How well do you know motorway service stations?

Plan your summer journey with help from Logbook Loans


With the easing of lockdown restrictions, more of us are now making longer car journeys again. We are probably planning ahead a little more than before, including where to stop for breaks during the journey. Is it safe to stop at a motorway service station or should you make alternative plans?

Well rest assured, motorway service stations have introduced a variety of safety measures to protect users from the risks of Covid-19. These include one way systems, contactless payments, free hand sanitiser, and regular cleaning. Like any other enclosed area, you will need to wear a face mask when in a motorway service station.

Motorway service stations are one of the facilities that until now regular travellers have taken for granted. But like so many of our public services, Covid-19 has perhaps made us realise how important they are and how much more difficult long distance journeys would be without them.

So we thought it would be interesting to share with you ten things that you quite probably didn’t know about motorway service stations. See how many of the following questions you can answer!


  • 1 – Which was the first motorway service station in the UK?

The first motorway service station in the UK was Watford Gap. It opened on the same day as the M1 motorway – November 2nd 1959 – as a cafe called The Blue Boar. As well as providing refreshments for weary travellers, the cafe was a popular destination with locals. Interestingly, it is not located near the large town of Watford, but the village of Watford in Northamptonshire. 


  • 2 – How many motorway service stations are there altogether?

There are currently 99 motorway service stations in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with two more expected to open by 2021.


  • 3 – So which motorway service station is currently the newest?

Leeds Skelton Lake. Situated on Junction 45 of the M1, it opened in March 2020 during lockdown.


  • 4 – Which is the best motorway service station in the UK?

According to research last year by Northgate Vehicle Hire, the best motorway service station is Cobham services on the M25. It has 13 different food outlets and over 4000 parking spaces. It also offers wifi, car charging, showers, an arcade and a hotel.


  • 5 – Who actually owns motorway service stations?

Before 1992, the government owned motorway service station land in England. But since then, private developers and operators were given full ownership and responsibility, as was already the case in Scotland and Wales, and later in Northern Ireland. Some of the major UK operators are Moto, Welcome Break, Roadchef and Extra.


  • 6 – Which five facilities must a motorway service station provide?
      • Two hours free parking
      • Free toilets and baby-changing facilities
      • A picnic/children’s play area
      • Hot drinks and snacks
      • Fuel


  • 7 – Do motorway service stations ever close?

No. All British motorway service stations must be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to provide the five facilities listed in question 6. However, the individual stores and franchises within the service station will have varying opening hours, so may be closed at particular times. 


  • 8 – Are motorway service stations allowed to serve alcohol?

Yes. It was not allowed between 1961 and 1994, but motorway service stations are now able to apply for a licence to sell alcohol. However, some licences do not then permit purchasers to consume alcohol on the premises, even outdoors. In 2014, the first full motorway service station pub – a Wetherspoon – opened at Beaconsfield services on the M40. Since then some other service stations have introduced restaurants that also serve alcohol, for example Moto’s Bar and Grill restaurants.


  • 9 – Which motorway service station features a duck pond?

This is Tebay services on the M6, close to the border of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. Run by Westmoreland, it also has a caravan park, farm shop, play area and barbecue area. It was the first motorway service station to achieve a five star rating from Visit England. It also scored five stars in a 2014 Which? survey for toilet cleanliness and food quality.


  • 10 – How do staff get to motorway service stations?

Most motorway service stations have a secret exit, so that staff and emergency services can travel easily between the service area and the local road network. This makes it easier for service stations to recruit local staff, and makes things safer in the event of any kind of emergency. Service station operators are legally required to prevent anybody else from using these exits and they are usually protected by rising bollards or barriers and/or a number plate recording system.


We hope that the above information helps you to plan your journeys and make your summer driving that little bit more interesting. 

Check back here soon for more motoring, lifestyle and financial tips from Logbook Loans.