The UK’s alternative driving pit stops
No matter the reason we are driving, be it for weekend breaks, commutes to work, or visiting family, when travelling long distances on the UK’s motorways and A roads we will at some point need to pull over and take a break. Of course, the usual procedure would be to grab something to eat or use the facilities at a convenient service station – the best of which we have highlighted here – but sometimes it’s good to mix things up. There are a great number of alternatives to be found just off the motorway, including beautiful parks, charming shops, and picturesque towns. So if you’re looking for a good substitute for service stations, here are some of our favourite alternative UK driving pit stops.
Image credit: Nick Hook Photography
When driving through the South West and looking for somewhere enjoyable to pull over in your Ford vehicle, the unique town of Topsham, just off the M5 in Devon, is an excellent choice. Situated only three miles from Exeter, Topsham has a truly charming West Country feel and it’s not hard to see why it’s so beloved by locals and visitors alike. For drivers looking to take a break from the road, they will find beautiful river walks, wonderful shopping, antiques, and some fantastic restaurants to help recharge before getting back on the motorway. A representative of Love Topsham, a site dedicated to promoting the town and its community, told us more about what visitors can expect to enjoy:
“For a stretch of breath-taking Devon coastline to drive down, look no further than the River Exe estuary. Known for its prized salmon and home to rare birds, you’ll want to keep your binoculars and camera close to hand.
“Situated in a crease along this dramatic coast, Topsham sits at the head of the river that lends the nearby city its name. If you look closely, you’ll notice Dutch-influenced architecture - whispers of Topsham’s illustrious heritage as an ancient trading port. Topsham remains a lively sailing town, bustling with both holiday day-trippers and residents alike.
Image credit: Nick Hook Photography
“With Fore Street full of independent shops, you can easily while the hours away browsing antiquities, art galleries, and homeware shops. There’s a fruit and veg shop with blooms spilling out onto the pavement, a couple of bakeries, and a cheese shop that shouldn’t be missed. This postcard town is a treasure trove stuffed with everything you could ask for, and things you didn’t even know you needed.
“For something a bit more active, hire a bike near the Quay and explore the Exe Estuary Trail and detour to Darts Farm shopping village after working up an appetite exploring the local shops. Topsham is renowned for its food scene and boasts some of the most exquisite food in Devon, from fine dining destinations to authentic BBQ and local beer, and from fish specialists to a Portuguese café.
“Don’t resist it – visit for longer as Topsham has so many wonderful and unique places to stay for a true Devon experience.”
Puxton Park (M5)
If you’re travelling long distances with children in the back of your car, finding a way to release all their pent-up energy can be a challenge. But if you stop off at Puxton Park in Hewish, just half a mile from Junction 21 on the M5, the rest of your journey will surely be a peaceful one. Puxton Park is an all-weather family adventure park, replete with fun experiences. This includes an adventure area, indoor soft play that’s perfect for toddlers, exciting water activities such as bumper boats, an animal zone, falconry and much more! With even a farm shop and restaurant which serves up delicious hot meals, Puxton Park is the perfect M5 respite.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park (M1)
Image credit: Peter Randall-Page
Art lovers will adore Yorkshire Sculpture Park, a contemporary international arts centre just off the M1 that is certainly unique and unlike any pit stop you’ll have frequented before. Populated with some fascinating sculptures across the park, visitors will also be able to enjoy the best views in Yorkshire from the YSP Restaurant, which serves up homemade cakes and Fairtrade coffees, as well as sandwiches and soups, all freshly prepared. You can either eat in or takeaway, making Yorkshire Sculpture Park the perfect pit stop along your road journey.
Regarding this must-visit attraction, Belinda Eldridge, director of development and commerce at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, told us: “Yorkshire Sculpture Park is just one mile from junction 38 of the M1, which makes us the perfect place to take a break during a long journey and stretch your legs. YSP is an art gallery like no other – our artworks punctuate over 500 acres of stunning Yorkshire landscape as well as five indoor galleries.
“Whether you explore over 80 sculptures in the open air or take in one of our world-class temporary exhibitions, enjoy lunch whilst gazing across the collection of Henry Moore bronzes or treat yourself in the gift shop, there’s plenty to reenergize you for the rest of your drive.”
The Bear Trail (M5)
Another fantastic alternative pit stop just off the M5, The Bear Trail in Devon is another family attraction that provides an attractive substitute for a boring service station - as long as you don’t mind getting muddy. The Bear Trail is a family assault course that allows visitors to really get stuck into the great outdoors. Families young and old can traverse muddy bear pits, fly down zip wires, and crawl through tunnels in a fun and challenging day out for all. There is a non-wet option for those that desire it and even a ‘cub’s corner’ for the really little ones in your pack. Once you’ve spent time navigating The Bear Trail, there’s no question regarding a quiet second leg of your road trip.
Barton Grange Garden Centre (M6)
Just a short detour from the M6, Barton Grange Garden Centre in Lancashire is the perfect place to stop along your upcoming road journey. Boasting stunning indoor displays and an all-weather plant area, no matter what time of year you are passing by, Barton Grange Garden Centre is an ideal location to enjoy yourself, pick up an item or two for your garden back at home, and even recharge your reserves with a delicious meal. Speaking to us about the virtues of the attraction, the team at Barton Grange Garden Centre said:
“For those who want to break up long journeys for a few hours, where they can visit the restaurant or café, we are just the place. We are conveniently located along the A6 in rural Lancashire, yet with easy access to two major motorway junctions, we are very handy for those wanting a change of scene and a good cake!
“On a visit, you’d be welcomed by the bloomin’ beautiful Houseplant department! Following the path, you’d reach the Cook Shop and the hidden treasures of Home Decor. Furniture and Leisure, Sundries, the all-weather plant area, and our Gift and Clothing department are just some of the exciting things to see.
“After a good look round and a visit to the restaurant or café for a well-earned cake, you’ll end with a visit to the Farm Shop where you’ll find local foods and unique gifts for the foodie of the family – as you can see there’s so much to discover and you can quite easily spend the whole day here! Our displays at Christmas are definitely worth a visit too! Throughout the year, you’ll find great gift ideas in all areas of the store, so if you are visiting a long-distance relative, it’s the perfect place to pick up a present en route!”
Lifton Farm Shop (A30)
For those looking for a rest from the A30, Lifton Farm Shop is a relaxing spot that makes for yet another perfect alternative pit stop. One of the best farm shops you’ll find, visitors can treat themselves to delicious homemade food in plentiful portions and pick up some wonderful items from the shop itself (which includes a bakery and butcher’s). Growing and producing high-quality products themselves, Lifton Farm Shop is widely recognised for its excellence. If you’ve got a long way to go and don’t want to stock up on shopping, sitting down for a bite to eat at the restaurant (for breakfast, an afternoon picnic, or Sunday roast) is a minimum requirement.