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 and grand stately homes. 

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


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.

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.


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

Between junctions 32 and 33 on the M6, take a 2 minute detour in your new lease 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.”

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.”

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.


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.”

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.”


Best 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 a long distance in your Mercedes lease, 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