Family and dog watching sunset

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Alternative UK motorway pitstops

As much as we love a good road trip, driving on the motorway almost inevitably means stopping to refuel at another gloomy service station. 

While many of the UK’s motorway pit stops are less than favourable, there are plenty of alternative stops including nature reserves, farm shops, grand stately homes, and even a few castles! 

If you’re prepared to take a small detour from the motorway, you’ll discover some of these remarkable substitutes to the usual British service station. Here are some of our favourites.

Sick and tired of the typical UK service stations?


M1 pitstops

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, M1 - 1.3 miles from motorway

For art enthusiasts, the small detour from the M5 will be well worth the effort for a chance to explore Yorkshire Sculpture Park. 

This international centre for modern and contemporary art provides a unique pit stop, and admission is completely free. Indulge at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park restaurant where you can dine on freshly prepared chef’s specials, regionally-sourced lunches and drinks, all the while overlooking the spectacular grounds. 

Look out for the work of Henry Moore on your motorway pit stop – a great improvement on yet another view of the M1.

  • Use postcode WF4 4JX

Dunstable Downs, M1 – 5 miles from motorway

Dunstable Downs, located in Bedfordshire, England, is a breathtaking area of natural beauty that captivates visitors with its expansive landscapes.

If you’ve been driving for hours and need some fresh air, Dunstable Downs will not disappoint.

Standing proudly as part of the Chiltern Hills, this area is renowned for its sweeping grasslands and panoramic views that stretch across the surrounding countryside.

It costs £3.50 to park and there are toilets available for use. There’s a café too if you need a little pick-me-up, but there’s plenty of grass for a sit-down picnic if you’ve brought your own food.

  • Use postcode LU6 2GY
Child on swing

M4 pitstops

Lydiard Park, Wiltshire, M4 - 5 miles from motorway

Don’t be put off by the slight detour, Lydiard Park is well worth the extra distance. Take Junction 16 on the M4 to get to the historic estate with plenty of parking and spectacular grounds. Access to the tranquil gardens is completely free, however you’ll need to buy tickets to take a peek inside Lydiard House itself.

“With 260 acres of parkland, you can stretch your legs in the fresh air and take in the stunning views of the historic landscape,” said Alice Armstrong, marketing officer at Swindon Borough Council. “Stop for refreshments in the family friendly Forest Café or relax in the atmospheric setting of the Coach House Tea Rooms.

“There is a children’s play area for the little ones and a seasonal park parlour if you fancy a quick ice cream before you continue your journey.”

  • Use postcode SN5 3PA

Tredegar House National Trust, M4 – 2 miles from motorway

Near Newport in Wales, the Tredegar House is great if you’re traveling to or from Wales and need a quiet spot to relax.

This grand mansion, now under the care of the National Trust, boasts a rich tapestry of stories dating back to the 17th century. For those who love looking at plants, flowers and trees, there’s an orchard garden, a cedar garden and an orangery garden. Plus, there’s parkland with extensive lawns, tall woodlands and a lake.

There’s a café if you need a bite to eat and toilets are available right next to the car park. Your furry pal is allowed in too as long as they behave well and are kept out of the lake. 

Access to this National Trust site is free, but you will need to pay for parking unless you’re a member.

  • Use postcode NP10 8YW

M6 pitstops

Barton Grange Garden Centre, Preston, M6 - 1 mile from motorway

Between junctions 32 and 33 on the M6, take a 2 minute detour to Barton Grange Garden Centre. Surrounded by the Lancashire countryside, you’ll soon forget all about the chaos of the motorway. As well as the scent of blooming flowers, you’ll be greeted by not one but two restaurants. The Riverside Cafe serves sandwiches stuffed with delicious local ingredients, soups to warm you up on winter drives and tasty cakes and pastries. For table service and a real escape from your motorway journey, head to the Willow Restaurant. The centre offers free parking and is the ideal stop for anyone travelling north or south.

Spokesperson Kate Ford said: “Apart from just taking the opportunity to visit the garden centre that’s been named best in the UK for the past six years, there are lots of reasons to stop here.

“We have a self-service café and a restaurant so you can choose to have a quick snack or a more leisurely meal. Our café sells takeaway coffees and there’s a farm shop on the way out for grabbing snacks for the journey, or a delicious locally made ice cream. If you need a gift to take to your destination or for loved ones back home, you’ll definitely find something here.”

  • Use postcode PR3 0BT

The Trentham Estate, M6 - 1.5 miles from motorway

Take Junction 15 on the M6 and within a few minutes you’ll find yourself at The Trentham Estate. As well as its award-winning gardens, shopping village, garden centre and numerous restaurants, the estate’s monkey forest is home to 140 free-roaming Barbary macaques. Just five minutes from the motorway, this is well worth the small detour.

“If you’re looking for a short stop on a long journey, then Staffordshire’s Trentham Shopping Village is the perfect alternative to a service station pit stop,” says Amanda Dawson, marketing and promotions manager at The Trentham Estate. “Indulge in a little retail therapy, thanks to over 60 individual shops, with even more to come from summer 2017, plus 17 cafes ranging from ice cream parlours to gourmet pies, and all with al fresco tables available.

"The award-winning Trentham Gardens, part of the 725 acre estate, also provide a chance to really stretch those legs during a break – offering everything from beautiful floral displays to stunning parkland with walks not only through the gardens or woodland, but also around the mile-long lake."

The Trentham Estate is dog friendly, so your beloved pet won’t miss out on the fun. Amanda added: “Dogs are very welcome in the gardens, as long as they are on leads, while several of the cafes are dog-friendly both inside the eateries and on the terraces.”

  • Use postcode ST4 8JG

Kenyon Hall Farm, M6 - 0.8 miles from motorway

Pick your own strawberries, raspberries, sweetcorn, pumpkins and more at Kenyon Hall Farm. Just moments from the M6, this wholesome family farm is the ideal stop for families or anyone wishing to pick their own fresh produce while on their motorway pit stop. Simply pick up a container, pick whatever you like from the farm and take your fruit and veg to the shop to weigh and pay.

Entrance to the farm is free and the farm café serves dishes made from scratch including pies, stews, freshly baked cakes and scones. James at Kenyon Hall Farm said: “Situated on a real working family farm just a mile from the M6 (J22), we’re proud to bring together the best local and artisan produce, serve up delicious home-cooked food and offer a wholesome, fun day out for all the family.”

A recent visitor added: “What a refreshing change to an M6 service station, pull off at Junction 22 and buy your breakfast or lunch at this wonderful farm shop and café instead.”

  • Use postcode WA3 7ED

Brockholes Nature Reserve, Preston, M6 - 1 mile from motorway

Just one mile from the M6, Brockholes Nature Reserve is a 250-acre expanse of woodland, grassland and marshes, perfect for a relaxing pit stop. 

Owned and managed by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, the reserve is home to an abundance of wildlife including kingfishers, deer, and dragonflies. If you’re travelling with children, Brockholes is a fantastic pit stop. 

The restaurant serves up delicious pies, sandwiches and warming Lancashire hot pot, as well as afternoon teas and roasts, so you can store up before the next leg of your journey. There is no entry fee for the reserve but there are parking charges.

  • Use postcode PR5 0AG

A1 pitstops

Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire, A1 - 0.5 miles from motorway

When you’re driving on the motorway, it’s easy to glide past iconic heritage sites. The birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton is just one mile from the A1 between Grantham and Peterborough. A two-minute detour will lead you to Woolsthorpe Manor, a beautiful home with a fascinating history. 

The rural grounds are perfect for enjoying a picnic, alternatively, tuck into a coffee and cake at the National Trust café. There are few pit stops with such a unique history, so be sure to take some time to explore.

  • Use postcode NG33 5PD

Alnwick Castle, A1 – 2 miles from motorway

One of Britain’s most iconic castles, this one might not necessarily be a place to spend a quick visit, but if you’ve got a few hours to spare on your travels we’d thoroughly recommend stopping at Alnwick Castle.

With over 950 years of history, there’s lots to see and do at Alnwick Castle. The castle was even used to film a few Hogwarts scenes in the Harry Potter franchise.

Whether you’re after something light or a big meal, there’s a wide variety of food to choose from to fuel your adventures.

Entrance costs £19.50 for adults and £10.25 for children. Or if you’re with the whole family, it costs £53 for 2 adults and up to 4 children.

  • Use postcode NE66 1NQ
Alnwick castle

A38 pitstops

Trago Mills, Devon and Cornwall, A38 – 1 mile from motorway

There are actually three Trago Mills retail parks across Devon and Cornwall, but two of them are right by the A38. If you’ve never been to one before, Trago Mills is the kind of place where you can literally shop for anything. Parking is free and there are toilets too.

But Trago Mills isn’t just a place to shop.

They’re all surrounded by large areas filled with spots to eat and relax. The one in Newton Abbott, Devon, has plenty of leisure activities and rides for younger ones.

Or if you just fancy a walk around to stretch your legs, there are 12 delightful show gardens which will offer some peace and quiet. The Liskeard branch in Cornwall is surrounded by lovely woodlands and there’s plenty of seating areas if you fancy a picnic.

  • For Newton Abbot, use postcode TQ12 6JD
  • For Liskeard, use postcode PL14 6HY

Lanhydrock National Trust, Cornwall, A38 – 1 mile from motorway

We love a National Trust Estate, and the Lanhydrock country house is a good ‘un.

It’s a magnificent late Victorian country house with lovely gardens, a wooded estate and stunning views. There’s almost 1,000 acres of parkland and woodland to explore. Plus, there’s a few cycle trails too, perfect if you’ve got your bikes with you.

There’s a café situated right next to the car park if you need a quick lunch, a cup of coffee, or a yummy pastry. There’s also a plant centre if you get inspired by your walk around the gardens and want to create your very own garden haven at home. 

Unfortunately parking and entrance isn’t free unless you’re a National Trust Member, so it’s £18 for adults and £9 for children, plus a parking fee.

  • Use postcode PL30 4AB

Best rural motorway service stations

Although there are many fantastic alternative pit stops, there are a handful of service stations offering something more special. These two stops are included in our list because they feel more like rural farm cafes than sterile service stations.

  • Gloucester Services

Between Junctions 11a and 12 of the M5 on the outskirts of Gloucester, this service station is a far cry from the characterless stops we’re used to. With views over the Cotswold countryside, Gloucester Services’ café is truly unique. Its high beamed ceiling and huge open windows create a light and tranquil space for motorists to take a well-deserved rest after a day of driving. Inspired by seasonal ingredients, the café serves tasty soups, sandwiches, delicious cakes and deli treats. Stop in the farm shop to take some fresh produce away with you.

  • Tebay Services, Cumbria

Run by the same family as Gloucester Services, Tebay Services has a similar atmosphere – welcoming, wholesome and cosy. The café has a rural feel, with scents of freshly made soups and tempting baked goods wafting through the building. If you’ve been driving for hours in your lease car, there’s nothing better than being greeted by a warming pie or stew and a comfy seat.

Image credits: Mike Fay, Rach, bigbirdz, Barton Grange Garden Centre