Seaside Special - Diary of a Caledonian Sleeper: south Highland


One interpretation of this post is that it is a simple tale of commuting. Although as journeys to work go, a 36-hour round-trip on the Caledonian Sleeper via Fort William to my office in Camden was a little out of the ordinary. If nothing else, it was a refreshing punctuation in the daily grind of stuffed peak-hour trains and the odorous Victoria Line hell.

That journey, back in 2011, was my first expedition on the overnight service to Scotland.  The Caledonian Sleeper remains one of only two such overnight franchises in the UK. The other is through the West Country to Penzance, on the Night Riviera. I grabbed a berth in 2018. 

Both services, having endured perilous existences and operated under constant threat of closure for years, seem to be seeing renaissances.

I’ve enjoyed the sleeper jaunt Scotland on a number of occasions in the dozen years since my initial trip, most recently on brand spanking new rolling stock via Glasgow to Ayr last year.

But nothing will ever feel like the first time. I was so excited to make that expedition. I wrote a blog post not long after I came back. I’ve buffed it up a fraction, but I reckon the piece earns a place in this coastal series because Fort William sits on Loch Linnhe, a sea loch with Forth William at its head. I may not have been there very long, but it still counts!

Here’s that original trip in all its indulgent detail.    

Friday 26th June 2011

Today I am taking the first indelible step towards realising a long conceived plan. I’m buying tickets for the Caledonian Sleeper leaving Euston next Tuesday and returning on the very next evening’s Fort William departure. For years I have been aiming to do this trip. Finding the right time in the right space has always been the challenge. The journey simply has to be in early Summer when the light is purest and days the longest. This will give me the opportunity to luxuriate from my sleeper berth in the full early morning majesty and evening scenic splendour of the West Highland Line. The trip also has to be completed before the schools brake up for Summer and before the midges hit top gear.

It is, frankly, a half-baked romantic and sentimental notion inspired by Great Railway Journeys of the World (GWJofW) and fuelled by the buried urge of a latent explorer seeking release from a shrink-wrapped, pre-packaged existence.

And now I am set. The weather looks passable; the convoluted rail timetable appears to provide a train that meets my exacting requirements; there is just about a suitable gap in the work diary; and miraculously, it slots neatly into the crowded home diary.

I physically check that the seven bits of cardboard spat out by the auto-ticket teller at the station are in order: Depart 9.15pm Tuesday evening from Euston; arrive 10.00am Fort William on Wednesday morning. Depart 7.50pm on Wednesday evening from Fort William; arrive 7.57am Thursday morning at Euston. 1st Class single berth tickets.

1st Class. That’s decadent isn’t it? The truth is that I don’t want to risk sharing my cabin with anyone on this special journey. I don’t want to feel self-conscious, for instance, about pointing my long range lens up against the window to snap a passing glacial corrie because of a bloke in the top bunk. Same goes for mooning up against the glass as we zip through Warrington Bank Quay. Only joking, obviously.  Anyway, because I’ve left it late, two first class singles has ended up being only a smidge dearer than the standard class return. Ha! 

Next stop, the library. I pick up a map of Fort William and Ben Nevis: an essential accessory. I feel naked without a map of anywhere I visited. I also borrow a rather flowery guide to the West Highland Line to provide the appropriate light weight, sentimental guff needed to reinforce my reasons for going. 

The journey itself is the real motivation, of course. The vision I hold closely is of the train, known as The Deerstalker (not just a hat - who knew?), winding carefully across bottomless sheep-populated bogs, through wide valleys with vertiginous craggy aspects and skirting deep lochs fringed with pine and alder. This would be my own GRJotW moment.

I haven’t yet given much thought to what I will actually do with my day in the highland honeypot of Fort William. Highlandwalks.com comes to the rescue. I print off a healthy range of high and low altitude, short and medium range walks in and around Glen Nevis that will give me enough to do, depending on weather, fitness, and availability of pubs.

Tuesday 30th June

Morning

The weather looks less amenable. Light showers are predicted for most of the following day in the vicinity of Fort William. The forecasts have been wrong all month. I’m not worried. Not at all. I pack a rainmac.

Afternoon

Of much greater concern is the website update on train travel. Bad news. Delay City. A points failure at Harrow is causing a service meltdown that RMT only dream of in their wildest striking scenarios. Predictions are for things to clear by the evening. This is another forecast I don’t trust. I elect to take my chances at the local station earlier than planned, hoping I can pick up a train of any description into town so that I can rendezvous with the Sleeper in good time.  

Evening

Pitak, the customer assistant at Berkhamsted station, won’t even sell me a ticket. (My seven bits of cardboard purchased on Friday don’t cover the stretch to London.) Such is the mayhem following this afternoon’s points failure that trains are simply not calling at Berko. Instead, they whistle down the line to get commuters back from London. Of course normally that would be me and I would be grudgingly applauding London Midland’s default policy. But today I’m not Mr commuter. I am Mr Head-Spinningly-Angry instead. And a bit of Mr Uncertain too.

First I book a cab to take me to Watford. My logic is that the Caledonian Sleeper calls there after leaving the big city. But I really begrudge forking out an additional twenty notes on top of everything else. Pitak is a good lad and he’s definitely on my team. He calls me over to his window from where I stand quietly fuming by the train indicator screen. He tells me that he’s spotted a service that should call at Berko, en route to Euston in about 20 minutes’ time.

I believe him. That will do. Loads of time. Pitak shuts up shop. It’s 8pm and he is off duty now after a taxing day entirely filled with the grief and angst of frustrated passengers. “You’ll be alright, it’s coming”, he says, before adding over his departing shoulder, “Good luck!” That doesn’t fill me with confidence, but I cancel the taxi anyway.

8.20pm and there is still no sign of any southbound train. The automatic announcements are grimly ironic. “The 17.15 to Euston is delayed due to an earlier signal problem. London Midland apologises for the inconvenience this may cause.” 17.15? It will be three hours late if it turns up!

Cancelling the taxi was a big, naive, touristy mistake. Pitak did his best but he hasn’t delivered. So I trudge back to the office, resigned to further cost piled on top of burgeoning anxiety. I need to rescue my carefully planned trip before I’ve even left my home town.

Finally, I get a break. Linda, sits in the taxi booth surrounded by Snickers wrappers, microphones and mobile phones, smiling thinly. She promises that a car is arriving in 5 minutes. No mistakes this time. The Mercedes crawls into the car park and I pounce on it like a hungry raptor, clamber in and I’m away.  

Watford Junction is predictably chaotic. People gather around screens, block stairwells and haunt platforms. Or mill about asking questions that no-one can answer. Nevertheless, the Cally Sleeper is actually showing on the departure board. That’s something isn’t it?

None of the staff know what is going to happen next.  The station announcer tells a different story to the departure boards. He begins to proclaim the arrival of the  Birmingham-bound train at the platform where I’m waiting. It is not shown on the screen.  He stops mid-sentence as the approaching service picks up speed, thunders past the platform and out of the station. “I’ll just get on to the signal box about that one. We apologise for the….”.

I continue to loiter and shuffle at platform 6, texting Mrs A with live action updates: cliffhangers at the end of every message that sound like an Eastenders script on steroids. My train is now showing a delay of twenty minutes and could be, might be the third arrival at Platform 6. Two minutes later it rolls up only five minutes late and before either of the two earlier advertised departures. Luckily, I am alive to all these circumstances and actually recognise the distinctive formation of the Sleeper service.

9.45pm

The poor station announcer is only just catching up with events and introduces his customers to the latest arrival just in time for it to leave. By which time I am on and in. It is 9.45pm. I left home at 7pm and have travelled 15 miles.

Barry meets me in the vestibule. He scans a clipboard and looks at me warily. He is surprised to see me at Watford and not at Euston. I explain, rather breathlessly. "Carnage", he beams. Sympathetically, I think. Still, I am impressed that my name appears on his neatly typed list of passengers. For the first time in hours, I feel a hint of reassurance.

Barry is great. I order my breakfast for the next morning and he gives me a brief introduction to the facilities in my berth, together with an apology for the broken air conditioning.

I nose around the cabin. It doesn’t take long. Bijou would be an exaggeration. Where is the telly? Where is the Corby trouser press? No Gideon’s bible in the bedside cabinet? No bedside cabinet?

There is a door in the wall that I half think would lead in to the bathroom. It is locked. And with good reason. It leads into the next compartment. Oops. The problem with the air conditioning is immediately apparent. It is like a Turkish bath in there. No power point for my laptop either.

But no reason to be churlish: the complimentary toiletries are an absolute joy. The little draw-string duffel bag houses an intriguing array of creams and ointments, a fold up toothbrush with the tiniest tube of paste I’d ever seen, a blindfold (for kinky games I imagine) and…bed socks! (That’s way too kinky for me!).

Time for refreshments after so much drama, so I check out the lounge car. My first beer is free and I also find a power point. As easily as that, the journey slips into a comfortable place. Within minutes, I am settled, relaxed and observing the other passengers. About 15 people occupy the carriage. Some are obvious couples, but at least half are solo travellers – one or two of whom are chatting to others, but most are not. Two blokes on the table opposite debate the recently departed Michael Jackson’s true contribution to music. The attractive girl opposite me is focussing intently on her book, desperate not to catch anyone’s eye. The older bloke on my right is reservedly friendly. We exchange a few pleasantries about the state of the trains tonight, before he returns to jotting in his notebook, held at such an angle as to deny me a look at what he’s writing. Crafty bugger.

I am desperate for this to be a pastiche of Murder on the Orient Express. The set up (if not quite the luxury) of the carriage lends itself to such fantasies: a couple of comfy settees under the windows; an eclectic mix of apparently unrelated passengers; the sipping of civilised evening drinks. All we need was some floral print dresses, shifty behaviour and a power cut. I’d make a rubbish Poirot!

But pretty soon people melt away without so much as a smashed cocktail glass. By the time we rumble through a deserted Crewe station, I head for my bunk. A toilet door opens in front of me and a larger lady in pink and white jim-jams furtively pops out, in a manner of speaking. I avert my eyes, but she doesn’t make it easy. In her haste to join her husband (I recognised the couple from the lounge car) she bumps and scrapes her oversize frame down the narrow corridor, catching herself on the door handles and narrowly avoiding really popping out of her PJs.

I open the cabin door to let the tropical moths and humming birds out of the glass-house-like atmosphere. In a while I turn off the lights and look out of the window, thinking the clear night would reveal a pleasant north country view after dark. It was very dark. That will be the Preston Brook tunnel, then.

Wednesday 1st July

3.00am

It is sweltering. I’m uncomfortably hot and sticky. It’s noisy too. And a bit rocky. In fact it’s like trying to sleep in a blast-furnace on a roller-coaster. I’m not one to moan, but my feet are thumping into the side of the carriage every time I twist round. Anyone over 5’6” would have to sleep in the foetal position to squeeze in to this bed.

4.30am

I am nearly shunted out of my bunk by an engine recoupling, followed by assorted clanking and clattering outside. I peak through the window. We are leaving Edinburgh Waverley and the train is trundling through eerily empty and handsome streets in the weak morning light.

6.00am

The line eventually snakes its way up the side of Loch Lomond after leaving Edinburgh and coming across-country to the north of Glasgow. I wake from fitful sleep for the final time at Helensburgh Upper and decide to stay awake. The view is everything I had been hoping for. Mist rises over the loch and drifts underneath the peaks of massed mountains. Early morning sun casts thin shadows and dappled sunlight through mixed woodland, illuminating a soft, peachy landscape. Bliss.

7.00am

I knew the engine had been changed. But when I go to find the lounge, it seems that the whole train has changed. Left out of my cabin, where last night there had been six sleeping cars before the lounge car, now there is only one. And the lounge carriage has gone too, replaced by a standard-issue BR restaurant car from dating from the late 70’s I guess. The experience is a little disorientating and for a moment I am consumed by the vision of the runaway brake van in Polar Express. Except instead of Lapland, passengers might wake up to find themselves becalmed in a siding somewhere near Motherwell. Something similar actually happened way back when. My flowery guide book tells me that a guards' van once broke loose from a goods train known as ‘The Ghost’ at Corrour and rolled all the way back to Bridge of Orchy at the bottom of the hill. The guard was still asleep when the signalman went to rescue him.

The train was a quarter of a mile long when it left Euston. I learn from others in the restaurant car that the missing carriages were decoupled at Edinburgh Waverley Street. Six headed to Aberdeen and six others to Inverness behind different locos. No wonder all the commotion and activity in the Scottish capital.

Barry, my gracious steward, spots me ambling back with a coffee in my hand. He is suitably camp, fussing over the passengers and effusively attending to the merest details. He smoothes out his crimson waistcoat and says he will bring my breakfast right along. It is a fine spread: bacon and scrabbled egg panini, coffee, banana, juice, yogurt, Daily Scotsman. I make short work of all except the newspaper, which is filled with infinite column inches, back, middle and front, about Andy Murray.

8.00am

I am keen to track all the stations on the route. In the corridor, I peered out into the wispy mist and ask, “Barry, what station is this?”

“It’s Crianlarich” he replies. “Apparently. Middle of bloody no-where if you ask me”.

He flourishes a hand as if to dismiss the scene and minces off down the train. I guess for the staff the romance wears off after the first few years…..

And then we enter another impossibly fine stretch of the line. I am enraptured by a fantastic sweep of track cutting a tight semi-circle across the river Allt Kinglass, south of the aforementioned Bridge of Orchy. Horseshoe Curve is well known on the line and crosses embankments and a couple of viaducts to maintain the same even contour under the imposing twin peaks of Beinn Dorain and Beinn Odhar. The jaw-dropping beauty made more magical by the lifting mist that reveals a clear blue sky. Low morning sun reflects back the grass and fescue covered slopes to the west in every shade of vibrant green. Each gulley and rivulet that runs down the giant hillsides is accentuated with deep shadows as if someone has outlined them with a permanent black marker. My pulse quickens a little.

Bringing the camera up to the window I snap away feverishly. What’s that on my lens? Bloody pube left over from Warrington Bank Quay. Only joking…..

8.30am

I shake myself into life and ablute in the canny sink hidden under the removable shelf beneath the window. A group of ladies in the waiting room at Bridge of Orchy get a lovely view of me polishing my gnashers as the train comes to rest at eye level in front of them.

Soon after Bridge of Orchy, we cross Rannoch Moor. I consult the florid guide book again. Author Alan Hall describes this part of the West Highland Railway as “a swashbuckling journey that restores lost youth”. He was right on the money. Britain’s last great wilderness. Although Preston after dark might run it close.

Corrour, the highest point on the line, is suitably remote. The handsome station house is framed by the Carn Dearg spine of hills and Beinn na Lap, with Loch Ossian sitting in the space between them. The station feels very insignificant nestling in this epic landscape. The bleak, magnificent isolation is amplified by the lack of trees, whose absence I have only just noticed. The mixed deciduous forest through which the line meandered for much of the journey had given way to fir, spruce and pine somewhere near Bridge of Orchy. Now they have vanished, too.

9.30am

Tulloch. The trees are back. We’ve swung west along Glen Spean. Deciduous and coniferous woodland hugs the track. I can see a bloke hacking away at low hanging branches at the end of the platform. He’s wielding a vicious, long handled, giant-toothed saw with practised ease. Electrickery clearly hasn’t yet reached the tree surgeons of these parts.  

10.00am

The train pulls in to Fort William station absolutely to-the-minute spot-on time. Not bad after an 560 mile, 12 hour and 45 minute journey; particularly given the track carnage and commuter chaos amidst which the train departed Euston. That all seems light years away. I step down onto the platform and nod goodbye to Barry through the glass. “See you tonight”, I mouth. He looks confused. I can see how that might look a bit strange.

The platform is busy. A heritage steam train, The ‘Jacobite Express’, hooked up to a 0-6-0 steam loco is loading up with tourists ready for the trip along the coast on the picturesque Mallaig line. Another GWJotW over the Glefinnan viaduct of Harry Potter fame. Given my schedule, I’m giving that a miss. Though I do go shoulder-to-shoulder with the train-spotter crowd to get a pic of the spitting and hissing engine at the head of the train.

So what then? The journey was always the thing. Not the arriving. I potter around the anonymous 1970’s concrete station (the Victorian predecessor a little further south was knocked down to make way for a dual carriageway) whilst I mull the options.

Despite negative forecasts, the weather is gonna be OK: light cloud, but with high humidity. I decide to do one of the walks I had printed off t’interweb. First stop is the Glen Nevis visitor centre, then. No, second stop. I think I’d better pop in to Morrison’s for some provisions. There may not be a convenient Burger King at the end of the Glen.

I’m not immediately overawed with Fort William on the way through. I’m greeted by functional, unattractive houses outside the station and then along a busy road adjacent to Long Linnhe. The route out to the visitor centre passes enough ‘Ben Nevis’ guest houses to give copyright lawyers about twenty years of steady business.

The bloke in the Visitor Centre is particularly chatty. We have a conversation about a walk to the Steall Waterfalls near the head of Glen Nevis. I had prepared for this moment. My extravagant guide book told me that the name was pronounced locally as ‘stowel’ (as in bowel), not ‘steel’ as phonetically it might appear.

“How long does it take to walk up to the Upper ‘stowel’ falls?”

I let my emphasis hang a fraction on the …owel, just for good measure.  He looks at me quizzically.

“Ah, you mean the steel waterfalls….!”

Bastard guide book.

Anyway, he is helpful with advice about my route options. And still more helpful with local history anecdotes. Helpful-ish. If I could just break away, I might catch that bus spotted out of the corner of my eye that goes up to the car park. But no, I’m hearing about the stone seat carved by redcoats into a cave on the other side of the valley that now I won’t see because the bus gas gone… So it’s the lower valley walk instead. 

11.30am

A good decision. I’m loving this, following the lower reaches of Nevis Water. All the back-packers are going in the opposite direction though. Should I be worried? An elderly couple with a dog pass me. “Ach, here’s a man on a mission. Is it the top that’s calling you?” “ No”, I say decisively. “The bottom maybe!”

Then the youth hostel swings into view - this explains the backpackers ambling the other way into town. The path gets decidedly rougher after this point, and I notice that there are very few other walkers around. With a tiny rush of pleasure, I feel like I have the whole Glen to myself. It won’t be like this in two weeks’ time when the schools break up.

The track to the summit of Ben Nevis splices off to my left and uphill. One or two groups are making the ascent. This path is disparagingly referred to by hardened walkers as ‘the tourist route’. Looks tough enough to me. Bloody elitists.

I’m sweating buckets now. It’s muggy, especially so under the trees. I make my way out to the centre of the river, accessible by stones because the flow is pretty low, and rest against a large boulder. Snacking on a scotch egg feels appropriate (when in Rome…). There is still no breeze to speak of in the middle of the river, but it is so  pleasant out here with spectacular views towards the grey slab peaks of the Mamores. My embellished guide book didn’t offer a view on how this range was pronounced and I wasn’t about to chance my luck again.

Up towards the lower falls and the terrain was rougher still. And the weather is closing in a tad. By the time I reach the fountain of water, my backpack is heavy and I am due a break. I polish off the remnants of my lunch on an overhanging rock by the cascades. A special moment. The mountains rise steeply from here and the widescreen vista back down the glen is stunning. An absolutely text-book example of a glaciated u-shaped valley. One of the finest I’ve seen. My old geographer teacher would be beside himself.

1.30pm

The walk back is much easier going, of course, through woodland on the other side of the glen, which opens up better views of Ben Nevis. In the morning I had been tucked up under its foothills and could not fully appreciate the edifice. Now I can see the highest mountain in Britain in all its slab-sided rotundness. Massive, yes. But not so spectacular from this perspective. More big and brooding, in the same way that a Black Sabbath riff, circa Iron Man is. Not sharp and angular like The Clash, circa London Calling.

Does that sound a bit underwhelming? It’s not meant to be. The glen was truly magnificent. The sweep of each successive slope into the valley floor from Nevis’s brethren, receding into the distance is breathtaking.

3.30pm

Back at the visitor centre I unleash my steaming feet from their boot encampment, thus guaranteeing a clear seat at the picnic table. Assuming, that is, you don’t count the spiral of flies feasting on my discarded socks. I pick up some souvenirs for the girls and then head back to Fort William, escaping with only a short memoir about Jacobite rebellion and blood soaked rocks from the centre manager. Living history!

5.00pm

The walk has only been ten miles all told, but tough enough going this morning, lugging the backpack up hill. Dropping back into town I felt I had done enough to deserve a pint of something brown and frothy. The town centre, which I had largely missed this morning is fetching enough and my impressions of Fort William are on the rise. Especially when I find the Ben Nevis pub (what else?) dispensing McEwen’s 70’. The view over Loch Linnhe is great and one pint quickly becomes three. I’m tapping away on the laptop (the main reason why the backpack was so heavy up the glen this morning) and simultaneously chatting to a couple on the next table. We realise we are on the same sleeper service back to London. They had been touring round the Highlands in a hire car for a few days. “Lovely isn’t it”, I say. “I came up from London this morning.” Pause. “This morning….?”, comes the raised-eyebrows rejoinder.

6.30pm

Thirst slaked, the hunger soon kicks in, like night follows day. I look for a restaurant. And then I see the kebab house. I am so weak. The slathering lump of perspiring meat calls me seductively and conspiratorially from across the road. It seems to be whispering “Never mind the tourist trail, Dave, never mind those over-priced, restaurants serving slop dressed as haggis and neeps to American heritage-seekers. Come over here and try some real food….be one of the locals…..feel the credibility……you know you want to”. Tired in mind and limb, I succumb to the warmth of comfort food like a sloppy kiss. Mistake…….the offering is fat, greasy, cold meat disguised as a doner, served up in a polystyrene tray with a spongey pitta on the side, decorated with insipid chilli sauce and….and coleslaw. Regrets? I’ve had a few. 3.5 out of 10 for that muck. And that’s generous because I’m feeling vulnerable and a long way from home…

7.30pm

Arteries unclog a little on the walk back up to the grey, functional station, where the carriages of my train are already hitched up to the EWS engine. In a few short moments I am reacquainting with Barry, placing my breakfast order and settling over a Deuchars in the lounge car. We are away right on the button. Peering over the rim of my tumbler I decide that the train is marginally busier than last night/this morning.

Counter-intuitively, the line firstly heads north-east out of Fort William, before settling on an easterly traverse back along Glen Spean. The initial few miles reveal a new perspective on the Nevis range. I am a bit more familiar with the geography than earlier in the day and I can now properly appreciate the landscape in a different context. I observe that Ben Nevis is a far more imposing and magnificent edifice than I had given it credit for this afternoon. Gone are the convex curves and smooth scree of the glacier-polished southern slopes. Here, the mountain reveals the craggy, angular and abrupt slopes celebrated in literature. The thing was still glowering to my tired eye, but from this view, the brooding had real malevolence (say Metallica - For Whom The Bell Tolls) rather than a simple, stroppy bad mood (maybe Rainbow - Black Sheep of the Family).

We pick up some passengers at Tulloch and two of them join my table. They have had a good day walking from the southern end of Loch Treig back towards Tulloch over the Stob a Choire peaks. They hadn’t seen a soul all day, but suffered the personal attentions of midges and horseflies. From the train window, we can almost see the exact route they took. If I ever go back that way, I’ll know where to base myself for walking as spectacular but more challenging than today. (I’d leave the laptop behind though.)

The train lumbers and clanks across the empty expanse of Rannoch Moor. The landscape is nothing but extreme. Under this morning’s early sunshine the infamous bog appeared beautifully sparse and breathtakingly serene. Now, reflecting back a steely sky and fading light, this vast tufted wasteland is austere and grim. The area was once entirely covered in trees until they were lopped down principally for shipbuilding and to (literally) fuel the industrial revolution up until the eighteenth century. All that remains are a few stumps and petrified branches just about visible in the inky-black puddles that flash past the window.

My guide-book lauds the engineers who had to sink ton upon ton of sheepskin bales and reed matting in an attempt to float the line across the moor. It was a thankless task and one almost doomed to failure until one particularly hot Summer dried out the underlying sponge. This was enough to stop the ballast sinking and was able to support the sleepers, tracks and trains. I dwell longer than strictly necessary on the precariousness of this as the loco hauls us inch by inch in a twisting loop towards Upper Tyndrum.

The three of us marvel at Horseshoe Curve and declare the sight to be worth the trip alone. We call at a series of neat, tidy and pretty stations with repeated motifs and styling in the signage, platform canopies, flower troughs and such like. The tweeness feels out of sync with the rugged, panoramas that frame the tiny stations. But I like the contrast. The West Highland Line is mostly single track and the stations provide the only passing points. On the roll down to the Bridge of Orchy we pass the famous old stone bridge that gave the village its name. It was built by General Wade, Cromwell’s top man in the Highlands. Here the line forks out west to Oban.

10.30pm

The light is fading as we rumble out of Crianlarich. I bid my fellow travellers good evening. Heading for my bunk. I pause for a few minutes and lean out of the door window. The train is skirting Loch Lomond. Even measured against the majesty of the West Highland mountains, this sliver of silver water and flash of smoky peaks remains amongst the most atmospheric of sights on the route. A personal favourite, particularly in the ambient half-light, bringing on enough slack jawed babbling to make me sound like a jibbering romantic. Time for bed.

Thursday 2nd July

6.50am

Barry knocks on the door. “Oh hello, Sir. Here’s your breakfast. Hope you slept well”. I did. Brekkie slips down very easily. But where is the fruit of yesterday morning? And there was only enough coffee for one cup. Standards are slipping.

I wave in the general direction of our house as we reverberate through Berko. Shortly after, the metronomic train pulls into Euston Station platform 1 smack on time at 7.57am.

8.10am

The epic journey is over. I head in to the office on Euston Road and I am at my desk a little after 8 o’clock. How about that for a commute?


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