the story of the service station that could

We’ve all had to stop in them at one time or another, whether it’s to use the loo, stretch your legs on a long journey, or get a bite to eat. We are of course talking about motorway service stations. It’s inevitable that you’ll need to make use of them, but how many of us have wandered in to be greeted with the same mundane, generic services offering the same thing? What’s more, how many of us leave with little or no feeling of satisfaction afterwards? I certainly have! Until, that is, I had the pleasure of experiencing Gloucester services on the Southbound route as I headed for Devon for my latest Devon glamping adventure. Pretty apt that I should stop at a sustainable, eco-friendly service station, right?

A welcome sign outside Gloucester services

I parked up in the car park and was immediately greeted with the sight of something that looked like a hobbit house on steroids! The building was a sight to behold. The roof, covered in grass and solar panels, and the striking brickwork, it was like I was in an episode of George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.


I proceeded to walk in where I was greeted by a completely unique service station experience I’d never had the pleasure of, until now. The interior was airy, full of natural light and I couldn’t see a chain or corporate brand in sight. Nice, I thought!


Instead of burger chains and the like, there was a large table offering locally made farm produce and other wares. To the left and the right of the table was a vast range of freshly made meals – of which there were many options to suit all – the only issue was the menu looked so mouth-watering! I don’t want to influence you by telling you what I ate, but what I did eat was like something from any restaurant you would eat at for an evening meal. The food is locally sourced, produced and served with a smile, all in a modern style seating area with interesting lighting and a serene, picturesque setting of the pond and waterfall located in the outside seating area, through the fully glass-fronted section of the building.

A wide shot of the main Gloucester services building and the car park

So what’s the story behind this innovative style of service station that has caught the attention of many a motorway user, like me?


Originally, Cumbrian farmers John and Barbara Dunning set up Tebay Services in partnership with local bakers when the new M6 cut through the Lune Gorge. These services became and remain the first and only family run motorway service station on the UK road network. Tebay stemmed from being a small 30 seat café offering motorists home cooked, locally sourced food.


Some four decades later the idea has spread down south, with the Dunnings still providing family owned service with the pure passion and pride that they started their journey with -their dedication to their landscape, environment, people, and their products.

The interior of the Gloucester services

An excerpt from their official Gloucester website reveals that ‘Whatever and wherever our businesses are, we think the most important thing about them is that they are rooted in their place. In Cumbria, because of our history, that is a given. But when we started thinking that we might like to create a ‘sister’ service area perhaps elsewhere in the country, we knew that our greatest challenge would be rooting it in its place.


‘With Gloucester, we felt we could do just that for two reasons. Firstly, the opportunity originated in Gloucestershire, from Mark Gale, CEO of Gloucestershire Gateway Trust, who wanted to find a means of creating sustainable income to go back into local communities; and the partnership we have set up with the Trust should do just that – we intend to donate a percentage of our sales each year back into the community.’


The Dunning’s story of the services adds: ‘Secondly, because we are a food business, and Gloucestershire and its surrounding counties are practically unrivalled in the quality and abundance of their food produce, we have been able to put together a fabulous offer which rivals its northern sister.’

Lighting inside Gloucester services

What’s to eat?

The beef and lamb is from surrounding farms, while the chicken and eggs is also from local producers to give the dishes a seasonal influence. Therefore, you won’t get the same things in summer as you will in winter.


The main kitchen offers a range of homemade soups, hot meals, a healthy deli counter and salad bar, meals, along with home baked cakes, perfect to accompany with fair trade tea and coffee or freshly squeezed fruit juice.


The 24-hour daily kitchen, or ‘Quick Kitchen’ offers soups, stews, pies, and salads, as well as hearty sandwiches and cakes and fair trade tea and coffee, all of which you can take away.

The pond and garden area of Gloucester services


Then there’s the Farm Shop!

The Dunning family have identified products from more than 130 local suppliers, all within a 30-mile radius, and a further 70 regional suppliers situated in a 30-50-mile radius from the services. The meat is sourced from the county its located in, and along with the feel of a real market town-style shop, there is a huge range of cheeses, cured meats, fruit and veg, and then there’s the ale and cider to feast upon too!


As advocates of ethical, eco-friendly and sustainable businesses, Gloucester services ties in with our ethos of offering something unique, not just for glamping, but in everything we do. However, do we hope that one day this niche service station will be the norm, how amazing would that be?


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Images courtesy of Philip Halling, neal whitehouse piper, Derek Harper, Roger May, and Rwendland under Creative Commons Licence.

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