Revealed: Britain’s best – and worst – motorway service stations

by Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
19 October 2022 3 min read
Revealed: Britain’s best – and worst – motorway service stations
Photo: Steve Fareham, Geograph Britain and Ireland

It sounds like the subject of an Alan Partridge phone-in on North Norfolk Digital. Once you’ve named your preferred condiment, it’s time to pick your favourite motorway service station. It’s one step up from naming your favourite motorway junction.

To many drivers, stopping at a motorway service station is something to be endured, rather than to be enjoyed. A quick splash ‘n’ dash, avoiding the temptation to spend the equivalent of a small mortgage payment on a sandwich and chocolate bar. Don’t even think about buying fuel, unless you’re prepared to deal with the new millennium equivalent of Dick Turpin.

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There are exceptions. In true Family Fortunes style, if you asked 100 people to name their favourite motorway service stations, two locations would appear at the top of the dot matrix screen: Tebay and Gloucester. Visiting one of three Westmorland service areas – the other is Cairn Lodge in Lanarkshire – is more like spending time at your local farm shop. The trio romped home to victory in the Which? guide to the best and worst motorway service stations.

Gloucester represents “the gold standard of service stations,” while Tebay is a “first-rate, family run rest stop.” Not our words, but the words of the consumer group Which?. In our words, they’re the top of the stops.

The Westmorland services are conspicuous by their absence in the results of the Transport Focus Motorway Service User Survey 2022, published today. It names Rugby services on the M6 as the best in Britain, with a satisfaction score of 100 per cent. Four services scored 99 per cent: Donington Park, Blackburn with Darwen, Strensham North and Medway East.

This is good news for motorway services operator Moto, which runs three of the top five locations (Rugby, Donington Park and Medway East).

Burton-in-Kendal motorway service station
Photo: Bill Boaden, Geograph Britain and Ireland

The picture is less rosy for Welcome Break, which operates the worst motorway service station in the UK, according to 31,204 people who took part in the Transport Focus survey. Hartshead Moor East – described by this website as “literally a transfer from the highlands to the lowlands” – scored 80 per cent in the survey.

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover that Welcome Break runs four of the five motorway service stations at the foot of the table, five of the bottom ten, and 11 of the worst 20. Ouch.

A spokesperson for Welcome Break said: “We are very disappointed with the results from our site at Hartshead Moor East. We have received the detailed comments from Transport Focus and we will be working closely with our teams to address the feedback from the report as well as prioritising the site for future investment.”

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said: “As many people gear up for a half term getaway, motorway services provide a great place to stop and take a break. Many of us, when we think services, think about stopping for a toilet break – it’s reassuring to see that these are consistently highly rated. Our survey shows motorway service operators deliver good overall customer experience and facilities, but visitors don’t always feel they get value for money. Services continue to do a good job of their most important safety function – allowing drivers to rest and relax before getting back on the road.”

Westmorland chose not to take part in the 2022 survey, presumably to give other motorway service stations a chance.

The best motorway service stations 2022

  1. Rugby, M6 (Moto): 100%
  2. Donington Park, M1 (Moto): 99%
  3. Blackburn with Darwen, M65 (Extra): 99%
  4. Strensham North, M5 (Roadchef): 99%
  5. Medway East, M2 (Moto): 99%

The worst motorway service stations 2022

  1. Hartshead Moor East, M62 (Welcome Break): 80%
  2. Lancaster South, M6 (Moto): 83%
  3. Charnock Richard South, M6 (Welcome Break): 83%
  4. Birchanger Green, M11 (Welcome Break): 83%
  5. Warwick South, M40 (Welcome Break): 84%

Best condiment: piccalilli. Best motorway junction: 31 (southbound). Best motorway service station: Gloucester. Name your three of the best.

Read more

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  • Brian Bremer says:

    Recent runs on both M5-6. I rate Gloucesters service areas very highly, there are good eateries, the outside areas are relaxing and cater for the 4 legged members.
    On the M6, Tebay is also still worthy of a good stopover, the only drawback I noticed was acoustics made conversation noisy.

  • Stephen+Pye says:

    Just took a long trip right down the M5 to South Devon. Definitely agree with the comments on Gloucester services fantastic place to call.pricey though. Personally dont like any services where you have to get off the motorway, adds to the journey time especially in summer . Gordano and Exeter two of them. Always call at Taunton Dene found this one to be good. My local services on M61 a good one too. Only my opinion.

  • paul jenkins says:

    blackburn with darwen my favourite but i cannot undersand why charnock richard scored so low i found it ok when i went

  • John Parkinson says:

    Charnock Richard M6 service station (Northbound at least) does the best sausages of all (well browned)

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