. Thanks for linking to #PoCoLo x

  8. We haven’t been on the sleeper for years, since before we had children in fact, but I think they would really like it. We took it to Glasgow a few times, but not further, and I really like the idea of going far north on it. The Viaduct Trail looks great too. Love the Highlands – it’s so beautiful up there.

    1. It’s a great adventure for older kids and they’re much more likely to appreciate (and remember) it. We’re big fans of Scotland, love the scenery.

  9. Hi Christine, I’m sure men can sleep pretty much anywhere. I’m sure I wouldn’t have slept on the train, but probably due to not wanting to miss anything even if it was nighttime!

    Travelling by sleeper train does sound like an exciting alternative to flying or driving and what could be better than shortbread and coffee washed down with porridge for breakfast in Scotland?

    The scenery looks stunning, even if it is a little grey and I’m sure your going to have fun exploring.


    1. I’m normally the one that can sleep anywhere so I was a bit miffed about being awake for so much of the night! All worth it for the views (and porridge) the next morning.

  10. What a wonderful idea to travel with this train! I would loooove to do that. Not to mention, to visit the Highlands! Such a beautiful place, and I am actually impressed with the price, I thought this would be the price for only one person! It’s worth it!

    Thank you for joining #MondayEscapes

    1. You can get cheaper tickets than the price we paid, as long as you book a long time in advance. Even so, I think it was good value for the four of us.

  11. Despite the lack of sleep, it sounds like a great adventure. My kids have been begging for a train ride similar to this. They are far and few where we live in California. 🙂

    1. I read an article recently about someone travelling across America by train. Sounded fun, but quite an unusual way to get around in the States.

    1. The route between Fort William and Mallaig is definitely on the tourist trail but that’s no bad thing. Hope you get to visit Scotland!

  12. Fascinating post! I have seen this sleeper featured on the Michael Portillo rail series and we have been wondering whether to do a trip up to Scotland on one of UK trips (we now live in Perth WA but have extended family in the Uk and our younger daughter has moved over to London). The scenery looks stunning – I think there is a small hotel at Rannoch Moor but I wouldn’t like the midges! We went by sleeper train from Vienna to Zurich last year. I had visions of the glamour of the Orient Express but it was rather cramped and I also didn’t sleep too well though it was a great experience! Best wishes Rosemary, Le Chic En Rose, #MondayEscapes

    1. It is a great journey, I highly recommend it if you get the chance. I’m guessing sleepers the world over are quite cramped (apart from the luxurious ones) and noisy but that’s half the fun. We took an overnight train to the south of France a couple of years ago and sleep was once again limited! Great way to arrive though 🙂

  13. I haven’t taken a sleeper train for almost 20 years since interrailing round Europe but there’s definitely a romance to it – especially here. I did travel from London to Skye by train a few years ago but missed the sleeper so had to spend all day… a long trip that way even with wonderful scenery after Inverness!

    1. We came home on the day train from Fort William (via Glasgow and London) so it was a long old journey on the way back! I can certainly empathise with you 🙂

  14. What an amazing trip – I love it (although I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to give the haggis a go!!). The train journey looks incredible, worth a not great night’s sleep for! Thank you for linking up to #GlobalKids

  15. Actually, I don’t think £145 is bad at all, she says feelingly, having hauled the family up to the barest south of Scotland by car from London. I do love overnight trains myself. It’s probably about time to introduce the kids to them.

    1. The kids thought it was great fun and I’m pretty sure they didn’t argue or say they were bored once so that in itself is probably worth the money.

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