Motorway service stations are horrible places, don’t you think? Nasty food, smelly toilets and rubbish shops. But after visiting Gloucester Services with its Farm Shop on the M5, you might not want to get back on the road…
The UK’s latest motorway service station is located between junctions 11a and 12 on both carriageways of the M5 in Gloucestershire, so if you’re on your way to or from Devon or Cornwall a break here is a must.
It’s a family run business – the owners also built Tebay Services in the early 1970s when the M6 was built through their farm in Cumbria. I’ve not stopped at Tebay, but by all accounts the two service stations share the same ethos.
When you step inside the gents toilet and see a bank of Dyson airblade handryers along the wall, you just know you’re going to love this place. If it hasn’t already, Gloucester Services will surely win the coveted Motorway Service Station Toilet of the Year award.
Don’t expect your usual service station crap here – you will not find McDonalds, KFC or Costa Coffee. Instead the canteen serves hearty and filling hot meals. I had the pie of my dreams – an unbelievably tasty steak and stout pie served with veg, lashings of gravy and thick-cut chips, it was without doubt the best pie I’ve ever tasted. Other options include burger and chips, spaghetti Bolognese and jacket potatoes. It might not win any Michelin stars, but it’s light years better than anywhere else on the motorways. Got a sweet tooth? No problem – there have been excellent cakes on the handful of times I’ve stopped here.
You can choose to eat indoors at a table or in a family booth, or outdoors overlooking landscaped gardens and a lake. The building has a grass covered roof, making it look like the whole service station has been built into a hillside. You would not think you were metres away from the busy M5, as you can’t see the road or the car park from here, just landscaped gardens, trees and the Gloucestershire hills.
The Farm Shop is Gloucester Services’ pièce de résistance. It’s not particularly cheap, but the quality and choice of the offerings are both sky high, with huge meat, fish and cheese counters. There’s plenty of booze too, with ciders and ales that you won’t find elsewhere. If you’re going on a camping or self-catering holiday, it’s well worth stocking up with provisions here.
Sourcing locally produced goods is the name of the game, with 130 suppliers to the Farm Shop being located within 30 miles of the services. Expect to see local artisan breads, Double Gloucester cheese and Bara Brith, the lovely fruitcake from Wales (which is not far away from Gloucester at all). The beef and brie pie I bought from the shop was almost as good as the steak and stout pie I had in the canteen. With food, booze, books, chocolate, clothes and gifts for sale, there’s something for everyone. If only it offered an on-line grocery shopping delivery service! (Actually, I’ve just checked their website at http://www.gloucesterservices.com, and they offer an order and collect service – you pre-order your shopping 24 hours in advance and collect it yourself the next day, although this takes the fun out of visiting yourself.)
As much as I love Cornwall, I was reluctant to leave this place and continue my trip south, although I’ll be back very soon and have already pencilled in a day-out Christmas shopping here.