Caledonian Sleeper guests treated to bedtime stories of Edinburgh’s dark past

Guests of Caledonian Sleeper were treated to a social history extravaganza as a storyteller from The Real Mary King’s Close climbed on board to tell tales of Edinburgh’s dark past yesterday evening (Thursday 1 November).

Themed for Halloween and hosted on board the London to Edinburgh service, the event offered guests a unique insight into the city’s rich history and some of Edinburgh’s most notable characters through a series of short stories told by Robert Fergusson – a well-known 18th century poet who had a great influence on Robert Burns.

Played by Mark Hannah, a character tour guide from The Real Mary King’s Close, Mr Fergusson regaled passengers with stories of his time in Edinburgh, as well as the people that followed him, including the infamous gruesome twosome Burke and Hare.

Speaking of the event, Mark commented: “There’s no better time than Halloween to bring history to life. At the Close, we invite guests to step down into Edinburgh’s hidden history. We tell the intriguing real stories of the city’s past residents, and offer an immersive walk-through of the city’s uniquely preserved streets and spaces; all located underneath Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile. To be asked to bring a small selection of some of our favourite stories to guests travelling on the Caledonian Sleeper has been thrilling.”

The Halloween event forms a calendar of on board events organised by Caledonian Sleeper to offer guests a series of Scottish-inspired experiences and follows a similar storytelling event with The Real Mary King’s Close last year.

Graham Kelly, Serco’s Guest Experience Director at Caledonian Sleeper, added: “We were very excited to welcome The Real Mary King’s Close back for a second Halloween.

“Travelling through the night on board Caledonian Sleeper is magical in itself but by adding these truly Scottish events, including the historical tales from Edinburgh’s most famous street, we’re able to make the journey even more enchanting and memorable. We hope guests enjoyed the event and weren’t too spooked before bed.”

To find out more about The Real Mary King’s Close, visit www.realmarykingsclose.com

To find out more about the Caledonian Sleeper, visit sleeper.scot.

Caledonian Sleeper celebrates #StationsDay

Caledonian Sleeper celebrates #StationsDay with unveiling of £1.6m training facilities and guest lounge in Perth

Caledonian Sleeper is showcasing how it has transformed a disused building at Perth Station in celebration of the first #StationsDay – a day which highlights the £5.2 billion investment to regenerate Britain’s rail stations.

The building has been renovated into a state-of-the-art training facility for Caledonian Sleeper staff and is just one of hundreds of small and medium sized stations that have been improved across the UK since 2009.

As part of the £1.6m project, the overnight rail service has also created a brand new guest lounge to cater for travellers at one of Scotland’s most vital rail hubs.

The centrepiece of the new facility is a mock-up of Caledonian Sleeper’s new carriages, which are due to be introduced to service by end of May 2019. With a fully operational galley, it will allow staff to perfect the meals that will be served on board as part of an enhanced catering facility.

An auditorium, conference room and additional office space will allow staff to work from Perth and take part in various courses throughout the year. There are also plans to open the space up to local groups in the city, giving them access to high-quality meeting space in a central location.

Open exclusively to Caledonian Sleeper guests, the lounge – located at the rear of Platform 7 – is a space to relax before or after travelling, with a host on hand to serve drinks and snacks. Guests will also have access to wet rooms, ensuring they can refresh themselves after travelling overnight from London.

The guest lounge is one of five the overnight rail service has created in stations across the country this year alone, with the help of the Scottish Stations Investment Fund. A lounge in Stirling was also recently opened while lounges at Dundee, Fort William and Leuchars were launched in July.

Ryan Flaherty, Serco’s Managing Director at Caledonian Sleeper, said: “We’re very excited to be celebrating #StationsDay with the unveiling of our new training facility and guest lounge in Perth.

“Our people are at the heart of everything we do, with our on board hosts the face of our service. These new facilities will allow us to grow our people, helping them to learn new skills and improve our already excellent hospitality offering.

“The lounge is also a major milestone, as we are committed to ensuring guests have the best possible experience in all aspects of their journey. That’s why this investment is so important, as it will allow our guests to relax in comfort ahead of boarding or to refresh themselves once they step off the train in the morning.”

The refurbishment of the building at Perth Station was part funded by the Railway Heritage Trust. It is likely to prove popular with a range of audiences, particularly business travellers who use Caledonian Sleeper to ensure an early arrival in London for meetings.

To find out more about the Caledonian Sleeper, visit sleeper.scot.

First of new Caledonian Sleeper trains arrive in UK

The first carriages from the new £100m fleet of Caledonian Sleeper trains have arrived in the UK ahead of their introduction to service later this year.

Starting in October 2018, the overnight rail service will begin to be transformed as 75 new carriages are introduced in a phased transition. A total of five carriages have this morning arrived in the outskirts of Glasgow, where they will start extensive testing over the coming months. These initial five carriages are still to be fitted out internally following testing. Fully fitted out carriages will arrive in the UK at a later date.

The carriages have travelled through the Channel Tunnel to Scotland from the Velim Test Centre in the Czech Republic where they have been undergoing mandatory trials.

The introduction of new trains will be the culmination of a wide range of improvements and investment in Caledonian Sleeper since Serco took over the franchise on behalf of the Scottish Government in April 2015. These have had a dramatic impact on the service and after years of decline in patronage, the number of customer journeys has increased by 21%.

With the countdown on to the introduction of the new trains – which will initially debut on the ‘Lowlander’ route between London and Glasgow/Edinburgh – Caledonian Sleeper has announced that tickets will be made available from next month on Sleeper.scot.

Humza Yousaf MSP, Minister for Transport and Islands, said: “The Caledonian Sleeper is an iconic rail service, recognised in Scotland and across the world. The introduction of new rolling stock, with features new to UK railways, can only enhance its reputation. The arrival of the first trains to Scotland for testing is a major milestone and one that brings us closer to their introduction from October of this year.”

The new trains are currently being constructed by CAF in Spain, at a cost of over £100m, part funded by a capital grant from Scottish Ministers of £60m. They will be the first sleeper trains to be introduced to the UK for over 35 years.

As agreed with Transport Scotland and following consultation with guests and other stakeholders, anyone who books a room on the new trains will be guaranteed solo occupancy unless they choose to share with a partner. Tickets for the new Caledonian Sleeper are extremely competitively priced, with Comfort Seats starting from £45; Classic Rooms starting from £85 per person; Club Rooms from £125 per person; and Caledonian Doubles from £200 per person.

Pricing and accommodation options for the current trains will remain in place until new trains are introduced in October, with transitional pricing then coming into effect on the ‘Highlander’ route.

Peter Strachan, Chairman, Serco Caledonian Sleeper, said: “We believe the new Caledonian Sleeper trains will truly set a new standard in overnight travel and we have worked closely with Transport Scotland on their development since taking over the franchise in 2015.

“The Sleeper is known throughout the UK as a great way to travel and it is our intention to improve on every aspect of that journey, while offering great value of money for our guests. It is particularly exciting to welcome the first carriages to Scotland, as it highlights just how close we are to the debut of the new trains on our Lowlander route this October.”

Caledonian Sleeper goes virtual with sneak peek of new trains

Caledonian Sleeper is giving a unique insight into its new fleet of trains – with a special virtual reality event in Glasgow later this month.

The rail service will be prominent in Glasgow Central Station for two days, inviting members of the public to glimpse into the future of overnight travel.

Entering a virtual reality portal on the station’s main concourse, people will be able to explore a stunning recreation of the new carriages. Created by digital media studio Soluis, the virtual reality tour will allow users to walk through the Club Car and discover the rooms on the new trains, a number of which will be en-suite.

Ryan Flaherty, Serco’s Managing Director at Caledonian Sleeper, said: “Our new trains will transform Caledonian Sleeper, heralding a new era of rail travel and ensuring a truly timeless experience for all guests.

“We are so proud of the new trains and everyone in the team is excited to give people a sneak peek, thanks to the immersive virtual reality experience we have developed in partnership with Soluis. This is a chance for current and prospective Caledonian Sleeper guests to delve into the exciting world of the new trains and to whet their appetite ahead of their introduction in just a few short months.”

The virtual reality event will run between 8am and 8pm on July 25 and 26. And those who attend will be able to enter an exclusive competition to be in with the chance of winning a return trip for two on the new trains.

Scott Grant, CEO of Soluis, said: “As frequent users of this service ourselves, we were delighted when the team behind Caledonian Sleeper approached us. This was an ideal opportunity to create a digital version of the new trains that would both inform and excite guests around this unique form of transport and accommodation.”

“The virtual reality Sleeper carriages deliver a uniquely immersive format that leaves no doubt as to the intended quality of the guest experience.” 

The virtual reality event at Glasgow Central Station is free and will run from 8am to 8pm on Wednesday July 25 and Thursday July 26.

Discover Adventurous Aberdeenshire with Caledonian Sleeper

Dramatic coastlines framed by long rolling beaches, peaked mountains standing tall between fast flowing rivers, an abundance of distilleries, castles and history, as well as countless adventure sports regardless of the season, the North East 250 offers it all for those seeking an authentic yet adventurous Scottish experience.

Start your journey in Aberdeen, a vibrant modern city entwined with an intriguing historic past.  Just a short walk from the bustling industrial harbour in the heart of the city, you will be immersed in the city’s historic fishing past as you wander through old cobbled streets and small cottages in Footdee (known locally as Fittie).  Enjoy a stroll along the beach esplanade, or take a boat trip and watch the local dolphins play in the surf on the fringes of the city.

As you move along the route to the west, you can be sure of a royal welcome in Deeside, home to Balmoral and Braemar castles, steeped in history and surrounded by mountainous scenery, fast-flowing rivers, moody moors and enchanting forests.  Wildlife is in abundance and the River Dee provides plentiful salmon fishing opportunities with a chance to take in the stunning scenery at leisure.  Visit Aberdeenshire Highland Cattle Farm where you can get up close with Scotland’s own much loved hairy coos!

For the energetic, Deeside and the Cairngorms is the perfect location for cycling, hillwalking and climbing, with 15 Munroes nearby to conquer (maybe not all in one day!).  Glen Tanar offers a variety of country sports and activities including horse riding, fishing and wildlife photography, while the Braemar Highland Experience allows visitors to get close to the natural beauty and culture of Deeside through guided walks and off road tours. Glenshee Ski Centre is open all year, offering skiing when the snow descends, as well as trips on the chair lift throughout summer showcasing stunning mountaintop views.

Home to over half of Scotland’s distilleries, Speyside offers a range of distillery experiences and whiskies to savour.  Visit The Glenlivet Distillery near Tomintoul for a sensory introduction to the whisk-making process, and enjoy the coffee shop and on-site gift shop too.  A few miles along the road, the Ballindalloch Distillery will share the art of making whisky their way, which can be complemented by a visit to nearby Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens.  The Spey River which flows nearby offers opportunities for fishing, canoeing and kayaking, with Craggan Outdoors on hand to provide adventurous activities on both land and water.

The stunning Moray Firth Coastline was voted one of the best in the world by National Geographic.  Abundant with wildlife including birds, seals, dolphins and whales, it’s a wildlife lover’s dream.  Take a boat trip, or get close to and learn more about the Moray Firth sealife at Macduff Marine Aquarium.  For those who want to spend more time on the water, open water swimming, paddle boarding and surfing are popular along the coast with many locations offering lessons to get you started.  If you’re more at ease on land, there are golf courses galore, with each offering unique yet incredible views of the coast.

A fine fare of Scottish culinary delights await you along the route too.  Be sure to stop at the Cullen Bay Hotel to try delicious local fish soup known as ‘Cullen Skink’, followed by a tempting ice cream from Portsoy Ice Cream Shop just a few miles along the road!  The route is dotted with quaint former fishing villages and towns waiting to be explored, including Portsoy, which hosts the annual Scottish Traditional Boat Festival, and Pennan, made famous by the phonebox used in hit film Local Hero.

The Museum of Lighthouses and Kinnaird Head Castle in Fraserburgh will teach you everything about the world of lighthouse engineering, and also offers the chance to enjoy a super view across Fraserburgh and beyond – just the matter of a few steps to climb first!  Nature is abundant around the East Coast, with the Loch of Strathbeg, Bullers of Buchan and Ythan Estuary all worth a stop to admire the local wildlife.

The final stretch of the North East 250 takes you along the East Coast towards Aberdeen.  Nearby Forvie National Nature Reserve boasts some of the largest sand dunes in Britain, where the moving sands constantly change the landscape.  Fans of Gothic novel Dracula will be thrilled by a stop at Old Slains Castle and New Slains Castle, as author Bram Stoker is thought to have found inspiration for the story from the New Castle. Find out what life was like behind bars at Peterhead Prison Museum, which only closed as a working prison in December 2013 – take care not to get locked in for longer than expected!

Whether a laid back sightseer, an avid wildlife spotter or an adrenalin fuelled adventure seeker, there is something to suit everyone on this trip through the heart of Scotland, come and experience the ultimate road trip and the very best Scotland has to offer.

This is a guest blog by North East 250. To find out more about the North East 250 and to start planning your journey, visit www.northeast250.com