TRISH TAKES FIVE: By Trish Burgess
There can’t be many people who take pleasure in stopping at motorway service stations when travelling around the UK. Aquisitions and mergers have meant that only a few companies control our motorway dining habits and, despite their best efforts, in the main they are soulless places, to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Things have improved from years ago when facilities on some motorways were pretty dire. When I was a child we often stopped at a particularly gruesome place, wading through the toilets before quickly returning to our Thermos and sandwiches in the car. Today’s services, with their coffee shops and supermarket outlets, are palaces in comparison. But you wouldn’t make a special effort to visit them...until now.
On New Year’s Day we drove south to take our student son back to university in Exeter. It was a great day to travel as everyone else was still sleeping off the excesses of the previous night. On the M5 we decided to try out Gloucester Services for the first time. What a revelation!
Located on both sides of the M5, between junctions 11a and 12, they serve home-made, locally sourced, seasonal food in spacious, light-filled buildings, tucked seamlessly into the countryside. Surely this is Tellytubbyland, not a service station? I can vouch for the pumpkin, chilli and coconut soup and Dougie recommends the ham hock soup and the steak and venison pie. Our son, Rory, obviously still programmed to eat the usual fast-food fare when travelling, meandered round the different counters selling artisan sandwiches, curries and salads but still couldn’t resist a burger: but this was a burger in a different league. His girlfriend, Juliana, chose a healthy selection of salads before treating herself to macarons from the patisserie.
And it’s not just a cafe. There is an extensive farm shop attached with a butchery and cheese counter. Outside is a pond and a dog-walking area. If I lived near here, this would genuinely be a great afternoon out.
Part of the Westmorland Family, the services have been developed by the Dunning family who first set up Tebay Services in Cumbria in 1972. They are passionate about using local produce and creating a sense of place, just as they did on the M6, linking with their own farm and local bakers. 130 local suppliers (within 30 miles) are benefitting from the Gloucester services: farms are expanding and small food businesses are taking on staff to cope with the increased demand.
The company has also linked up with Gloucestershire Gateway Trust to provide sustainable income for the local communities. Jobs are created for local people and a percentage of sales will be donated back to the area.
What they are doing in Gloucestershire and Cumbria seems such a refreshingly simple idea. When we drive around our own county on smaller roads, we have plenty of farm shops offering local produce to customers. Why should it be any different just because you’re travelling on a motorway?
You can follow Trish on Twitter @mumsgoneto and read her blog at www.mumsgoneto.blogspot.com