Sleeper train from London to Penzance
Catherine Mack takes the sleeper train from London to Penzance with a friend
Devon and Cornwall are home to some of the UK's most exciting green places to stay, but it can take rather a long time to reach the area on the train. London Paddington to Penzance, for example, takes best part of six hours, which can make a big hole in your holiday if you're only going for a few days. First Great Western's Night Riviera service is a great solution - by sleeping on the train you arrive in Devon or Cornwall first thing in the morning, with the full day ahead of you, and it can be cheaper than a night's accommodation.
It's also a really useful service if you want to connect with the ferry to the Scilly Isles (the sleeper arrives in to Penzance at 8am just enough time to wipe the sleep from your eyes, grab a Cornish Pasty and head over to the ferry terminal to check in for the 9.15am crossing to St Mary's - the main island on the Scillys).
The sleeper train runs every night except Saturday, leaving Paddington at 23:45 and arriving in Penzance at 08:00. You don't have to start at Paddington - you could join at Reading at 00:37 and still get a decent sleep. There are 15 stops along the way, but stops in the middle of the night are kept to a minimum. The following morning, you could jump off at St Austell for the Eden Project or St Erth for St Ives. For the return journey, the Night Riviera leaves Penzance at 21:45, and arrives back into Paddington at 05:43.
Sleeping The Night Riviera has carriages of standard and first class seating, and at least four carriages of special sleeper berths. Plenty of passengers get some shut-eye in a normal train seat but if you like to be horizontal to sleep - and to have the privacy of a lockable cabin - a prebookable sleeper berth is a good idea. There are beds for 60 customers on most services, and up to 75 on the two busiest services.
Single-person sleeper berths cost from £45, while a twin berth costs from £69 between you.You can book 12 weeks in advance and this is when you'll get the best prices. Single and twin berths both have a sink in them, and in a single berth you even get an entertainment system preloaded with TV programmes (take your own headphones otherwise they cost £2.50). Included in both fares are complimentary refreshments from the train's Lounge car, breakfast served in your berth, and use of the First Class lounge and showers at Paddington station when you arrive there.
My journey Travelling back from Cornwall to London, I shared a twin berth with my friend. I was welcomed onboard by our cheerful 'customer host', who explained where all the light and temperature controls where. The berth was compact, especially with our huge rucksacks in the way, but we could still just about manage to move around. I was impressed by the thoughtful amenity kit with toothbrush and toiletries, and bottled water was also supplied. Our host took our breakfast order and asked about wake-up calls before leaving us in peace for the night. If you don't need to leave the train at 05:43, you can stay snoozing on-board at Paddington until 7am, which makes the early arrival less painful.
The train does make rather a lot of clunks and groans throughout the night: the amenity kit contains foam ear-plugs but if you're a light sleeper, I've found silicone ones much more effective. I only boarded the Sleeper at Plymouth so had just six hours in the the berth, but surprised myself by getting very comfortable in my bunk-bed, with two pillows and a snuggly tartan blanket. Whoever's on the top bunk need not worry about sliding off the bed - there are thick vertical straps up to the ceiling which would hold you in. In the morning, my wake-up call came dead on time, and I was greeted with a tray of coffee, juice, and bacon sandwich to set me on my way. More Information: The Night Riviera service calls at the following stations between Paddington and Penzance: Reading, Taunton, Exeter St Davids, Newton Abbot, Plymouth, Liskeard, Bodmin Parkway, Lostwithiel, Par, St Austell, Truro, Redruth, Cambourne, Hayle, and St Erth.
Standard seats on the sleeper service start from as little as £15. For fares, timetable and to book tickets: Train Tickets from London to Penzance.