Britain’s best service stations en route to your UK staycation
Unless you’ve bagged yourself a ticket to a green-list country – or you plan to stomach the hefty cost of quarantining and testing – holidays in 2021 are likely to involve a bloated car boot and hours of “are we there yet?” en route to somewhere within these shores. The post-lockdown staycation boom is no myth; by March this year several holiday rental companies announced record bookings. The classic British staycation has a few rites of passage: you will sit on a blustery, goosebump-inducing beach with a windbreak and a flapping umbrella, and yet still return a shade of raspberry; you will plan a hike on the day it buckets down; and you will have to endure at least two fridge-cold sarnies or sausage rolls on the motorway, dropping crumbs all over your lap.
The former might be ingrained in tradition, but the latter is nothing more than a grim product of the past few decades. Fifty years ago, holiday trips were planned around the glorious pit-stops at glamorous service-station restaurants – what happened to the days when fresh seafood and vegetables were delivered daily and the likes of Terence Conran designed the dining room? (Leicester Forest East, of Conran fame, was the last word in motorway dining.) Times are changing, though.
With the uber-sustainable, organic likes of Gloucester, Tebay and – most recently opened – Teals services popping up around the country, getting your hands on something fresh, delicious and quick while on the road is becoming easier. Of course, not every motorway and A-road has an organic farm shop and kitchen complete with petrol pumps and charging stations. But travel just minutes off the motorway and it’s not hard to come by some fantastic pubs, cafes, farm shops and tea rooms, where you can refuel yourself before grabbing petrol elsewhere.
Here are 11 such gems around the country.
A303/SOUTH WEST AND CORNWALL
Farm shop A short drive from Exeter Moto services is organic haven Darts Farm. Filled with produce grown from the surrounding fields, the shop is also home to one of the country’s best butchers, as well as a deli, a restaurant and an outdoor fish shack.
Electric car charging points available. Topsham, Devon EX3 0QH; dartsfarm.co.uk Farm shop and restaurant:
Otter Valley Ice Cream and Field Kitchen
Farm shop and restaurant
Otter Valley Dairy, an ice cream truck turned farm shop and cafe, couldn’t get much closer to the A303. Go for the wood-fired pizzas, stay for the freshly churned ice cream. Monkton, Honiton, EX14 9QN; ottervalleydairy.co.uk
Finally, a good pit-stop on the never-ending slog between Stonehenge and Exeter. Situated next to the Sparkford Bypass, Teals offers locally grown produce in both its restaurant and deli takeaway, and also features a food market. 1 Orchard Lane, South Cadbury, Somerset BA22 7FS; teals.co.uk
M4 OR M5/COTSWOLDs, WALES, PEMBROKESHIRE
Gloucester Services, on the M5, is so good it features in the Waitrose Good Food Guide. Far from the usual offering, this green-roofed marketplace sells a myriad of quality hot and cold food from its main restaurant, kitchen and farm shop. You can even freshen up with a free shower using its facilities, and it has a 24-hour filling station with charging points.
M5 (between junction 12 and 11a), Brookthorpe, Gloucester GL4 0DN; gloucesterservices.com
Cobbs Farm Shop
Credit: David Cunningham
Farm shop and cafe Come off the M4 at the Wickham Interchange and drive seven minutes to arrive at Cobbs Farm Shop and Kitchen, another great option for a quick al-fresco lunch and shop for essentials. Late-night drivers can indulge in a fish-and-chip takeaway every Friday night, and a play barn will tire kids out for a gloriously silent rest of the journey.
Bath Road, Hungerford, Berkshire RG17 0SP; cobbsfarmshop.co.uk
M20 and M11/EAST COASTLINE
The Potting Shed
Pub For a slap-up lunch on a sunny terrace, divert your journey just 10 minutes off junction 8 of the M20 to the Potting Shed. With a huge glass-fronted dining room and tempting menu to suit every appetite, it’s a great option if a sandwich on the road won’t quite cut it.
Sutton Road, Langley, Kent ME17 3LZ; elitepubs.com/the-potting-shed
Farm shop/cafe Minutes from the M11 (junction 12) is Burwash Larder, a huge farm shop stocked high with goods to make your car picnic. For a sit-down and something hot, cross over to Flock Cafe, also on the Burwash Manor estate.
New Road, Cambridge, Barton CB23 7EY; burwashlarder.com
Service station If you find yourself hurtling down the M6 to or from Scotland, Tebay Services in Penrith is a must-stop. Built on High Chapel Farm by owners John and Barbara Dunning, all the meat sold in the three restaurants and butcher comes from their own flock of sheep and herd of cows.
You can even rest up in Tebay Services Hotel – though be warned, you’ll never tolerate a Premier Inn afterwards. Westmorland Place, Orton, Penrith, Cumbria CA10 3SB; tebayservices.com
A1/SCOTLAND AND THE NORTH EAST
Thaymar Ice Cream
Ice cream shop and tea room Ice cream might not be at the forefront of your mind when driving up to Scotland, but this dairy farm and cafe is worth a quick stop.
Come off the A1 onto the Tuxford Interchange and then onto the B6387, and within minutes you’ll reach this cheery ice cream shop and tea room. Hot and cold food is available to take away or eat in, and a tub of elderflower ice cream is a must. Haughton Park Farm, Nr Bothamsall, Retford, Notts DN22 8CD; thaymaricecream.co.uk
Mainsgill Farm Shop
Come off the A1 at Scotch Corner and drive a few minutes up the A66 to arrive at Mainsgill Farm Shop, where not only can you bag yourself a veritable feast for the car (or enjoy a sit-down meal in the tea room), but you can also say hello to Doris, Delilah and Granville, the farm’s resident camels. Depending on the time of year, you might also spot ostriches, llamas, chinchillas and donkeys, making this a great pit stop for bored kids. East Layton, Richmond North, Yorkshire DL11 7PN; mainsgillfarm.co.uk
Cairn Lodge Services
En route to the Cairngorms or Trossachs National Park via the M74, Cairn Lodge Services is perfect for a quick lunch, a petrol refill and – weather permitting – a bask in the sun outside the impressive stone building.
With locally sourced produce on sale at the farm shop and hot food available in the canteen, it’s the Welcome Break – and then some.
Douglas, Lanarkshire, ML11 ORJ; cairnlodgeservices.com
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