Anyone who has undertaken a long motorway journey will be familiar with the gamble that comes with choosing a service station for a stop.
Will you find yourself in a clean, brightly lit site with all the facilities you need or a grim and gloomy throwback to the 1970s?
As millions more families consider a holiday in the UK this year, new research has set out to find the country’s best and worst motorway service stations to help holidaymakers make the right choice of pitstop.
Using public reviews submitted to a range of online sites the study has ranked more than 100 service stations along 29 motorways, sorting them from best to worst and also highlighting the operators, roads and regions with the best overall records.
The research, commissioned by Brindley Group, used thousands of visitor ratings from Google, TripAdvisor and Motorway Services Online (MSO) to give each service stations an average rating. And while it’s nice to know the best places to stop, perhaps more important is knowing which stations to avoid.
According to the research, Telford services on the M54 is the UK’s worst service station. Despite having a decent range of food and drink outlets the station at junction 4 scored a lowly two out of five, with one motorist warning: “Stay hungry. Stay thirsty. Whatever you do, don’t stop here.”
Also getting a hearty thumbs down from drivers is Heart of Scotland, halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow on the M8. The services at Harthill were criticised for being dirty and expensive, scoring a meagre 2.22 out of five.
Behind it, Birchanger Green on the M11, Bridgwater on the M5 and Bothwell on the M74 all came in for criticism for failings ranging from a lack of amenities and “disgusting” facilities to maze-like road systems.
Thankfully there are some decent places to stop as well. Tebay services, famous for its farm shop and resident ducks came out on top, with an average rating of 4.24. The services’ leafy setting and store offering local meats and cheeses proved popular with motorists, who branded it "first class”.
Second-ranked Beaconsfield also garnered praise for its attractive setting and for a wide range of shops in a clean and welcoming environment. Scoring 4.18 out of five the stop at junction 2 of the M40 was placed just above Gretna services. The station on the M74 close to the England/Scotland border achieved a score of 4.18 thanks to a good selection of shops and good customer service.
Gloucester services on the M5 was ranked fourth while Donington on the M1 and Cairn Lodge on the M74 were tied in fifth with a score of 4.05.
The research found that overall travellers in England’s north east and Northern Ireland were best served, with the average rating for service stations at 3.78 for each area. Those stopping off in the East Midlands, England’s north west and Wales should also find somewhere decent to stop but drivers in the east of England aren’t so lucky, with the region ranked worst overall.
The study also ranked the major service station operators based on the scores for their station, with Tebay operator Westmorland coming out on top with an average score of 4.12. Euro Garages and Extra tied for second place with a score of 3.86 while Welcome Break and Moto, which between them operate 58 stations, were the bottom two at 3.38 and 3.33 respectively.