Sunday, 9 August 2009

At your service

I'm a service station sceptic. In fact, apart from a brief encounter with a lady interviewee of a certain age in a Little Chef just outside of St Clears (she went on to ply me with homemade marmalade), my experience of motorway services has been limited to soggy sarnies and overpriced coffee. And that isn't my idea of a great start to the trip.
But a trip to Cumbria this week changed my view of the humble motorway service station. Tebay Servcies, located at junction 38 of the M6 near Penrith, is no bog-standard motorway services. Hell, no.
Family-owned Tebay is one of only two independent service stations in the UK (the other is in Scotland, since you ask) and a far cry from your communal-garden Welcome Break. Hence it's hugely popular and a must-stop staging point for many people venturing into the wide-open spaces of northern Cumbria.
Egon Ronay declared Tebay the best services in England in 2000 and, today, approximately 1.6m visitors flock to each of the north and south sites each year. Southbound has been recently refurbished with northbound to follow.
The sprawling site comprises a mid-range hotel (northbound), the decidedly upmarket and local-produce-championing Westmorland Farm Shops (both sides) and dual service stations.
Price wise, it's on a par with typical motorway services (budget £8.50 for the roast of the day, £3.50 for a kids' set meal), but the quality is far superior. The beef and lamb served up at lunch comes from Dunning's Farm, located next to the services.
On a sunny August day, I grabbed a Cumberland sausage sandwich from the outdoors kiosk (above, left), perched on a stone seat in the grounds and took in the views across the Cumbrian Fells.
Tebay can get hugely busy on a summer's day but, reassuringly, many of the people stopping by are actually locals stocking up on fresh produce. Take your iPhone - there's free wifi too.
So make way Moto, give it up Welcome Break. I've seen the future of motorway services and Little Chef it ain't.
Don't believe me? Then take Stuart Maconie's word for it:
"Tebay Services off the M6 is talked of in hushed tones by middle-class drivers from Middle England making the trip north. Not only is the scenery stunning ... but this is the Tuscany, the Waitrose, the Keira Knightley of service stations." (Adventures on the High Teas, Ebury Press, 2009).

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