JANE FRYER: A show about an M6 service station has trounced Wimbledon

Love Island it ain’t! A reality show about an M6 service station has trounced Wimbledon in the ratings. But then Tebay is the pit stop that serves smiles by the gallon, writes JANE FRYER

  • Tebay Services is nestled between junctions 38 and 39 of the M6 in Cumbria
  • It’s proper restaurant serving everything from artisan pies to ramen noodle broth
  • There’s also a farm shop with hand-baked bread, cheese counter and butchery

By Jane Fryer for the Daily Mail

Published: 22:44, 19 July 2021 | Updated: 23:58, 19 July 2021

Nestled between junctions 38 and 39 of the M6, Tebay Services has long been a handy spot for petrol, a quick dash to the loo and a welcome break from six lanes of roaring traffic.

But also, for those in the know, an awful lot more.

Because Tebay Services Farmshop & Kitchen, to give it its full title, is not your bog-standard service station.

Instead of the usual offering of tired-looking sandwiches and generic snacks, this family-run operation in Cumbria has a proper restaurant serving everything from artisan pies to ramen noodle broth with foraged porcini mushrooms.

There’s a farm shop known as the Harrods of the North, complete with hand-baked bread, groaning cheese counter and a vast butchery department awash with ribs of local beef and local Herdwick mutton, manned by a team of 15. Meanwhile, an adjoining lifestyle shop is crammed with all manner of achingly tasteful items.

Outside, in the landscaped gardens, there’s a pond full of pootling ducks and ducklings and a series of pretty walking trails — all teeming with happy visitors.

Nestled between junctions 38 and 39 of the M6, Tebay Services has long been a handy spot for petrol, a quick dash to the loo and a welcome break from six lanes of roaring traffic

JANE FRYER: A show about an M6 service station has trounced Wimbledon

There’s a farm shop known as the Harrods of the North, complete with hand-baked bread, groaning cheese counter and a vast butchery department awash with ribs of local beef and local Herdwick mutton, manned by a team of 15

True Tebay devotees — of whom there are many and they don’t seem to mind the thunder of traffic and changeable weather — can turn their visit into a full-blown holiday at the on-site caravan park or boutique hotel, and even get married here. Yes, really.

I first visited in 2009, when it had won Best British Service Station.

Since then, the owners — the Dunning family, who have been farmers in the area for generations — have expanded to three sites with 360 staff and won so many awards everyone’s lost count.

Whenever I pass, I pop in to buy a pie or a steak, chat to the amazing staff, admire the fresh flowers in the loo — lovingly tended for the past three decades by wonderful cleaning sisters Tina and Jayne — and admire the pictures on the walls.

Today, however, the secret is very much out.

Because Tebay has become an unlikely TV hit, with its Channel 4 show, A Lake District Farm Shop, trouncing Wimbledon in the ratings and turning some of its dedicated staff into surprise TV stars.

Such as head butcher Dave Morland, 58, who grins pink-faced with pride as he cleavers through Barnsley chops on the show. He has been butchering since he was 16 and is a fan of neither trendy marinades nor new-fangled cuts.

JANE FRYER: A show about an M6 service station has trounced Wimbledon

Instead of the usual offering of tired-looking sandwiches and generic snacks, this family-run operation in Cumbria has a proper restaurant serving everything from artisan pies to ramen noodle broth with foraged porcini mushrooms (pictured: Shoppers in the service station)

‘We do it the old-fashioned way,’ he tells me. ‘So we go to the local farm and choose the stock we want. I am very picky about what I want, but I know what I want.’

Which, on his plate, is a nice bit of slow-cooked brisket and, in life, a good game of rugby, helping his friends with their animals and spreading his passion for butchery not only to his very loyal customers, but to primary schools — through talks about how to make sausages — and now on the telly.

‘Butchery has become a dirty word for some.

We butchers get a bad rub of the green at times — it’s all, “Eat a bacon sandwich and you’ll die tomorrow!” ‘ he says. ‘But I love my job and I’m proud of what we do.’

And presumably also of his new-found fame. Ever since the show first aired, he has become a bit of a hero on Twitter, and has been inundated with interview requests and feted behind his meat counter, where, I hear, some members of the queue have become rather animated. ‘There have been some nice comments,’ is all he will say.

Not that his head is remotely turned.

‘It’s just me, in my natural habitat,’ he says simply. ‘There’s nothing scripted. I’m just doing what I do and I like to do it well.’

It’s a sentiment shared by all the ‘stars’ of the show.

So there’s Patrick the heavily tattooed baker, who gets up at 4am to produce more than two tons of bread in his bakery every day, and cycles for hours through the hills every afternoon for inspiration. ‘I feel a real connection between the landscape and the ingredients,’ he says, and declares poetically: ‘We’re sending a love letter from the Lakes when we send every loaf — all I’ve ever really wanted was to make people happy through food.’

JANE FRYER: A show about an M6 service station has trounced Wimbledon

True Tebay devotees — of whom there are many and they don’t seem to mind the thunder of traffic and changeable weather — can turn their visit into a full-blown holiday at the on-site caravan park or boutique hotel, and even get married here

Bing Cao and Cara Ou, a married couple who run a Japanese restaurant in Ambleside, spend hours foraging in the woods for the porcini for the ramen packs they sell to Tebay.

And Alex Evans, the head buyer who trained at Harrods — ‘I went for a holiday job in the food hall and loved it so much I stayed for 17 years’ — thinks nothing of making a six-hour round trip to a farm in Worcestershire if he thinks their cherries are the best, and is incapable of walking past a messy cheese counter, even on his day off.

‘Last Saturday I popped in on my day off and I was there for four hours sorting it out!’ he says. ‘But I’ve always had a philosophy that you should try to exceed people’s expectations, rather than thinking, “Oh, they’ll be happy with this.”

‘After all, there’s no reason why a truck driver wouldn’t want good food.’

Which could well be the motto for the whole place.

You’ll certainly never find another service station like it — as welcoming, as beautifully designed and as lovingly run with such a loyal staff and such dedicated owners.

Just don’t stop here if you want to buy plastic bottled water, energy drinks, or cigarettes.

They don’t sell them, and will also have phased out all branded chocolate bars by the autumn.

JANE FRYER: A show about an M6 service station has trounced Wimbledon

Because Tebay has become an unlikely TV hit, with its Channel 4 show, A Lake District Farm Shop, trouncing Wimbledon in the ratings and turning some of its dedicated staff into surprise TV stars

JANE FRYER: A show about an M6 service station has trounced Wimbledon

And the beautiful mugs and bowls in the shop are made by a local potter called Mary Chappelhow, who has been throwing pots ‘inspired by colours of the Lake District’ for 16 years and once held the Guinness World Record for the most pots thrown in an hour — 83!

It all started back in the early 1970s, when John and Barbara Dunning, now both in their 80s, were notified that the new M6 was going to slice right through the middle of their 800-acre farm. They decided, ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’.

So they put in a bid to operate a motorway service station. ‘There wasn’t much competition, as no one thought there would be much traffic.’ They opened in 1972 with a little cafe, a couple of fuel pumps and two loos.

‘It’s about as far from farming in a remote area as it could be,’ says John on the programme. ‘It was a risk. A big risk.’

So they kept it simple by serving the same sort of food as Barbara cooked at home, and keeping everything homemade and local.

And that’s how it has continued, first under their guidance and, from 2005, with daughter Sarah — who gave up a career in the City — at the helm.

The lamb comes from a brilliantly bluff, fifth-generation Herdwick farmer called Richard, who has never felt the need for a passport and considers a trip to Preston a bit extreme.

JANE FRYER: A show about an M6 service station has trounced Wimbledon

It all started back in the early 1970s, when John and Barbara Dunning, now both in their 80s, were notified that the new M6 was going to slice right through the middle of their 800-acre farm. They decided, ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’

JANE FRYER: A show about an M6 service station has trounced Wimbledon

You’ll certainly never find another service station like it — as welcoming, as beautifully designed and as lovingly run with such a loyal staff and such dedicated owners

JANE FRYER: A show about an M6 service station has trounced Wimbledon

Which is a good thing because, the night after episode two was aired — the one that featured a segment on Mary’s mugs — the shelves in the service station were stripped bare of her pots and her online order sheet went bananas

The marmalade is made by a lovely lady called Jane Hasell-McCosh, who lives with her husband in an 18th-century stately home near Penrith and uses a 1680s recipe written by one of her husband’s ancestors. (She also supplies Fortnum & Mason.)

And the beautiful mugs and bowls in the shop are made by a local potter called Mary Chappelhow, who has been throwing pots ‘inspired by colours of the Lake District’ for 16 years and once held the Guinness World Record for the most pots thrown in an hour — 83!

Which is a good thing because, the night after episode two was aired — the one that featured a segment on Mary’s mugs — the shelves in the service station were stripped bare of her pots and her online order sheet went bananas.

‘I took as many orders in two days as I usually take in a whole year, so I’ve got my nose to the potter’s wheel making some more,’ she says.

‘Fortunately it’s too hot to sleep at the moment so I’m working round the clock to enjoy my 15 minutes of fame.’

All the staff are.

But in a measured, steady, wonderfully low-key way.

So Dave the butcher is enjoying all those nice comments at the carvery counter and a bit of gentle ribbing in his village.

Patrick the baker is getting used to being stopped in the street (it’s always good to be recognised).

And while Alex the extraordinarily dedicated head buyer would ‘not be able to cope’ with being asked for a selfie, he’s utterly thrilled to be part of it all.

‘It’s just a lovely programme — a happy story about a lovely place that seems to have made people smile.’

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

In fact, come to think of it, if you haven’t booked your staycation yet, I could think of far worse places to spend it than Tebay services.