Gloucester Services on the M5 is a revelation. I have never enjoyed a stop off on the motorway so much and heartily recommend it to you – its worth planning your journey to stop off there. Before you think I’ve lost my mind I promise you that this is something very, very different than what you would expect.
We’ve all had some terrible experiences on Britain’s motorways – overpriced fuel, food, coffee that seems to be 50% more expensive than in the branches you use in your home town, soggy pasties, miserable staff, terrible service, dirty tables, dirtier loos…. need I go on? When I first went to France and stopped off at one of the aires I realised it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be that way.
I’ve always thought that the further north you travel, the less grim it seems to become. Tebay Services on the M6 has been pioneering for some time. It’s the only privately owned service station in the UK. It was set up by local farming family – John and Barbara Dunning to support the local community.
Now something similar has happened through a partnership between a Gloucestershire Trust and the Dunning Family at the north and southbound Gloucester Services. First impressions are stunning. It’s a modern wooden structure with views over a small pond, lots of glass. From the outside you could think its a new services like many others opening up around the country – an attractive building but nothing more. Thankfully the interior has the appearance of a good quality farm shop. To the right as you enter is a coffee bar selling good coffee and snacks. To the left is a very large shop with a butcher’s counter, a well-stocked cheese counter, all sorts of bread, a deli, wine selection, charcuterie and even some kitchen utensils. Straight ahead is a restaurant with tables of beautifully presented cakes, biscuits, soup, curries, roasts etc leading into a large, spotless and light restaurant overlooking the pond with walking areas and plenty of outside seating. It is well-priced and such a large selection I would travel here to shop regardless of it being a service station – a set of words I never thought I would write.
The prices are not bad for the quality of produce. I bought a small chicken, bacon and chilli pie and two excellent florentines for £4.50. Coffee was competitive with a normal high street Starbucks and much cheaper than a motorway version. And the staff…were friendly, knowledgeable and smiling.
The ethos is writ large above the tills in the store:
“You can’t buy happiness but you can buy local. Our farm shop and kitchen works with over 130 producers within 30 miles of here and a further 70 regional producers from across the South-West.”
I’d shop there just for that statement. Now we need the rest of the country to get on board.