the caledonian non-sleeper

So I arrived in Edinburgh yesterday morning after one of the worst nights sleep I’ve had in years. The trouble with sleeper trains is that they rock, and not in a good way. Combined with the fact that the ‘berths’ – they could never call them beds – are too hard for anyone who weighs less than 14 stone to make a dent in the mattress, while being too thin for anyone of that kind of weight to fit on it, this is not a comfortable way to sleep.

There’s also the dilemma of which end to put your head; next to the cabin door feels weird, but when I switched at about 4am I discovered that the other end smelled vaguely of a thousand feet that have slept there in the past.

In addition to the smell and the sudden jolts every few minutes, I also made the mistake of emailing friends to apologise for not attending their ‘launch night parties’, right before I went to bed; I got their replies beeping their way onto my phone throughout the night.

Just as I was giving up hope at about 5, I started to drift off and the next thing I knew there was a firmtapping on the door – it was 6.20 and the attendant had brought me the ‘hot drink and a snack’ promised on the website. It had sounded appealing when I booked the ticket, but turned out to be a small shortbread biscuit, a cup of hot water and various sachets containing sugar, bad milk, and the kind of vomitous instant coffee that lets down both coffee and the idea of instantness, because once you’ve got it to taste anything other than horrible you might as well have ground and filtered some actual coffee. I poured it down the sink, and felt miserable.

But then I opened the shutters and looked out the window.

Scotland, in all its deepest, wildest beauty was buzzing past, trees and crags and lakes, in a bright morning sunlight that suddenly made everything okay; I watched it glide by, gradually seeping into granite, bleached in sun as Edinburgh arrived.

It’s impossible to feel anything but great when you arrive in Edinburgh on a sunny August day at the start of the festival. As I settled into the flat (let to us at a bargain rate by a friend), I thought, ‘Perhaps I’ll take a walk around the city; breathe in the atmosphere, walk up to the crags in Holyrood park, admire the city in the sunshine and let it welcome me to Edinburgh….’

Then I got into bed and slept until lunchtime.


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