Sleeper travel is a rarity in the UK – a handful of towns and cities are linked with London with overnight trains conveying beds.
Sleeper travel is a rarity in the UK – a handful of towns and cities are linked with London with overnight trains conveying beds. For decades, these trains have run with no real competition, their only competitors – overnight coaches – only conveyed seats…until now.
Enter Megabus Gold. The low-cost brand of bus magnates Stagecoach, best known for its no-frills policy, and their rotund ‘Sid’ the coach driver mascot launched a more refined service back in July.
Departure from no-frills image
In a departure from their no-frills image, Gold offers free refreshments, wi-fi, an at-seat steward service and, most importantly, beds. With students typically being Megabus stalwarts, we had to try it out – myself and two friends made a trip to London to see if it’s worth the hype.
As our coach pulls into Edinburgh Bus Station, the differences are striking: the brand new double-decker coach is in muted tones of maroon and gold, as opposed to the firm’s usual bright blue and yellow. I pop my case in the hold then hop on board, where a steward checks our tickets and then allocates us bunks. The coach has a 2+1 layout, with two bunks on the left of the coach and one on the right in each row, with a single bunk above on each side. Groups and couples are generally allocated to the pairs of beds on the left, limiting the chance of sharing with a stranger.
Bunks are snug
As there’s three of us, we’re given bunks on the nearside of the vehicle. First impressions are good, the seats have been folded down to create mattresses, and covered with white linen. There’s a small pillow, and also a neatly folded fleece blanket at the bottom of the bed. In the bunk is a plug socket, a USB port, and a small control panel with a fan vent, reading light, and call button. There’s also a small divider at face level, so as to avoid any awkward eye-contact whilst laying down.
The bunks are snug, especially if you’re on a lower bunk next to the corridor, as there’s the upper bunk above you. If you’re claustrophobic, your only choice is to take an upper bunk, which is quite roomy, but has no mattress – a fabric ‘hammock’ is provided instead.
No sleeper pack
Before departure, our steward comes through and makes sure everyone sleeps with their head to the rear of the coach (it’s in case of an accident – “you can mend a broken leg, but you can’t mend a broken head” says our typically droll Glaswegian steward), and also points out the exits, gives a crash course in how to use the toilet – “there’s a big red button…it’s an ejector seat! But seriously, folks…”
The complimentary refreshments turn out to be a small chocolate muffin, and a small bottle of water. We get these just as we leave the bus station, the lights are turned off– the only light for most of the journey comes from the blue escape path lighting on the floor.
We should have received a “sleeper pack” of a toothbrush, toothpaste and eyemask – but no reference was made to these on our journeys. Stagecoach Group say that this is being looked into.
Woken before arrival
Our bunks are comfortable, snug even, with the warm blankets. The ride quality is okay – going round corners leads to me rolling slightly in my bunk, and the bumps in the road can be felt. It’s not impossible to sleep, but it certainly takes some getting used to.
We’re woken five minutes before arrival, giving us just enough time to get our things together before we have to get off. Breakfast is provided in the form of cartons of apple juice, bags of fruit, and little brioches. Make sure you grab some brioche, they are amazing. I was foolish enough to only take one as we disembarked in Victoria.
Very good idea, but issues with the execution
There’s no denying that Gold is a very good idea, and definitely fills a gap in the market – but there are quite a few issues with the execution. Firstly, the pairs of bunks – if you, like me, are on the window side of the coach, you can’t get out without getting the passenger next to you to move. This could be rather problematic if you, say, need the toilet in the middle of the night. That’s the second problem, the toilet: it is tiny, smaller than most aircraft toilets. That wouldn’t be an issue, if it weren’t for problem number three…Yes, problem number three is the lack of privacy. There’s nowhere to get changed, and no curtains on the beds– just a wee bit of an issue on a sleeper bus.
Might be the ticket for a last minute trip
We opted to get changed in the bus station before and after our journeys. This wasn’t a problem in Edinburgh, where the toilets are spotless, but in London’s Victoria Coach Station it’s a different matter – although, if you are an enthusiast of self-injecting drugs, you will find that Transport for London has kindly provided a syringe bin in each toilet. Of course, this is not the fault of Megabus Gold in any way at all – it’s worth noting, though.
Then there’s the small matter of the price. Prices start at £15 (plus a 50p booking fee) and go up to £60 per single journey. Whilst £15 is an unbeatable fare, £60 is staggeringly uncompetitive – with both trains and plane return fares being available for less.It really depends on the urgency of your journey – for a last minute trip to London, it might be just the ticket.
Megabus Gold operates sleeper services from across Scotland to London, as well as Glasgow to Birmingham. Day services run across the UK. More info and tickets available from megabusgold.com
Have you tried a sleeper coach before? Do you think it’s a good idea? Get in touch using the comments box below.
Pic: Angus Duncan