When you’re tired and hungry after many miles on the road, calling into a service station can provide welcome relief.
But what greets you at those service stations can vary hugely ‒ while some have little more than a loo and a place to grab a sandwich, others offer an enormous range of places to eat, relax and take your mind off the road.
With that in mind, Northgate Vehicle Hire has looked at the facilities of 112 service stations across the UK to find the best ones.
The Cobham service station, which is found between junctions nine and ten on the M25, boasts 13 different food outlets ‒ ranging from McDonalds to Nando’s ‒ as well as a four-star hotel, showers, Wi-Fi and the option to charge your car, if it’s electric.
Not only does it have the largest number of eateries to choose from out of the 112 service stations, but it’s also the easiest location to find a parking spot, with a massive 4,620 parking spaces to choose from.
Be warned, though: if you park for longer than two hours, you’ll have to cough up £30, which is by far the highest charge of any service station in the top ten.
Overall, Cobham was awarded a score of 97.28 out of 100 in the Northgate Vehicle Hire report.
2. Cherwell Valley (M40)
If you turn off at junction 10 on the M40, you’ll find Cherwell Valley service station, which took second spot in the study, with a score of 94.8.
It’s another pitstop with a wide choice of food outlets, with drivers able to choose from 10 different restaurants, including Burger King, Greggs and Upper Crust.
There are more than 2,000 parking spaces for motorists to choose from, with a charge of £15 if you stay longer than two hours, as well as a hotel with a 3.8 rating.
3. South Mimms (M25)
Another top performer on the M25, South Mimms is located at junction 23.
Drivers can choose from just shy of 1,500 parking spots, as well as nine food outlets that include the likes of Harry Ramsden’s and Pizza Express.
With an offer that includes showers, a children’s play area and electric charging points, South Mimm’s notched up a rating of 90.11.
4. Chester (M56)
Chester services can be found at junction 14 on the M56. If you need a longer stop, this is the cheapest service station to make the top 10, with a charge of just £12 if you park for longer than two hours.
With 900 parking spaces on offer, six eateries and a hotel with a 3.5 star rating, it managed a rating of 88.71.
5. Corley (M6)
Very close behind Chester is Corley, which scored 88.53. This service station can be found between junction three and 3a on the M6 and offers drivers 960 spaces to choose from.
There are eight eateries on offer, a picnic area, a dog walking area and showers. Corley also has one of the better service station hotels, with a four-star rating.
The best of the rest
Here are the remaining motorway service stations that made it to top 10, according to the study:
6. Fleet (M3) ‒ 88.38 rating
7. Exeter (M5) ‒ 88.27 rating
8. Wetherby (A1M) ‒ 87.38 rating
9. Norton Canes (M6 toll) ‒ 87.30 rating
10. Leigh Delamere (M4) ‒ 86.96 rating
The report noted that while it didn’t manage any service stations in the top 10, the M11 is a consistently good place to stop for a break, with stations along the road notching an average score of 85, making it the best overall performer.
Doing things differently
While the quality of service stations can vary, many of them are rather similar with a handful of the same franchise fast food outlets, a WHSmith and an arcade.
But some service stations are adopting a different approach. Take Gloucester services as an example: there are no Burger Kings or McDonalds here ‒ instead you get a farm shop selling food that has been produced locally, a butchery with meat reared from the family’s farms, and a kitchen delivering meals produced using local ingredients.
Gloucester services are run by the Westmorland Family, which has also set up the award-winning service station at Tebay on the M6 – there you can find a farm shop, as well as indoor and outdoor play areas for the kids to stretch their legs.
The Westmorland Family have now bought the Cairn Lodge services on the A74(M) in Scotland, so, if you’re driving north of the border and need a break, you can enjoy its artisan approach there, too.
The Cornwall services on the A3 also deserve a mention for taking a fresh approach. With a four-storey purpose-built softplay centre for the kids to let off some steam and 15 climbing walls in its ‘Clip n Climb’ facility, it’s a perfect example of the idea that a quality service station is not just a place to go to the loo and grab a bite to eat, an opportunity to stop and recharge.