I find myself making the oddest confessions here on Which? Convo. The news that JD Wetherspoon is planning to open a pub on the M40 inspired me to share something you may find shocking – I like service stations.
I have plenty of cherished childhood memories of piling off a coach with my friends on a school trip and invading a service station en masse.
I even have a favourite service station: Thurrock on the M25. I loved playing in the lush, green wilderness around the edge of the car park. The drive into the service station felt like the entrance to Jurassic Park (only with electricity pylons rising majestically from the trees instead of a T-Rex). South Mimms is a close second, with plenty of space to mess about before getting back on the coach.
Do service stations have a bad reputation?
Service stations seem to have a bad reputation these days, often accused of lacking character, only offering over-priced food and drink or generally being unpleasant places to spend time. That seems like a shame to me. When you’re on a long motorway drive, you should be able to look forward to a relaxing break before hitting the road again. It almost seems as if modern service stations add to the stress of a long drive, rather than letting us unwind.
When I was a child I didn’t mind that every service station seemed to have the same combination of shops and food outlets. I was there to run about and buy some sweets with my pocket money after being cooped up in a coach for a few hours. When I started driving myself I realised just how charm-free most services are.
The golden age of motorway service stations
It wasn’t always like this. There once was a golden age of motorway services, when people would plan their Sunday drive to include a leisurely stop at a scenic service area to enjoy a full meal before winding their way home in the afternoon. The building designs were glamorous, the landscaping was picturesque and the customer service was excellent. Or so nostalgia tells us.
Do you think that bringing pubs to motorway services will make them more pleasant to visit? What would your ideal service station be like?