It’s not the destination that’s important, it’s where you decide to stop along the way. Clare Kelly on the service stations so good they’re worth travelling for.
Tebay Services, M6
Planning to make a stop in Cumbria? You should, if only to visit The Best Services Ever. Really more of a farm shop than a motorway services – and a particularly good one at that. There’s a 24-hour kitchen with produce grown on their own farm, a shop selling pies, bread, cheese and local crafts. They even have a hotel five minutes’ away. Handy really, because you may well want to stay for breakfast.
And if you ever plan to motor west, the same firm operates Gloucester Services on the M5.
Ace Cafe, North Circular Road
Rockers and “ton-up” boys love it here – bikers on loud, oily and beautiful Nortons, BSAs and Triumphs. But that’s not to say a Polo or Mondeo would get turned away. The Ace was built in 1938 to accommodate the influx of traffic on the new North Circular. Since then, it’s been bombed, moved house and reopened, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the atmosphere, a powerful lure to bikers and classic car fans, expect bangers and mash and mugs of tea. Like green tea? I’d carry on driving if I were you.
The Grade II-listed tower that presides of this services looks like somewhere The Jetsons might park their aerocars, too good for today’s models. Built in 1964, The Pennine Tower was once extremely fancy indeed with smart waitresses serving diners in the sky, admiring views of Lancashire and Morecambe Bay. Sadly the tower is now closed, but it’s a great relic of times when motorway services were a byword for class.
Oxford Services, M40
It is perhaps a little over the top to have your photo taken by a motorway services sign, but that’s how much some people love it here. It has the familiar fast food joints yes, but it looks unlike other services. Plenty of glass, open plan, a decking area by water features. It feels clean. And there’s a Waitrose so you can get something nice for dinner too. Planned to be as sustainable as possible, it resembles a modern amphitheatre and has bagged itself a RIBA award.
RHS Wisley, A3
If you’re heading from London to the South Coast and fancy a pretty pitstop, pull off at junction 10 and follow the signs to the famous RHS Garden Wisley. There’s plenty of parking (and family bays too) and you’re just moments from one of the country’s most celebrated gardens. However, if you’re only passing by, make use of The Coffee Shop and lavatories before heading into the garden centre to get some outdoor inspiration.