When people think of travelling between England and Scotland, most people currently think of flying only to realise that they don't want the problem of the various restrictions that come with it. Or worse if you're a wheelchair user, the worry of arriving at your destination to a broken wheelchair should it have to go in the hold! There's also the worry of the carbon footprint of flying for the more environmentally conscious traveller. However, driving to Scotland can get too tiring, and catching a train during the day feels like a waste of time. But there is another option on the UK's railways when travelling to Scotland!
The other option is the Caledonian Sleeper.
The Caledonian Sleeper is a sleeper train which runs from London Euston to various destinations six nights a week. There are two services from London, the Lowlander which serves Edinburgh and Glasgow plus multiple stations in between like Carlisle, Carstairs and Motherwell, as well as the Highlander which splits into three services at Edinburgh with one going to Inverness, one going to Fort William, and the other going to Aberdeen. Again the Highlander services have various other stops in Scotland along the way. For this review, I had initially been booked to travel on the Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston up to Inverness. However, due to a door fault, I went on the Aberdeen service instead. This sleeper service would then connect with a second train in the morning, completing the journey to the city affectionately known as the capital of the Highlands.
Before you board the train, customers travelling in the Club Rooms, the Caledonian Double and the accessible cabins can access the station lounges. For London Euston, this is the Virgin Trains lounge on the first floor at Euston station. The is a very spacious lounge and even has a bar which you can buy alcohol from as well as complimentary snacks, hot and soft drinks as well as in lounge Wi-Fi. The lounge has a standard disabled toilet with shower, although sadly there is no changing places toilet at London Euston station. Again at Aberdeen where the lounge is slightly smaller, there are complimentary soft and hot drinks as well as snacks. The standard disabled toilet here also has a shower which is behind the door when you go into the toilet. Aberdeen station doesn't have a changing places toilet either, but the shopping centre attached does. Unfortunately, when I was in Aberdeen, this wasn't open. The shopping centre however does close at 8pm, so useful information for those departing Aberdeen on the southbound service.
Onto the train itself and what you can access as a wheelchair user will depend on what cabin you've booked. If you book the accessible Caledonian Double, then you'll be able to access the Club Car which gives you the option to have your breakfast or evening meal either here or in your room, the onboard disabled toilet and of course your room. If you're in the accessible twin room, then you won't be able to access the Club Car due to the narrowing of the walkway outside the standard cabins. One thing to note on the twin room is that the accessible twin room beds are the same width as the standard twins which may not be suitable if like me you have a lot of spams. I chose the Caledonian Double, knowing that I could sleep on the side nearest to the wall, which would prevent me from falling out.
When you first enter the room via a keycard entry sliding door, you'll find goody bags containing a sleep kit and various toiletries from Arran Aromatics including a pillow spray, as well as some water and other bits. Also, there is a mat you can put luggage onto, which prevents dirt from getting onto the duvet. Then there's a dedicated space for bags under the bed. The accommodation guide, safety information and room service menu are found on either the bed or the sideboard. The staff may take your breakfast order from you, or there's a card you can pop your choice of breakfast on and put outside the room. I chose the Highland breakfast, with Earl Grey tea and orange juice to enjoy in the Club Car. The food was beautifully done, and I would recommend The Highland breakfast to anyone travelling on Caledonian Sleeper.
The accessible Caledonian Double has so many great features in the room, for example, a full-sized double bed (hence the name) which was the same height as my wheelchair seat height! Plus a fold-out sideboard, sink with room to get underneath, call bells both by the door and the bed, enough room for a wheelchair user to move around the room with ease, and various USB sockets and two plugs. However, the USB sockets, plugs and thermostat controls are in slightly more awkward positions which would make someone with a disability affecting the upper limbs challenging to reach. Also, I found as someone with a mobility impairment; the sockets were challenging to get to. So I had to face them while sitting on the bed and try to reach at the same time. Also, unlike the standard Caledonian Double, there's no shower onboard in the accessible cabins, and the toilet is outside as opposed to being ensuite.
The biggest bugbear I had, however, was that while there are grab rails in the toilet outside, there's none in the actual room. Considering this is on a train where any movement could send a disabled person falling, I feel that grab rails should've been in the room as well as the toilet. The fact that there were no grab rails made my life interesting, as when I tried to sit up on the bed ready to transfer to my wheelchair and struggled. However, the bed itself was extremely comfortable, and I surprisingly managed some great sleep when problems relating to my disability weren't waking me up! One other thing to note which I love that Caledonian Sleeper has thought about is that the disabled toilet onboard has an assist function. The function allows a carer or PA to exit the toilet by pushing the open button twice when the door is locked; this allows the door to partially open while maintaining the dignity of the disabled person. I haven't seen this feature before so hopefully; it's rolled out onboard daytime trains soon as well!
Overall, the Caledonian Sleeper experience was something I enjoyed. I managed some decent sleep which I'm sure would've been longer had my spasms stayed away! Something that some probably wouldn't expect travelling on a train, but the sleep kit and pillow spray certainly helped! The food onboard was beautifully done, and the staff were extremely helpful as well. However, I'd be cautious about doing it again knowing that there are no grab rails in the room to help with balancing and sitting up on a moving train which is prone to bumps that could knock someone off balance. There's also a long list of restrictions which means the sleeper isn't a suitable option for everyone. For example, there's not enough power on the trains to charge electric wheelchairs, and you also can't travel on the sleeper if you need to use CPAP, BPAP or ventilators and other medical equipment.
This review was done in partnership with Caledonian Sleeper however, all opinions are my own.