The Overnight Sleeper to Glasgow, & the onward journey to Loch Lomond

The Trek and Run Team backpacked around Scotland for three weeks in the summer of 2014. We were supported on our journey by the following companies, who provided the resources we needed to make the best of our time there.

To begin our first Scottish adventure we travelled from London to Glasgow by the Scotrail Sleeper (find out more about this service here) and then onto Millarochy Bay on the shores of Loch Lomond by local train and boat (Sweeney’s Cruises). Here’s some photos and observations that we made during the journey, to help you understand what it’s really like to make the trip so you know what’s coming to you if you decide to follow in our footsteps.

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We’re convinced that the Scotrail Sleeper is the best way of travelling between southern England and Scotland. If you book far enough in advance you can bag a 1st Class berth for a very reasonable price and then enjoy all that goes with it, such as a good night’s sleep as you travel and access to the 1st Class lounge at London Euston.

We enjoyed the lounge ourselves for a couple of hours before boarding the sleeper (we were also able to visit it for an hour after we arrived back at Euston on our return journey). They offer superb chocolates, chips, biscuits (including ‘One’ biscuits, the profits of which fund nutrition projects in Africa, which might not be perfect but it’s better, in our opinion, than the profits funding corporate lifestyles in London) and soft drinks, all complimentary and unlimited, as well as showers and newspapers. It was nice to chill there, revel in the temporary luxury (we had three weeks of camping ahead of us) and discuss plans for the forthcoming journey. Then, at around 11pm, we walked the short distance to our platform and found our berths with the help of a steward.

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The photo shows what you can expect from a 1st Class berth. There’s a bed, a connecting door to the next berth that can be locked (or not, as you wish), a basin, window and a travel kit that holds toothbrush, toothpaste, flannel, soap, shaving cream, razor, earplugs, socks and other small items to help the journey pass more smoothly.

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We shared a drink or two as the train set off at 11.40pm and soon fell asleep; the gentle rocking motion of the train helped. And then we were woken at around 6am by the stewardess, serving our breakfasts. We’d had the choice of a cooked breakfast or continental and we’d opted for the lighter of the two…

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…and we ate as the world outside got brighter, and Glasgow came into view.

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What a way to travel! The core experience is the same as flying – you fall asleep on one country and wake up in another – only, we didn’t have babies screaming next to us, people kicking our seat or otherwise disturbing us and of course, no standing in line and being treated like rubbish at the airport hassle. As we rolled into Glasgow train station we both felt more old school, adventurous and authentic. We’d been travelling all night and only covered a few hundred miles. Brilliant. And now we were rested, fresh and ready to take on the next stage of the trip!

We followed the signposts for the ten minute walk to Glasgow Queen St station, then took another train for about £5 to the town of Balloch on the shore of Loch Lomond. On the opposite side of the road to the station we saw the sign for Sweeney’s Cruises, who we were going to use to get to our first campsite of the trip at Millarochy Bay. The timings worked great for us, the boat pulled out just nine minutes after our train had pulled in, and then we were saying goodbye to Balloch and heading out into the calm waters of Loch Lomond.

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The boat was heading to the town of Luss at first, and after picking up more passengers it would move onto Balmaha where we’d leave it and walk the rest of the distance along the coast to the campsite. In total the boat ride was to take us just under two hours. It was more expensive than the bus would have been between Balloch and Balmaha but there wasn’t any bus going that time of morning and anyway, travelling by boat was an infinitely more relaxing and scenic way to travel between towns. Here are some scenes we saw as we motored to Luss.

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There were two National Park volunteers on board the boat who were happy to answer any questions we had about the Loch and who raised our interest in the many islands that we passed on the way. One was home to a man and his horses, they said, whom he swam to shore on occasion, and on another (Inchconnachan) wallabies could be seen thanks to their introduction there in the 1940′s. There was also a commentary being played over the boat’s loudspeaker, narrated by Neil Oliver, telling of the Loch and it’s ancient history.

At Luss we moored for just a few minutes to pick up some day hikers…

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…before heading out onto the Loch again, this time in an eastery direction, heading to Balmaha.

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The scene as we docked was as you can see in the photo below. The bridge was to mark the start of our two km route along the coast to the Millarochy campsite. It was also part of the West Highland Way, which we planned to follow all the way to Glen Nevis, at the base of Britain’s highest peak, about eight days hike away.

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What a grand way to travel; sleeper train, local train, boat then finally on foot. One of the best twelve hours of travel to be had anywhere in the world, I’d wager, and a great introduction to what we hoped was going to be an amazing three weeks in Scotland.

We pitched tent at Millarochy Bay Campsite…

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…and went for a dip in the lake. It was a lovely temperature, perfect for swimming, and canoeing, which we’d be doing the following day when we went out for a paddle and walk with our friends from Wild By Nature (there’s more about that in this article).

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To discover more about the Scotrail Caledonian Sleeper train, please visit http://www.scotrail.co.uk/sleeper

To discover more about Sweeney’s Cruises, please visit http://www.sweeneyscruises.com/

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