Finishing work on a Friday night had never been more exciting. I had just a few hours to grab my backpack, my boyfriend and my four-legged side kick Gatsby and make it to Euston Station, London to catch the overnight sleeper to Scotland. This adventure was all I had dreamed of and more.
I had wanted to travel on the overnight sleeper to Scotland for as long as I could remember. My head was full of Harry Potter and the Polar Express, for some reason an overnight trip on a train had an exciting appeal, the adventure made it to the list. So I booked it. It really was as simple as that.
The Caledonian Sleeper has it’s own website and I booked return tickets from London to Aviemore. The train out leaves London of Friday night at 9:15pm the train arrives back into London at 7:40am on Monday morning, just time to make it across the City and to your desk for 9am! Although it was the 60 hours win between that I was most excited about.
You can get the overnight sleeper to a number of places in Scotland including to Fort William to climb Ben Nevis. We chose to go to Aviemore for no other reason than that was where I wanted to go.
All I did at the start was book the tickets. I wasn’t really sure what we should do when we got there but I knew I wanted to head to the mountains for the weekend and the first step was the train tickets. Although we researched a lot, we kept the plan for the weekend pretty fluid. We booked a hotel for the first night and a return train home the following night but apart from that we would let the weekend unfold, a real adventure!
We boarded the train on Friday night, excited and ready for adventure. We had a cabin for the 3 of us, Gatsby included. I had been dreaming of taking the overnight sleeper for years. The cabins weren’t exactly wood paneled like you might find on the Orient Express but we had full beds and managed to sleep easily as we steadily headed North. We woke up at 7am as breakfast was delivered to our door and before we knew it we were on the platform at Aviemore to start what turned out to be one of my favourite adventures to date.
We were staying at a hotel in the MacDonald estate and walked there from the station to drop off our big overnight bag. If we hadn’t been staying in a hotel we would have packed differently but we took advantage of the fact we could leave our luggage. We dropped our bags off and they gave us a complimentary orange juice whilst we waited for 15 minutes for the sun to rise a little more (we took our trip the first weekend in February) and then we were off.
We headed out of the back MacDonald estate and into the Craigellachie Nature Reserve. We hiked upwards for about an hour and then WOW were we met with the most incredible sight. We were in a winter wonderland with not another person in sight. It was like being skiing but only we were the only ones there.
That morning is one of the hardest adventures to describe; the isolation, the cold, the solitary nature made for the perfect backdrop to explore just the three of us, we saw a wild deer with huge antlers and a wild mountain hare which was as big as Gatsby! We spent almost four hours trekking around in the most stunning mountain scenery before heading back to Aviemore.
Aviemore is a ski village and so it’s full of life we had a fantastic lunch and then headed off by foot again to a nearby lake, Rothiemurchus Forest. We spent the afternoon there and then hiked back to the hotel, had a gorgeous bubble bath, a delicious three course dinner and we were tucked up early ready for a big day!
One of the great things about a winter adventure is that you get a cheeky lie-in whilst you wait for the sun to rise. After a huge first day and a wonderful night’s sleep we walked down to the main town to get the bus heading for the ski village. (We got off the stop before the ski village at Glenmore Loch Morlich).
If we thought Day One was spectacular, Day Two was just as amazing. A more gentle hike this time and a much more popular route. Within about an hour we reached an incredible natural green lake, An Lochan Uaine a gorgeous green lake in Glenmore Forest. It’s crazy to believe that places like this exist in the UK but they do and they’re gorgeous!
We passed the green loch and wound up the mountain up the Ryvoan Pass. We passed what we discovered was Ryvoan Bothy and with it being late morning thought we would stick our heads in. I have to admit that I’ve never stayed in a bothy so I was curious to see what they are like in real life. A bothy is sort of like a hut where you can stay for free. It was very simple, clean and warm and would be ideal to spend the night. We definitely could have stayed overnight here but given we had the dog with us we didn’t think that would be fair for other people who might not like dogs.
We headed up to the summit and had a fantastic view of the surrounding Cairngorms and Loch Morlich and then headed back down to where we started. The Ryvoan and Lochan Uaine Circuit is about 6 miles but with photo stops and factoring the ascent (144m) it took us about 3-4 hours.
We headed back on the bus to Aviemore and settled in at our hotel for a delicious dinner. The train back to London is at 21:15 which gives you the perfect amount of time to relax from the day and then head to the station.
We had an action packed weekend the memories of which put that weekend as one of my top five adventures ever!
Living In The Weekend - Trip Overview
How much was the sleeper?
Firstly, the Caledonian Sleeper is expensive.
Our outward bound trip: two adults with a sleeping cabin (you can just purchase a seat) plus a dog (who costs £30) was £208.20 with a Two Together Railcard, which gives you a third off all rail travel for a year so worth it for this trip alone. I also added a bacon roll and a porridge to our order so that we could eat breakfast on the train and we were fuelled to start our adventure.
The return journey: we decided to treat ourselves and go First Class. Instead of having bunk beds we had single booths with a little door, this cost us £280.80 (including Gatsby’s £30) and we got complementary breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled egg.
In total the train travel cost us £496 for two people and a dog. Although at first blush this seems a lot, you have to remember this was our travel all the way from London to Scotland return, plus accommodation for two nights.
[Do you get my emails? Every Friday I share tips on how to live a life of adventure whilst holding down a full-time job. This week I’m talking all things finance. I’ll be sharing how I fund all of my adventures which means I can always say yes when an opportunity comes along. Sign up here to get your name on the list.]
Was the train worth it?
Oh my gosh yes! A thousand yeses! The excitement and build up of the trip was really special. Plus, extra bonus, both of us arrived fresh and ready for adventure, whilst it is possible to drive up it probably wouldn’t be much cheaper and you wouldn’t be ready for a weekend in the mountains.
Would I recommend Aviemore?
Definitely. I absolutely love that it’s actually attached to a ski resort as it means you get a great atmosphere in the village at lunchtime and in the evenings for Apres-Ski. The scenery was breathtaking and we were alone for most of it which I really liked. I love that the sleeper allows flexibility so you could take the train up to Fort William instead of Aviemore if you wanted, bag a few Munros or Ben Nevis and then be back at work for 9am Monday morning.
I really hope that you read this adventure and that you’re inspired to visit Aviemore too. If you have any questions or there is anything I haven’t covered then please pop it in the comments below.
I Can & I AM
I used to sit at my desk at work, in a sky-scrapper in the City of London and dream of a life of adventure. I’d work 12 hour days, late nights, weekends. Every now and then I’d pause, pick up my phone and sigh as I scrolled through Instagram, wishing I could live a life of adventure.
I didn’t realise then that my life would change so dramatically, I still work full-time and still have a mortgage but I never dreamt I could work in a job that I loved and still experience some of the most incredible adventures at the same time. In the last five years my life has taken a 180, I’ve climbed the highest freestanding mountain in the world, trekked in the Arctic Circle, cycled London to Paris and run 250km across the Jordanian desert. Now, I’m sharing everything I’ve learnt along the way to inspire you to start living a life you love to. I feel like the luckiest girl ever to explore the world and push my body and my mind to achieve things I never thought were possible. Sound exciting? Find out more via the button below.