London, United Kingdom
51° 30' N 0° 7' W
Jul 01, 2010 09:00
Distance 554km

Text written in: English

Caledonian Sleeper to London

 

A sleeper journey of around seven hours is just not long enough.  It takes time to adjust to one's surroundings and be immersed in the journey.  This commuter service, albeit more modern, was reminiscent of the overnight train between St Peterburg and Moscow.  It is a functional service as opposed to a great railway journey.  This was not Moscow to Irkutsk or Chicago to San Francisco, with time to meet fellow travellers and exchange tales.   

Ruth had gone to explore the lounge car area with the children before we left Glasgow.  Perhaps it is a cosy place for a drink before bed or a plate of haggis, neeps and tatties, but didn’t appear busy when she visited.  Not quite the atmosphere of the Trans-Karoo Premier Classe en route from Johannesburg to Cape Town or a Rajdhani Express heading for New Delhi.  No tales from the interior, of campaigns long forgotten.   

I was not however disheartened by this journey.  Ruth and the children went to bed whilst I prowled the corridors for a while and reacquainted myself with rail travel after an absence of almost two years.  We approached the border with England and I recalled part of the poem 'Night Mail', by H W Auden.  This poem was used recently during Erin's Primary 7 Leavers Assembly.   

"This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient's against her, but she's on time."
 

http://www.tynelives.org.uk/stephenson/poem.htm  

A chance encounter on a train can bring a new reflection on the land one is traversing, whether this is an ex-BSA (British South Africa) policeman discussing Rhodesia or a former Russian soldier remembering Afganistan.  

I turned in for the night as we approached Carstairs.  My internal clock woke me at 0600hrs when we were already on the outskirts of London.  A knock came at the door at 0615hrs, delivering morning tea, coffee and juice.  Even though the train arrived at London Euston at 0630hrs, we did not leave the comfort of our compartments until 0715hrs.  Time to have a quick look at London Euston station before walking to St Pancras International.  

I believe that Euston Station was constructed by the London & Birmingham Railway in 1837 and extended during the course of the 19th century.  For example, the Propylaeum (Doric Arch) was completed in 1838 and the Great Hall in 1849.  Both were subsequently demolished in the early 1960's when British Rail 'modernised' the station.  I would call this industrial vandalism on a monstrous scale.  Thank goodness we were shaking the dust from our feet and walking to St Pancras!    

We walked along Euston Road, past the British Library, to St Pancras International.    

"St Pancras has always been special. It has the grandest frontage of any British railway station, a towering neo-Gothic giant in red brick and coloured stone, originally the Midland Grand Hotel. Behind is one of the most powerful spaces of the Victorian age, Sir William Barlow's vast pointed-arched train shed of iron and glass: in its day the widest clear-span structure in the world.  

Its design embodies British engineering at its most daring, while the eclectic detailing of Sir George Gilbert Scott's hotel demonstrates his gift for blending home-grown styles with ideas and motifs from the Continent. 

Today, this extraordinary complex becomes the gateway for High Speed 1, the accelerated rail service between Britain and mainland Europe, built by London and Continental Railways. It's hard to imagine a finer or more appropriate point of departure – a counterpart to the mighty classical block that is the Gare du Nord in Paris." 

The Daily Telegraph - 14th November 2007 

St Pancras station was constructed between 1866 and 1868 during a recession.  Attempts were made to scale back the grand design but the station was completed largely unaltered.  The Midland Grand Hotel was built between 1868 and 1876.  Today the hotel, which was closed in 1935, is in the process of being refurbished as a premier 5 star establishment fit to accommodate passengers in the 21st century.  According to a sign at the front of St Pancras, the hotel will reopen in 2011.  At the moment it is very much a work in progress given the construction work outside. 

It could have been so different given the indifference of its owners during the 20th century.  First of all preference was given to hotel facilities at Euston Station, then German bombs and second rate repairs scarred the structure, culminating in the 1960's plan to amalgamate St Pancras and King's Cross (read demolish).  Perhaps we should thank Euston because the demolition of this station awoke public concern and St Pancras was saved. 

"The greatest threat to the station came in 1966 with plans to amalgamate King's Cross and St Pancras. However public opinion had been sharpened by the demolition of Euston in 1962. Sir John Betjeman took up the cause to protect the station and in 1967 the Government listed the station and hotel as Grade 1." 

http://www.ryepress.com/kings-cross-st-pancras-station/kings-cross-skyline-2.html 

It has to be pointed out that British Rail did not redevelop St Pancras; this came much later with the advent of the London and Continental Railways, the high speed rail link and the Channel Tunnel. 

"With a week to go before Eurostar services start operating from St Pancras station, the Queen last night opened the newly renovated Victorian station which has restored what was once the largest enclosed space in the world to its former glory.  

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who are old enough to perhaps remember the old Midland railway terminus in its pre-war glory, were shown the results of the £800m renovation. When it was built in the 1860s, William Henry Barlow's design for a 243ft single-span roof - the largest ever constructed to that time - cost £117,000. The even more distinctive Midland Grand Hotel, which fronts the station and which was closed in the 1930s, will be reopened in a couple of years' time as apartments and a luxury hotel.  

More than 1,000 guests attended the reopening of the station, once the Cinderella of the London rail terminals, too grandiose for its services to the east Midlands, but now at last coming into its own as the terminus for Europe." 

The (Manchester) Guardian - 7th November 2007  

Once inside St Pancras I made a point of going in search of the statue of Sir John Betjeman.  I believe he would be very pleased with the restoration of the station and its current role as the gateway to Europe.

 

Photos / videos of "Caledonian Sleeper to London":

Erin & Ailsa Burnett getting off the Caledonian Sleeper upon arrival at London Euston Station. Euston Railway Station, London. Looking towards Kings Cross Railway Station, London. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett outside St Pancras Railway Station, London. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett getting off the Caledonian Sleeper upon arrival at London Euston Station. Duncan Burnett getting off the Caledonian Sleeper upon arrival at London Euston Station. The Burnett family outside St Pancras Railway Station, London. Sir John Betjeman statue in St Pancras Railway Station, London. Sir John Betjeman statue in St Pancras Railway Station, London. St Pancras Railway Station, London. St Pancras Railway Station, London.