Top 5 Motorway services in the UK
In our callow youth reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was a romantic rite of passage romp through middle America- it was the dream- get on the road! Get some adventure! Be a pirate or something.
In real life in the UK it was a tad different.
There was lots of rain and gloom and short journeys that took forever- if America was the endless horizon the UK was the endless journey punctuated by the motorway service station – those grumpy piles of concrete at the side of the road where antique food from another era like egg and cress sandwiches were the culinary quick fix and gut rumblers for the rest of the day.
Of course things have changed a lot in the last ten years and the motorway service station has now smartened up its act with that grinning mateyness of the modern corporate world they have become the David Brent of the service industry- attempting to amuse and entertain you with their luminous crisps and bizarre games machines where drivers play driving games as a break from, er, driving.
The closer you get to London the more expensive and lush the services get as they chase the capital city doller but the top 5 services in the UK throws up some surprises…
1. Tebay Services
By far the best services in the UK- Tebay is also the only one that is privately owned and not under the cosh of chain. That means good service, variation and imagination are the rule of the day. It helps that it is in a beautiful location- the Lake District – and the moors spread high and wide around the place.
It also has a duck pond and sadly we always stop to have a Goldblade band pic taken with the ducks as we feed them bits of oatcake bought from the Tebay shop.
It’s not very rock n roll I know but you got to respect the mallard- tough but dandy ducks- feathered punk rock coves.
Tebay also has a food shop where you can buy food that doesn’t make you feel ill or weirdly high on E additive laced luminous crisps.
After Tebay it is pretty much of a muchness but Stafford comes up trumps in many departments- they even have men’s toilets without piss on the seats which is remarkable in the UK. It was once rumoured to have been getting turned into a ‘curry services’- a place where they only sold curry – imagine that!
Stopping off at 3 in the morning for a curry- that would rule!
There is something about the Lake District and services (or maybe not if we count Lancaster’s fairly rubbish Forton services into the equation). Maybe it’s the fresh air that makes you feel giddy when you get out of the car and stagger in and there is the sharp pinch of freshness about Southwaite that, lets say, is lacking at Watford Gap. If only Tebay wasn’t just up the road then this would be a regular stop for that long haul up north to see our Scottish bretheran before independence closes the border (just joking…)
4. Cherwell Valley
A fine example of the money dripping, flash southern motorway services- this looks more like one of those moon bases painted by a fantasist artist in the pages of National Geographic than a Mway service.
You know the kind of place- where beautiful people float around and the endless horizon is actually from one end of the huge service station to the other. Cherwell is bigger and flasher than the shopping centre of most small towns in the UK- infact it feels bigger thanmost small towns full stop and has a rookery in its trees and even a resident Red Kite hovering above the car park looking for mice and startled small children who have run off from their foul tempered parents.
Another spaceship sized services, it also boasts small lake- it may not have Tebay’s charm or atmosphere or ducks but it has the shopping centre feel of a long Saturday afternoon in small town England and some people love that kind of thing- that detachment from reality and the soft pulse of Rod’s greatest hits in the background and plastic stuff that you may only want for a split second in your life as well as coffee that is as strong as speed to keep you awake for the next leg of the journey.