Soggy sandwiches, truck fumes and franchised coffee – there’s just so much to love about British service stations. But if you’re looking for somewhere more refreshing to rest-up during your next family trip, here are some of the best motorway stops for families we’ve found.
The Friendly Farmer
Location: A1/A17/A46 Roundabout, Winthorpe, Newark, NG24 2NY.
This great little cafe and shop is ideal if you’re looking for freshly prepared food. Working to the ethos of “Fresh from the farm to the fork,” much of the produce is sourced locally and there are lots of organic options, with items such as sausages, pies, bread and cakes made on site.
The Friendly Farmer is open 8.00am – 5.00pm Monday to Saturday, and 9.00am – 5.00pm Sunday.
Location: 5 miles from the A1/A66 Junction, Richmond, North Yorkshire, DL11 7PN.
A hit with both locals and passing travellers, Mainsgill Farm is one of the biggest farm shops in the North of England. Selling home reared meats and home-baked cakes, the tea room offering a variety of meals and light-bites. There is an outside play area with a zip-wire, swings, climbing frame, sandpit, ride-on tractors and lots of green space, plus visitors are welcome to meet the animal who live on the farm.
Mainsgill Farm is open daily 9.00am-5.00pm.
Clifton Park and Museum
Location: 3.8 miles off Junction 33 on the M1, Clifton Lane, Rotherham, S65 2AA.
Clifton Park offers the largest free play park in Yorkshire, landscaped gardens, a museum, water splash play area, small amusement rides for under 12s, mini golf, and loads more. The Clifton Park Museum has twice been nominated for museum of the year. A selection of freshly made hot food, cakes and snacks can be purchased at the Granary Café. Toilets and baby changing facilities can be found at the museum, and there are further toilets in the Garden House and water splash area. Parking cost between 0.50p and £6.80 depending on the duration of your stay.
Clifton Park is open all day, every day, but please check the website for opening times for the Museum and attractions.
The Lookout Discovery Centre
Location: 3.7 miles from junction 3 off the M3 and 4.1 miles from junction 10 on the M4, Bracknell, Berkshire, RG12 7QW (SatNav coordinates: N51.388 W0.740).
The Lookout Discovery Centre features a hands on science exhibition centre with reasonably priced coffee shop and a great outdoor adventure play area. The play area has two play trail sections, one suitable for children aged between 3 and 6 years old and another for children aged 7 to 11 years old. There is also an all-ability play area for all ages surrounded by tables for picnics. Car parking is £2 per visit for up to four hours, but if you decide to pay to enter the excellent science exhibition centre, this fee will be taken off your ticket price. Entry to the exhibition costs £7.25 for adults, £4.95 for under 16’s, and under fours go free.
The Lookout Discovery Centre is open 10.00am-5.00pm Monday to Sunday.
Location: 4 miles off Junction 6 on the M4, Buckinghamshire, SL2 3TE.
Ever wanted to visit the woods that feature in film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves or Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? Burnham Beeches is a go-to for nearby Pinewood Studios and it isn’t hard to see why. Surrounded by beech and oak trees, there is plenty of open space for children to run around and let off steam during a long journey. There is a buggy-friendly sensory trail, a café, public toilets, and an area that permits BBQs. Located on the Buckinghamshire/Berkshire border close to Slough, this is a great stop for those skipping past London.
Burnham Beeches gates open at 8.00am and close at dusk (4.00pm in winter up to 9.00pm in summer).
Location: From M4 take Junction 23a and follow B4245 to Caldicot.
Travel through time and discover the home of Welsh castle life in this stunning 55 acre setting. Children will love exploring this medieval castle located in the town of Caldicot, Monmouthshire, in southeast Wales. The surrounding country park offers picnic tables and barbeques, a children’s play area, orienteering course, toilets and free parking. Admission to the castle is FREE, except on event days when charges will apply.
The Castle is open 6 days a week from April to September (not Mondays except Bank Holidays). Opening times are 11.00am-4.00pm term time and 11.00am-5.00pm during school holidays (subject to any advertised private events).
The Country Park is always open, but from the end of October until February the main car park and vehicular access is closed from 5.30pm-8.00am.
Woodgate Valley Country Park
Location: Less than 3 miles off Junction 3 on the M5, Bartley Green, Birmingham, B32 3DS.
Comprised of 450 acres of parkland, the Woodgate Valley Country Park is situated in the countryside outside of Birmingham. The café in the visitors centre serves a range of hot and cold snacks, and there are several picnic tables and a play area nearby. For animal lovers, the Woodgate Valley Urban Farm is easily accessible by following a path from the visitors centre. Car parking is free, but there is a £1 per adult for those visiting the urban farm.
Woodgate Valley Country Park is open 9.30am-4.30pm October to March, and 9.30am-6.00pm April to September.
Blaise Castle Estate
Location: Less than 3 miles off Junction 17 on the M5, Lawrence Weston, Bristol, BS10 7QS.
This magnificent estate encompasses 650 acres of Grade II listed parkland in north-west Bristol. There is a very large play area separated into sections for older and younger children, as well as a café, toilets with baby changing facilities and a picnic area that allows raised BBQs. However, many of the nature trails are on rough terrain, so not ideal for buggies. Parking and admission to the estate are free, but access may be restricted on major event days.
Open from 7.30am daily throughout the year, but check website for evening closing times.
Location: Signposted from Junction 7 of the M56 and Junction 19 on the M6, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6QN.
Explore 1,000 acres of beautiful parkland, where herds of Red and Fallow deer roam freely in the wide open spaces. This Nation Trust owned property features shops, a restaurant and an adventure playground for the kids. If you want to extend your visit, for a fee (£27.50 for a family of five) you meet the animals at Tatton Park’s Farm, take a trip around the maze in the Gardens, and delve into the history of The Mansion at Tatton Park. There is a flat-rate £5 car parking fee to cover the cost of conservation.
Tatton Park is open daily from 10.00am-7.00pm (last entry 6pm) during high season and 10.00am- 5pm (last entry 4pm) Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays. Please check website for opening times of shops and attractions.
Brockholes Nature Reserve
Location: Junction 31, M6, Samlesbury, Preston, PR5 0AG.
Owned by the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester & North Merseyside, this rejuvenated quarry has a visitors village complete with restaurant, shops, play area and a welcome centre, plus family-friendly hides and walking trails. The first 20 minutes of parking is free (great if you just need a quick toilet break), with a maximum all day charge of £6.
Visitors Village is open 10.00am-5.00pm from April to October (gates to reserve open 6.00am-9.00pm) and 10.00am-4.00pm November to March (gates to reserve open 6.00am-7.00pm).
The Rheged Centre
Location: one mile north of Junction 38 on the M6, Penrith, Cumbria, CA11 0DQ.
A quirky place to take a break, and somewhere that is perfectly suited for longer stops. Boasting a plethora of awards, the centre is usually a hive of activity. There are three cafes with children’s menus, as well as a food hall that supports more than 50 regional suppliers.
There are also lots of activities for children, but almost all of these carry a small fee. The indoor soft play area is free for babies from 0-12 months, but you can expect to pay up to £5.00 for unlimited play for older kids. For £1.50 children can play in the lovely outdoor play area with mini Roman fort, Celtic roundhouse, giant slide and ramparts. Pottery painting is also available for those who can wait an hour for the paint to dry.
The Rheged Centre is open 10.00am-5.30pm Monday-Sunday.
Location: M6 between Junctions 38 and 39, Penrith, Cumbria, CA10 3SB.
Not many traditional service stations could make it on to our list of top stopping points, but this is one of the best in the country. Set in a picturesque location with lake views, these services feel more like a very large farm shop than a busy pit-stop. Food is on the pricey side but good quality. For
children, the services offer organic baby food, children’s portions and lunchboxes, clean facilities with child-sized toilets and sinks, a family area at Tebay south that includes children’s seating, an indoor play area and a small kitchen with microwave. There is also a duck pond for those in need of some fresh air.
Opening Times: ESSO Filling station – open 24 hours; Quick Kitchen – open 24 hours; Kitchen with free WiFi – 7.15am to 9.00pm; Farm Shop – 7.00am to 10.45pm; Butchers’ Counter – 8.00am to 6.00pm
Kenyon Hall Farm
Location: A579 towards Leigh, Croft, Warrington, WA3 7ED.
Set in 500 acres of Cheshire and Lancashire countryside, this working farm offers a shop, café and plant centre, as well as a pick-your-own, large picnic area and a children’s play area. From August to October you can lose the kids in a Maize Maze contrasted out of the tall stalks of the farm’s maize crop. Subject to availability, there are also toy pedal tractors which can be ridden around an indoor track.
Kenyon Hall Farm and plant centre are open 9.30am-5.30pm Monday to Sunday. The cafe is open 9.30am-4.30pm.
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