Taking a sleeper bus sounds like the sort of adventure that you would only undertake in India or South America, but for the last few weeks it has been possible to travel the roads of Blightly whilst asleep. I know the UK is barely big enough to have any routes that could take all night, but if you start really late and arrive early then London to Edinburgh is just the right distance. Being an aficionado of going to sleep in one place – let us call it A – and waking up in another – call it B – I was keen to give the journey a try.
Of course, for years it has been possible to take the Caledonian Sleeper train from Euston to Scotland which is a fun experience that you can read more about here. When I took the train it was glimpse of a happier past, all wandering to the restaurant car, drams of whisky and being woken up and handed breakfast in bed. A bus is a very different kettle of cucumbers. I’d started getting nervous about the eight hour journey as soon as I clicked purchase on the Megabus website. I have a propensity for motion sickness which for some reason I hadn’t taken into account when I spotted the new over-night service and thought that looks unusual.
You’ll be fine, I told myself.
Someone who knows me well disagreed.
‘Make sure you take something to be sick in,’ she advised.
After an evening tube journey I arrived at Victoria Coach Station. The scheduled departure to Edinburgh was 23:00 which is late to be starting such a long journey. The other travellers on the tube had been going home after boisterous after-work drinks. They were probably heading to a warm, comfy bed. Who knew where I was going? Well Edinburgh, obviously, but would there be a warm comfy bed? A well-wisher had phoned just before I left and told me they had discovered that Megabus handed out onesies for the journey. This caused one of us much hilarity, and it wasn’t me.
You know when you think you might have made a mistake? That’s how I was feeling as I sat on a metal seat at gate 18 and waited for an 8 hour journey that I might be expected to complete wearing a onesie. Soon the bus to Falkirk was announced. I hadn’t realised that Edinburgh wasn’t the final destination. I wondered how I would be woken up? What if I overslept and woke up in Falkirk?
Luxury travel day and night was emblazoned on the front of the burgundy bus. We queued by the side of it as people showed their tickets to the driver, mainly by calling up emails on phones. We’re living in the future. I overheard the driver speaking to the travellers as he checked their tickets. ‘Put the big bag in the hold, up the stairs, Robert will show you to a bed’. It all seemed very civilised, until he said the following to the girl in front of me:
‘I’ll try and get you a single bunk so you don’t have to share with someone you don’t know.’
If ever a phrase was designed to cut to the quick of a genteel traveller it is ‘I’ll try and get you a single bunk so you don’t have to share with someone you don’t know.’ Already worried about having to travel to Scotland in a onesie, whilst being travel sick, I now had the added stress of possibly sharing a bunk. By the law of averages the bunk-sharee would probably be very nice, but when you’re feeling travel sick polite conversation is hard enough. Pillow talk is a step too far. The idea of pretending not to be ill, smiling through the horror, whilst wearing a onesie was almost too much.
I showed my ticket to the driver. He didn’t repeat his single bunk message to me, leaving me to wonder where was I to sleep? And with whom? Bravely I climbed aboard.
‘Just you?’ asked a luminous yellow jacketed fellow on board.
I nodded and he directed me to a bunk on the right hand side of the bus. I approached. The right hand side was made up of single bunks! And there were no onesies in sight, just blankets neatly folded at the end of each bunk. I amy have allowed myself a small sigh of relief.
I don’t know that I’d go as far as luxury if I was describing the sleeping arrangements. In fact, I am describing the sleeping arrangements and I am not going to go as far as the word luxury. However, compared with having to sit all night it is much more comfortable. And much more exciting, a bit like settling down to sleep on the International Space Station, although with more gravity. I’ve never seat-belted myself into a bed before. I would question whether seat-belt is the correct word in this situation, but it was the one the official in charge used and bed-belt just doesn’t sound right. The only other places I’ve seen people strapped to beds they’ve been in films – generally in the more unpleasant type of lunatic asylum or being wheeled to a meeting with an injection on death row. Neither were the sort of thought you really want to have when you’re trying to get to sleep. On a bus.
There’s not a lot of room. In fact there’s very little. Once you’re lying down you are alright, although the bunks are narrow, but before then it would be easier if humans had removable heads. And legs. As it’s only the 21st century none of us did have removable body parts, but we all had removable shoes and were unsure where to put them. Or our bags. Or jumpers. There was suddenly a blitz spirit, people talking to each other, two Korean guys bonding over the lack of cupboards. A net on the ceiling in which to stick your wallet and glasses would help.
I was given a complimentary bottle of water and the bus set off. After half an hour the lights were dimmed, except for blue circular lights that stayed on above our heads. I didn’t immediately drop off to sleep.
In the interests of journalistic research I knew I should check out the lavatory. I didn’t want to. There are some things are best left unseen and I felt that the loo on a London to Edinburgh coach was one of them. However I made the effort and was pleasantly surprised. I’m not saying I’d want to live in there, but all was clean and pleasant.
Back in bed I tried to sleep. The water bottle I had been given rolled off the bed and clonked on the floor. My under-neighbour handed it back.
As I took it from him my pillow fell on the floor. He handed that back.
‘Thanks a lot.’
I re-pillowed my head and tried to sleep. Then the bus stopped. I looked at my phone. It was 1am. What was the bus doing stopping at 1am? Had we arrived in Edinburgh six hours early?
Possibly, but wouldn’t you make sure you have a full tank before starting such a long journey?
I flicked the curtain open. All I could see were trees. Were we in the middle of nowhere, despicable things about to happen?
No. The bus started moving again. I realised later the pauses were to let the drivers change over. I have memories of being awake, fighting with a blanket, but somewhere I must have fallen asleep as when I woke up we were stop-starting our way through Edinburgh traffic. I was going to make it and I hadn’t felt ill!
A few minutes later I was in Edinburgh. We’d arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule and it was before 7.00am. That’s early to be in a new city – the joy of overnight travelling. I thought when I booked the over-night trip that it would be a once in lifetime adventure, but do you know what? I think I just might do it again.