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Saturday, 25 June 2016

Overnight sleeper Paddington to Penzance, and back again

Part One: (this post) 
Part Two: Day trip to the Isles of Scilly (well, one of them) on the Scillonian III ferry from Penzance
Part Three: On the Isles of Scilly (for one day only) - day trip to Scilly part three

Paddington to Penzance on Night Riviera sleeper train - 23 June 2016 Paddington to Penzance on Night Riviera sleeper train - 23 June 2016 Paddington to Penzance on Night Riviera sleeper train - 23 June 2016
From L: train at Paddington, corridor on sleeper car, room with berth on left. More pics.

There are two overnight sleeper trains in the UK (that I know of) and both have London as one of the termini. The Caledonian Sleeper travels from Euston to Scotland and I have enjoyed it many times, and the Night Riviera runs from Paddington to Penzance.

One of the nicest things about travelling on a sleeper train is periodically waking up through the night and remembering "I'm on a sleeper train, woohoo!" so if you're a light sleeper, or likely to be woken by gentle rolls, occasional lurches or rattling over points it might not be for you.

Neither sleeper train has a service on Saturday evening so if you go somewhere on Friday night for the weekend you can come back on Sunday evening and arrive on Monday morning.

I travelled to Penzance on Thursday night and came back on Friday so this was really more of a day trip. Cost was £183 (outward £104, return £79), cheaper versions are available (shared cabin or a mildly-reclining seat in a regular carriage). £184 for travel AND accommodation all in one - two journeys and two nights 'in a hotel' so not bad value I think.

Getting tickets
Make sure you're buying a SLEEPER ticket and not just a SEAT on the train! I bought over the phone and was given an eight digit code with which to collect my tickets from any machine at any station (I collected my tickets from Cannon Street station). Recommend collecting the tickets a day or two in advance as if there's a problem it can be a bit difficult to fix at half past eleven in the evening. 

Outward-bound journey from Paddington to Penzance
The train leaves at 23:45 but you can usually get on board by about half ten and get settled in. Costa was open so I was able to get a snack, but they have a buffet car on the train anyway. One of the train managers will come round and check everyone in, check tickets, answer any questions, explain how it all works and what time you'll arrive - and the time by which you'll be booted off the train. If you find a train manager get yourself checked in as early as possible then you can relax undisturbed for the rest of the journey until breakfast.

There is only standard accommodation on the Night Riviera (it's slightly different on the Caledonian sleeper), but you can pay a supplement to have the cabin to yourself, which is what I did - effectively turning this into a first-class journey (any sleeper berth ticket also entitles you to use of the first class lounge at Paddington).

The train arrives in Penzance at 07:52 and you need to get off promptly. Slightly annoyingly the latest breakfast order to your cabin is 06:40 because the poor train manager needs to collect and wash all the crockery before leaving the train with everyone else. I had my breakfast at 6 and then lazed around for the next couple of hours - breakfast isn't compulsory of course, and you can grab something from the buffet car, and there are cafes open at Penzance.

General information about the cabin / train
Your cabin will be set up with the lights on, the temperature to minimum and the blind down in front of the window. If you want to maximise sleep leave the blind down, if you want to maximise gazing at stars and the general eerie spookiness of the countryside in pitch dark-grey-ness then leave them up. As you'll also be stopping at several stations en route you'll also get blinding lights coming into your cabin - I don't mind this but be aware. To open the blind you need to pull it down and slightly forward to then release it and lift it up. I've not tried having it half down / half up (that would work to cut out much of the station lights which shine downwards), maybe next time.

Paddington to Penzance on Night Riviera sleeper train - 23 June 2016
The view from my cabin window at 1am ;)

A thing I'd have found useful would have been a list of stations and the approximate times of arrival. There appear to be quite a lot of them on this journey, and I think they can include the following, pinched from Wikipedia.


Bed position - left or right
Cabins are mirror images of each other with some having the bed on the left as you go in, others having it on the right. If you have a strong sleep direction preference you might want to consider this.

Some have the bed on the right which means when sleeping on your left hand side your back is against the wall (and when turning over less likely to fall out as nearly happened when sleeping on my left on a left bed with my face against the wall). I travelled from Paddington in G 15L (coach G, room 15, lower berth) which had the bed on the left and found I slightly preferred the return journey from Penzance in E 09R (coach E, room 9, lower berth) which had the bed on the right. There doesn't appear to be much information when booking online about the L-R position of the bed, or on the ticket, so maybe ring up and ask (GWR

Charging phones
Happily you can charge your phone in the Shaver Only socket, though I'm sure you're not supposed to, using the two pin adaptor that we might once have taken to Europe ;) I was unconfident about the arrangement as the socket has three holes and my 2-pin (UK to EU) adaptor has two, but you 'pick a side'. The left and middle holes for 110V and the right and middle for 240V. Timidly I went for 110V and charged slowly, but the 240V would have been fine, from conversations I had on Twitter.

Paddington to Penzance on Night Riviera sleeper train - 23 June 2016
2-pin adaptor goes into either left (110V) OR
right (240V)  depending on voltage desigred

You can use the dial to change the temperature but I usually keep it on minimum, though did find the air a bit cold on the way out and made use of a very thin blanket that I'd brought with me around my neck. It was very toastie under the duvet anyway.

Each berth (my arrangement used only the lower berth) has its own light switches for the main light and the bed light. There are also light switches on the opposite side, high up, for a bluey teal night light and a low-level white light as well, so you needn't sleep in pitch darkness if you don't like that (I do). You'll always be able to see the phosphorescent emergency sign above the window illustrating the position of the hammer though.

Food and drink
There'll be a small bottle of water in your room, above the window and you get a choice of items for breakfast (cereal, coffee, tea, orange juice, croissant butter jam) brought on a tray. Plus buffet car.

If you're having tea make sure, when your breakfast tray arrives, that the FIRST thing you do is pop the tea bag into the hot water to brew. Don't pour yourself a cup of hot water without realising there's a bag in the cup.

There was a towel and a bar of soap.  

Haha. You can apparently connect to the wifi if you're near the buffet car but I didn't see a whiff of wifi on either of my journeys. In fact I had fairly poor signal (E on occasions) in Penzance and nothing but GPRS when on Isles of Scilly. 

They have two of them at each end of the carriage, doors are quite a bit narrower than usual (if you happen to have your bag on you). You can flush them when the train is at a station as they're 'fully tanked' apparently.

If you're leaving your cabin with valuables in you can flip the lock so that on pulling the door closed your cabin will be locked. Make sure you ask the train manager where they're most likely to be so that they can let you in again. I had only my iPhone, wallet and keys with me of value so kept them on me when I went to the loo and left my cabin unlocked with no problems. If I have a laptop I either bag it and take it with me or lock the door. If you can't find the train manager you can ask the buffet car people to radio them for you.

The journey and the sleeping
You're on a moving bed travelling quite fast for most of the journey with stops at stations, changes of direction, pitching and rolling. Apart from the regular station stops I found I slept more on this journey than on the Caledonian one - that's not necessarily a plus though, as I quite enjoy the waking up and going back to sleep bits ;) There are no stops between Reading and Taunton.

First-class lounge at Paddington
If you've paid to travel in a sleeper cabin (whether by yourself or shared) your ticket will grant you admission to the first-class lounge at Paddingon where you can get food, drink, charge up stuff etc.

Children, dogs, bicycles, couples
There were quite a few small children on the train (they were very quiet), presumably they slept in the upper bunk as I used to when little. According to the excellent Man in Seat Sixty One website smaller babies can be plonked in a bassinette on the floor, there's plenty of room for them. Dogs can go in the guard carriage but I'd want to know how dark and spooky it was going to be - even inside the cabin it's quite noisy and rattley and I can imagine a dog being quite frightened. Bicycles need to be booked in advance but can also be taken. Couples - as far as I can tell the Night Riviera doesn't seem to have the same gendered carriages that they have (or used to have) on the Caledonian Sleeper (where I've always been asked for my gender on booking, that didn't happen here) so presumably people can share a cabin, though good luck sharing one of the tiny beds!

Inward-bound journey from Penzance to Paddington
We were allowed to board at 21:15 for a 21:45 departure so there was a bit of standing around at the station where nothing much was open. I'd had a very nice Indian meal a few minutes walk away to tide me over. Arrival in Paddington is at 5:08 but you get booted out at 7am and the last breakfast is at 6am.

Stations we stopped at on my particular journey were -
  • Penzance
  • St Erth
  • Camborne
  • Redruth
  • Truro
  • St Austell
  • Par
  • Bodmin Parkway
  • Liskeard
  • Plymouth
  • Totnes
  • Newton Abbott
  • Exeter St David's
  • Taunton
  • Reading
  • London Paddington
Further reading
Wikipedia's article on the Night Riviera
Fabulously detailed information from Seat 61
Great Western Railway (GWR's) own page about the service.
Night riders: aboard the Paddington-Penzance sleeper train (The Guardian, 2013)

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