A Trip on the Night Riviera

Written on August 30, 2011

In late May 2011 I went to the Isles of Scilly to do some work for Radio Scilly based on the main island of St Marys. This involved getting a ferry from Penzance at 0915 in the morning. This early start meant either an overnight in a hotel in Penzance or an overnight sleeper from London. I choose the sleeper and thought I would do a blog post about my experiences on the service.

A small bit of History. The route has been called the Night Riviera since 1983 and it is one of only two overnight sleeper services. The other one is the Caledonian Sleeper which goes to Scotland and offers two different destinations. There has been an overnight sleeper service from London to Cornwall since 1877. More history and info from this wikipedia page.

My experience
The train departs from London Paddington and goes to Penzance. It leaves Paddington at 23:45 (23:50 on a Sunday night – it doesn’t run at all on Saturday nights). You can get on the train at Paddington from 22:30 to settle down.

Departure Board of Night Riviera

I love the report to the Sleeper Car Attendents

Your ticket allows you access to the First Class lounge at the station although I did find this a pretty sad place to hang out in and would not recommend it. I would suggest you pop in if you need the loo and you can also pick up complimentary water and have a hot drink if you want to – there may be some papers but doubt it at the time of heading in there as it will have been used all day. I went in and grabbed some water and went to the loo but was soon out and heading for my coach D.

Pendennis Castle Engine for Sleeper Train

I found my berth in Coach D and awaited the sleeping car attendent (believe her name was louise). We were due in to Penzance at 0800 and she asked me what I would like for breakfast and what time I would like to be woken and then left me to it. You can leave your berth and the door locks behind you if you wanted to go into the lounge car for a hot drink or something stronger. Hot drinks are included in the ticket price. The berth can hold two people in bunk beds but mine was just for one and the top bunk was folded away. If you book I would suggest booking through the First Great Western website rather than trainline.com as I think FGW guarantee single occupancy and so you don’t have to share.

Cabin on Cornwall Sleeper
My berth consisted of my bed on the left hand side with two pillows and sheet/blanket combo, somewhere to hang my coat and put my suitcase, a wash basin (on the right in the picture underneath and pull up counter) with running hot and cold water, towels and toiletry kit which includes a razor, flannel, soap, eye mask and ear plugs and toothbrush/toothpaste. It also had in berth television which you can see at the middle top of the picture. The TV was like airline tv and you could choose programmes from a variety of genres. You could buy some headphones or use your own which you connected to the wall unit by your head. There was a remote control on a chain to change volume etc. There is a black out blind behind the basin which did a great job of darkening the room. I was probably asleep by the time we left Paddington and must say I slept much better that I thought I would do and didn’t need the ear plugs or eye mask at all. Louise woke me at 0700 with breakfast.It was a great experience eating my breakfast with the blind up and Cornwall going past my window whilst laying in bed. It arrived on time at 0800 into Penzance after calling at many stations in Cornwall and got off the train feeling pretty fresh and slightly amazed that I was actually in Cornwall and I hadn’t just driven for hours on end.

Penzance Station

Sun rising at Penzance Station


The return journey was not much different in terms of experience. It departs Penzance at 2115 so had time to find my berth and sit in the lounge car and enjoy a drink as the sun was setting in Cornwall. The only issue being it arrives into London Paddington at 0543 the next morning but you can stay on the train until 0700. You do get use of the showers at Paddington if you want also. I didn’t sleep quite so well this way as I think it was slightly noisier as we got closer to London. The cost of this journey was £90 each way but you can if you book far in advance get all inclusive tickets from £49 each way single berth. This may seem expensive but an overnight stay in a hotel in Penzance and or London if you are heading in the other direction will not be much cheaper once you add either petrol or a daytime train ticket. ConclusionI would recommend this as a great experience to have and if you need to be in Cornwall early in the morning for something it is the best way to travel. I did a small recording on the train which you can hear here – Hope you have found this post interesting/useful – M
September 2013 UPDATE: The waiting room has apparently been done up in Paddington and if you head to the right when you go in the door you go to the older part of the lounge not the modern soulless area. There is a great video and more details at this site –http://www.seat61.com/Cornwall-sleeper.htm. 

Am about to go on it again in September 2013 and will report back any new findings.


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