I probably do more miles than you on the road, unless you are a bus or truck driver, and even then I’ll still put my numbers up against yours. One of the disadvantages of driving so much is having to rely on Motorway service stations for much of one’s essential business when on the road.
So what makes a good service station?
- Clean toilets – is that too much to ask for?
- Powerful hand-dryers
- Variety of food outlets
- Enough fuel pumps to handle the demand of a busy motorway
- Location – Ideal location is one which you arrive at when fuel tank is empty and my bladder tank is fuel. Usually about 170 miles from home.
- Somewhere to sit outside during a nice spring/summer day
If you have any other suggestions then let me know!
So, my WORST UK Service Stations.
- Keele (M6) Why? I don’t like having to walk through the food bit to get to the toilets. Also, if you want to go to Waitrose and then back to the Shell station, you have to break the law.
- Watford Gap (M1) Desipite some attempt to clean it up, the toilets are often disgusting. It’s always rammed as well and they seem to have new staff at Costa every week meaning long waiting times.
- Washington (A1M) It’s a complete dump with expensive fuel and they might as well not bother with the WH Smith.
- Hamilton (M74) Dirty toilets which like Keele are through the back of the food bit.
- Burton-in-Kendal (M6) Northbound services aren’t the best on the M6 and despite honorable attempts to improve, Burton still makes the list. Don’t stop here, hang on an extra few miles for Tebay Northbound. Don’t drive past Tebay either as then you are left with Southwaite which is also a dump.
And now the BEST UK Service Stations.
This list does change a bit, quite often depending on my route but here is my top 3.
1. Beaconsfield (M40) Accessible from both directions, Beaconsfield is a new player in the service station game. For a while, Oxford was the last chance to fill up before Clackett Lane (now Cobham) so navigationally challenged drivers from the North could often be found driving around West London looking for fuel. Beaconsfield offers the greatest variety of food outlets I’ve ever seen at UK Service Station – McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks, LP4, El Mexicana, Greggs (yes Gregg’s), Carvery Express, MooDog Treateries and Chozen Noodle. How doesn’t want a bit of mexican food washed down with a noodle box followed by a nice cake from Gregg’s? The Starbucks is 24hours and you can also pop into a decent sized M&S Simply Food or a WH Smith. With the recent news that a Wetherspoons is due to open on site as well, expect popularity of Beaconsfield to rocket. This will be the first pub to open on the Motorway network. With ample parking and a woodland setting away from the bustle of the M40, Beaconsfield is currently the best place to stop for a piss and a burrito in the UK.
2. Tebay Northbound (M6). Always mentioned as “oh yes, Tebay is the best service station”. Well, it’s certainly good and it differs from every other service station in the UK apart from Tebay Southbound. It’s probably the only service station I can remember as a child. There was the cute indoor water feature, the lack of corporate branding etc and it has that national trust feel that a Road Chef on the A1M lacks. It’s actually at a very good spot for piss to miles ratio when driving from THE SOUTH to THE NORTH. The countryside around makes it a nice place for a snooze as well and a gentle stroll to get away from the stresses of the M6 and to take a break from the now seriously dated and overrated Steve Wright show on radio 2. So why isn’t Tebay Northbound number 1 like so many people say it should be? Well, it’s now really busy, the toilets have the truly awful dyson airblades for hand-dryers and they can get occasionally grubby. The food, although good quality, still has a bit of a mass-produced feel and it is seriously expensive. The shop can run out of stuff quicker than a WH Smith at Warwick on the M40. But, it stays in second place because if ever you are driving NORTH and need to stop for a some chicken stuffed with black pudding to take as a gift then there literally is nowhere else on the motorway network where you can do this. A farm shop at a service station? I’ll take that!
3. Wetherby (A1M). A surprise choice I hear you scream. Well, no actually so shut it. The A1M and the M1 have some of the worst services in the country (Woodall on the M1 Southbound is decent though). Wetherby is a relative newcomer to the service station game opening in 2008. It’s quite big as well which always helps. I’ve been here a few times and it’s often full of M62 rugby fans. I’ve always found it to be clean, well stocked and reasonably pleasant. There are some nice seats outside and even some outside catering vans, probably for all the rugby and football fans passing through. There is a decent selection of catering outlets, a favourite of mine being Upper Crust. I like their sandwiches, the ham and mozzarella one is quite nice. Like all decent services it has an M&S simply food as well which is handy if you want a tub of chocolate snacks to eat on the move.
So there is my top 3. A few other positive shouts go to Norton Caynes (M6 Toll) but it lacks variety, Warwick Southbound, Cherwell Valley but NOT Oxford, Oxford’s a complete dump.