1995 - Inverness & Kyle of Lochalsh
Our first, tentative, visit north of the Great Divide (the Merseyside/Lancashire county line).
As befits an advance party, the numbers were limited to three of the society's most expendable members.
Half-past midnight is not Preston station's most enchanting time-slot. However there is a certain air of expeditionary anticipation, of those few passengers hanging around the waiting room being united in a common purpose. Fortunately in mid-June the night-time temperature is almost bearable. It is therefore possible to wander casually around the station (deserted of staff even more than of passengers) sniffing the night air and listening for signs of activity on and off the premises, at a time when sensible people are well tucked up in the pub.
From time to time a glow of lights in the distance followed by a growing rumble of sound indicated the approach of a freight train, increasing yet further the wear rate of the West Coast main line. Eventually a much slower-moving set of lights suggested that something might be stopping. This precipitated a hurried debate as to which section of the platform we should stand on to line up with the right coach. BR had helpfully provided colour coding, but at that time of night colour-blindness is likely to strike without warning, and just when you can't even remember your destination. The right choice is crucial, as error means not only no berth but also being on the wrong side of the Great Train Divide at Edinburgh.
Fortunately the stewards have seen this all before. They know how to comfort confused passengers and shepherd them towards the right part of the train as it picks up speed towards the badlands of North Lancs. And 'Can I get you something from the bar sir?' is a winner every time.
The sleeping compartments are just that, a compartment to sleep in, as there is precious little room to do anything else. It also helps if you're not very tall. A broad gauge sleeper must be something else. Whether you actually sleep or not is somewhat of a lottery, the main factor being whether your body considers the swaying of the train, the occasional jolting over points and the continuous swish of the air conditioning a soothing invitation to slumber or a continual series of disturbances. Those who tend to the former are lucky indeed.
The remainder of the trip was fairly brief - a day out by train and ferry to Kyle of Lochalsh and Skye, followed by a night in a B&B in Inverness before returning home. If only we knew what we had started...
An itinerary is here.