FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Sleeper to Scotland

Posted in Edinburgh, Linlithgow, Scotland by folkestonejack on June 8, 2013

Travelling across town to Euston as midnight approached seemed more than a little strange, but once you are on board the Caledonian Sleeper all such thoughts disappear. The simplicity of falling asleep in London and waking up in Edinburgh on a bright sunny morning was enough to persuade me that this was the perfect way to start a four day trip to Scotland.

Scenic Scotland

Our destination: Sunny Scotland

The two berth cabins on the Caledonian Sleeper are certainly cosier than those of many sleeper trains that I have travelled on, but the comfortable bedding and convenience of a flip-up wash basin certainly make this a great way to maximise the time at your destination.

The special ingredient on top of this arrangement were the charming hosts that greet you on your arrival at the carriage door and then do everything they can to make your journey work as smoothly as it should. The hosts help get you familiarised with the quirks of cabin life and stay on hand through the night if you need to get back after an early morning in the lounge car (it was reassuring to know that we could leave our baggage securely locked in our cabin if we wanted, though in practice we opted for sleep).

Our train arrived at Edinburgh Waverly on schedule at 7:22 in the morning, though you can remain in your berth until 7:45 which was sufficient to allow for a leisurely start. Coffee and shortbread had been delivered about half an hour before our arrival, so I felt surprisingly alert – though I wasn’t sure my sleepy cabin companion shared the same sentiments!

Linlithgow Cross and Burgh Halls

Linlithgow Cross and Burgh Halls

Within the hour we were on our way again, travelling the short distance to Linlithgow by a local ScotRail service (around 20 minutes away). Linlithgow is most famous for the magnificent ruins of Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, though in truth the whole town was a delight with its historic streetscape and plethora of interesting buildings.

The Linlithgow Heritage Trail provides a handy guide to the local sights which we haphazardly followed. The most striking of the sights was Linlithgow Cross Well, which is an early nineteenth century replica of a much earlier well which had been destroyed during the occupation of the town by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in the 1650s. A short walk up from the cross brought us to the sixteenth century Palace gatehouse.

Linlithgow Palace

Linlithgow Palace

The setting for Linlithgow Palace is stunning. The Palace is beautifully complemented by the waters of Linlithgow Loch and the lusciously green park of Linlithgow Peel. The waters seemed like an oasis of calm with a few boats peacefully settled for a spot of fishing, apart from the occasional squawking of the loch’s swans to break the peace!

The interior of the Palace is a wonderful, and sometimes bewildering, space to wander around. It is hard to visualise just how grand the rooms would have been in their time, but occasionally small traces of surviving ornamentation give you a clue – such as a unicorn carved into the ceiling of one room. The highlight of the visit was, without any doubt, the ornate King’s Fountain which sits in the middle of the courtyard. The fountain was commissioned by James V in 1537 and is believed to be the oldest surviving fountain in the United Kingdom. It was restored by Historic Scotland and continues to function to this day (although not on the day that we visited).

A pigeon joins the menagerie on the King's Fountain

A pigeon joins the menagerie on the King’s Fountain

After completing our tour of the Palace we visited the neighbouring medieval church of St Michael’s which holds its own place in history. Mary Queen of Scots was baptised in the font at the church, although this – and all bar one of the statues in the church – did not survive the Scottish reformation. The church is hard to miss today with an unusual aluminium spire that was added in the 1960s.

The final stop on our visit was the Old Post Office (1904) which has been converted to a pub. The building caught our eye from the outset and proved to be a good place to stop for refreshment before travelling onward.