For many years I travelled to the Highlands on business from London, initially on The Clansman, taking forever as it wombled round the West Midlands with frequent changes of loco, eventually splitting at Carstairs for Glasgow and Edinburgh sections. The latter also split again in Edinburgh into Inverness and Aberdeen parts giving me ample time to acquire a tasty takeaway meal from the Food Centre in Princes Street to the great surprise of other passengers.
Otherwise I would travel on the Highland Chieftain which, for me, then conveniently stopped at Peterborough in both directions or sometimes by sleeper to various destinations.
In retirement I take fewer, but now leisure trips to the Highlands, and fly.
Call me a GOM if you wish but I cannot now face the uncertainty of being able to acquire an affordable Advance ticket for my long journeys northwards. And even having done that there remains no certainty of being able to acquire the same for my return as bookings don't open simultaneously, even if registered for an "Early Warning" (which failed on the last occasion I trusted to use it and priced my return at three times the outward journey - I flew, for the first time) Even Advance Fares seem to have increased exponentially on this route.
I will admit that in those halcyon days EVERY coach was usually a quiet coach and excellent value meals served by long-serving and thoroughly professional staff enhanced the journey - specially the High Tea, served after Edinburgh - for BOTH classes of passenger.
So today I fly. I can book my holiday dates with certainty over 12 months in advance at a return fare which is less than the cheapest Advance rail single and I find myself driving in the Highlands before the Highland Chieftain has even left Kings Cross and gain an extra day's holiday. Nor do I have to tolerate a crowded coach of boisterous children returning from a foreign holiday and trampolining around the coach seats. That train was overfull and there was no point in trying to force my way past mountains of luggage in every vestibule in search of a calmer place to sit.
None of the recent East Coast companies seems to have realised that an earlier start from London would add appeal to the Highland Chieftain which currently arrives in Inverness after 20:00 necessitating an overnight and additional expense there. Guaranteed proper meals for both classes and the certainty of a confirmed booking at least 12 months in advance could transform this train into one of the really Great Rail Journeys of the UK.
I have not tried the Serco sleeper, now extravagantly expensive for the single traveller but my last journey on its predecessor with totally casual staff and breakfast in a brown paper bag lost its appeal especially when I was ordered off the sleeper long before the published last disembarkation time in Glasgow. And I never really slept after being rough shunted in Edinburgh in the early hours on the Highland sleepers.
Come on Railways. Some of us know you can do better.