When motorways were first built back in the 1960s, service stations on the novel new network were an altogether swankier affair, destinations in their own right. The first ones frequently featured smartly dressed stewardesses greeting customers and fine dining restaurants with views over the countryside beyond, or of road for the new sport of traffic-watching. Pauses here were part of the adventure of traveling the country at new, blistering speeds and had high-quality food and ambience to match.
Fast-forward ten years to the 70s though and the glitz of motorway travel was already beginning to fade. Operators began to cut back and, as one historian aptly put it, “the service station became a notorious land of unswept floors, sticky tabletops and congealed food slowly expiring under hot lamps. The awfulness of the service station became part of our national mythology, a metaphor for the general malaise of economic and cultural decline. Our post-imperial, post-industrial identity crisis encapsulated in a gristly Scotch egg.”
Only the Westmorland family stood apart from the pack. In 1972, pragmatic local farmers John and Barbara Dunning set up a small café and petrol station when the M6 cut through their land. What started as a small, 30-seat café serving home-cooked, local food has become the much-celebrated Tebay services, “the closest the motorway network comes to a Harrods food hall”. When they opened Gloucester Services in 2014, the nation rejoiced. This, everyone thought, is the future of motorway services.
When on a recent trip to London we pulled in to Chieveley services for a caffeine pit stop, and found ourselves nursing a £4 drink generously called a latte but really more warm milkshake than coffee, we wondered where it had all gone wrong.
It was a short leap from one disappointing coffee to the mission to map all the lovely farm shops, cafes, pubs and attractions near the motorway, giving travellers like ourselves alternatives to the grim options at the services. Places worth an extra few minutes’ drive.
Welcome to the Extra Mile.