Whether your car needs fuel or you and your passengers need a pick-me-up, service stations can be a much-needed oasis breaking up the monotony of the motorway desert.
Whether it’s over the Christmas holiday period, when an estimated 12 million vehicles crowd Britain’s roads, according to the AA, or during Easter or summer breaks, many drivers will be ferrying family or friends, and the predictable questions of “When will we be there?” and “Can we stop for something to eat?”, or the more alarming “I need a wee!”, will see them searching for a service station.
But like grumbling about the weather or the price of litre of fuel, motorway service stations seem to attract more than their fair share of criticism.
Some have been accused of levying a ‘snack tax’ by making visitors pay up to three times as much for food and drinks as they would at a supermarket.
So which are the ones worth pulling over for? And which should drivers steer clear of?
The best motorway service stations
If you are looking for a motorway services that even Alan Partridge, the comedy character that’s an aficionado of the stop-offs, would find hard to fault, then why not trust the views of 8,700 fellow motorists?
In October, Transport Focus, an independent watchdog that campaigns for the best deal for passengers and road users, quizzed nearly 9,000 drivers about the standards of England’s service stations.
A total of 112 services were rated by those that have visited. Scores were awarded for food, staffing and – of course – the loos.
Taking top spot was Reading Services Westbound, on the M4 in Berkshire. It achieved a perfect customer satisfaction score of 100 per cent.
In second place was Rivington Services Northbound, on the M61 in Bolton, Lancashire. It also left visitors pleased, and was given a 100 per cent satisfaction rating.
Taking the third step on the podium of service stations is Corley Services Northbound, which serves the M6 in Warwickshire and came away with a 99 per cent rating.
The top 10 services suggests travellers on the M6 and M5 fare best for rest stops, as the majority of rest areas awarded the highest ratings are located on the two motorways.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said visitor surveys are a good way to ensure services maintain good standards: “Ensuring that visitors feel their experience is worth the money paid, that the choice of food is good and the services are welcoming and well-maintained are important areas for motorway service operators to watch.”
10 best service stations in England
- Reading Services Westbound – M4 in Berkshire
- Rivington Services Northbound – M61 in Bolton, Lancashire
- Corley Services Northbound – M6 in Warwickshire
- Gloucester Services Southbound – M5 in Gloucestershire
- Gloucester Services Northbound – M5 in Gloucestershire
- Knutsford Services Southbound – M6 in Cheshire
- Norton Canes Services Southbound – M6 Toll, Staffordshire
- Tebay Services Northbound – M6, Cumbria
- Tebay Services Southbound – M6, Cumbria
- Cobham Services – M25, Surrey
The worst service stations in England
Sometimes it pays to persevere. And when it comes to setting off for a road trip over Christmas, there are some services it would be best to avoid.
At least, that’s the view of the thousands of travellers who rated England’s 112 rest areas for Transport Focus.
In bottom spot came Heston Services Eastbound, which is on the M4 near Heathrow. Visitors gave it an overall satisfaction rating of just 62 per cent, leaving plenty of room for improvement – and drivers wishing they’d gone that bit further before stopping.
Another spot drivers hope they won’t have to return to soon is Stafford Services Southbound, on the M6 in Staffordshire. At least it fared better than Heston, with a score of 70 per cent.
Those heading south west, for the beaches of Bournemouth, Poole and Sandbanks, may wish to steer clear of Rownhams Services Southbound, which is on the M27 in Hampshire. It was give a 75 per cent rating by drivers, and the northbound outlet didn’t fare much better, coming next with a score of 76 per cent.
10 worst motorway services in England
- Heston Services Eastbound – M4, Middlesex
- Stafford Services Southbound – M6, Staffordshire
- Rownhams Services Southbound – M27, Hampshire
- Rownhams Services Northbound – M27, Hampshire
- Toddington Services Southbound – M1, Bedforshire
- Washington Services Northbound – A1(M), Tyne and Wear
- Winchester Services Southbound – M3, Hampshire
- Membury Services Eastbound – M4, Berkshire
- Clacket Lane Services Eastbound – M25, Surrey
- Bridgwater Services – M5, Somerset
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James is a motoring journalist and former magazine editor at BBC Top Gear and Auto Express. He has scooped, reported on and reviewed most new cars of the past 20 years, and currently contributes to the Driving section of The Sunday Times.