Nicole and I are heading off to France in September. It’ll be a chance to catch up with a few friends we have over there, and while we both really like the country I’ve not seen too much of it and my French could do with some significant practice.
We’ve decided we’re going overland, which even from the Highlands of Scotland isn’t as arduous or expensive as it sounds. The sleeper from Inverness to London arrives with plenty of time to catch the 9am Eurostar to Paris, meaning you can go to bed in Inverness one evening and be in Paris before lunchtime the following day.
Who says the Highlands are remote?
There’s something inherently more fun and adventurous in taking the train than flying, and given the time it takes to check in for a flight or get the bus or train to or from an airport, it’s probably not significantly slower by train.
Of course going overland can be expensive if you don’t plan ahead, but then again so can flying. In any case, we’ve been on the ball: we got the Eurostar tickets sorted for great value some days ago, and the second step was booking the sleeper to London.
That can be over £100 each way if you book late, but I’ve been watching the bargain berths like a hawk recently – where if you’re quick you can get berths for £19 each way. It does, however, require the sort of stealth and persistence of a ninja Jehovah’s Witness.
Last week, the tickets for the week before we aim to travel were released, and I did a “dry run”, watching carefully for the precise moment when the Inverness to London bargain berths were put online, checking my information against things I found on various travellers’ forums online. The tickets went within about 45 minutes, so I knew I’d have to be quick.
The battle plan confirmed in my head, I had every web browser I use at home and at work primed with a bookmark so I would be ready to go one week later for the bargain berth tickets we wanted. That day – BB-Day, if you will – was yesterday.
Judging by the previous week, it should have been 9am that the tickets were released, though I stayed up until midnight the previous night just in case. Nothing. 9am yesterday came, then, and as I checked and rechecked the Scotrail website it soon slowed down, frequently timing out – clearly I wasn’t the only one watching, and presumably down in server room there’d be some mangled-accented engineer exclaiming that she couldnae handle it, captain. The tickets did appear, the whole week’s bargain berths released at once as scheduled, but not the Friday’s which I was after.
I waited, watching the cheapest of the other ones disappear with still no sign of the Friday ones. It was impossible they’d all completely disappeared in a second, though they certainly would sell out fast.
I tweeted Scotrail to ask what was going on and when they’d be released, and they replied saying that they were released at 9am – when patently they hadn’t been. I even tried that date in the other direction and on other sleeper routes from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Fort William. They were out and selling fast, and yet the Inverness ones weren’t. Very odd. The whole day went by before I eventually gave up watching, assuming that they would be out at midnight or perhaps 9am the following day.
I did check a couple of times through the evening though, more out of hope than expectation, and to my surprise they were out! The cheapest £19 tickets had gone but the £29 ones remained. Quick as a flash, I grabbed my credit card and nabbed two of them. Sighing with relief after a day of nervous web-watching, I’d done it: two tickets to London – effectively eleven hour train journeys and overnight accommodation rolled into one – for a total of £58.
I think I’m entitled to feel just a tiny bit smug about that. Though if I ever discover the person who got the £19 ones, I’ll throttle them.
Now it’s just a case of waiting a couple of weeks to do the whole thing again for the return journey…