Travel: Britain - A dream of a train journey

Yearning after the lost romance of travel? Take the sleeper to Scotland and rediscover the glamour of the train
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
"JIGGETY-JOG, jiggety-jog, jiggety-jog". That's how my mother used to describe the noise of trains as they went along. But of course they don't make that sound now - unless, of course, you take a sleeper, when they make every sound in the book throughout the night.

"I'm taking the sleeper..." Isn't this the only way left to travel on a train, that's still glamorous? The days when you dressed up to go on a train, and put on your best suit and hat and gloves; the days when you craned out of the window, let down by a leather strap, to see the first glimpse of the sea, may be over. But going by sleeper still holds great romance.

Rail companies have tried to kill off the sleeper, but it's still the best way to travel, far more civilised than by air, because you get the feeling of distance all night - that you really are travelling from A to B.

Going by sleeper is a blissfully childlike experience. The size of the cabin is like a Wendy house; everything is tiny. There's a lovely little wooden ladder that hangs from brass hooks on the wall, that you use to climb into the upper bunk, which is so narrow that there's no room for anything but the most straightforward hanky-panky. But who wants hanky- panky, anyway, when they're travelling by sleeper?

The beds are narrow enough to fit only the slimmest of bodies, lined in crisp, clean sheets (no duvets here) and headed by proper feather pillows in cotton covers - none of your floral nylon slips covering lumps of poly- croutons.

There is a lovely little washbasin, which you have to think about before using because it doubles up as a surface.

You're given a washbag full of treats: shaving-cream, a tiny tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, a flannel, a little cloth to clean your shoes and a paper carpet to stand on. On your bed, if you're travelling first class, is a tiny book for you to read (mine was Alan Bennett's The Clothes They Stood Up In) and just by your head as you lie down is a little elasticated rack in which to keep your bottle of water (provided), your book and your specs.

As you travel through the night you wake up - but not unpleasantly. You wake to hear the shunting of the trains as one part dislodges from the other. At Glasgow you can open your blind and watch the early birds clambering aboard. There is the feeling that sacks of post are being hauled into the guard's compartment. Everyone is working away while you, in your nightdress, just sleep, and occasionally get up and observe, all to the jiggety-jog of the train, which is as relaxing as being, once again, in your mother's womb.

In the morning, breakfast is served by a splendid sleeper attendant in a red coat with brass buttons, who gives you oatcakes, corn flakes, butter, a tiny pot of jam, tea or coffee, a croissant, and that mysterious circle of processed cheese, presumably for the Germans or Dutch. Or you can wander down to the restaurant where you can have more choice and where, the night before, you could have whiled away the hours eating and drinking.

On the way back, we waited at a tiny station in Scotland. As the train came in, the door opened and our sleeper attendant appeared. "Miss Ironside, I presume," he said as he came out on to the platform, took our suitcases and led us to our tiny cabin.

And we looked forward to another luxurious night, back to London. Jiggety- jog, jiggety-jog, through the blackness, jiggety-jog...

Comments