I'm looking for advice and suggestions for alternatives to motorways services to provide stopping points on long journeys around England with small children.
The other day we were on 150mile drive with our 3 very small children. As usual we suddenly needed to stop to feed baby, have a wee, let off steam etc.. etc... We happened to be on a cut through from the M3 to M4 and stopped at the Look Out in Bracknell Forest. It was perfect, had everything we needed and allowed the older kids to have a bit of a play before we set off again. It was so much better than our usual stops at Moptorway Services. It got me thinking that there must be lots of really good parks/pubs/playgrounds just off motorways that would make great stops on long journeys.
We do lots of driving around the country to family and friends, so any suggestions off any of England's main motorways would be appreciated.
When we joined the National Trust the woman at the desk suggested we use their properties for breaks on journeys. If you're not paying an entrance fee it's Ok to not stay too long and not see the whole place. We've done it a couple of times.
If you're heading to Cornwall the M5 finishes at Exeter then you pick up the A30. Just after Okehampton, about 15-20 min further down than Exeter Services, is Sourton Cross (pronounced sore-ton). At Sourton cross you can turn off onto the A386 Tavistock road. 2 miles or so along you come to The Highwayman Inn.
The Highwayman is the single weirdest, quirkiest pub I have ever seen. It has a website (search Highwayman Sourton) but it doesn't do it justice. If there was an award for unusual pubs it should win it, except that no one seems to have heard of the place. Well no one except ghosts, it alledgedly hosts whole collections of 'em.
It will only be a good stop off though if your kids are secondary school or older because little ones aren't allowed in most of it, although there is a beer garden with a (predictably quirky) playhouse and things to play on.
You also need to check the opening hours, it's not open all day.
If you want an alternative to bland, flourescent lighting hell, this is certainly that. The Jamaica Inn in Cornwall (off the A30 again) promotes itself on being historic, different and dramatic but frankly it's just another miserable tourist trap. The Highwayman actually IS those things. (Sat Nav: EX20 4HN)
We have stopped in the past at various places en route to Cornwall from London; NT Montacute House is a good one (about 10 mins off the A303) and it doesn't mind if you're not a member if all you're doing is going to the restaurant. ViolaTricolor
Little Chefs are also a favourite andIonlygoforthecherrypancakes: there's one literally at the end of the Blackdown Hills as the A30/3 turns into the dual carriageway section past Exeter airport. It's small, clean and quite happy to provide extra plates so you can divvy up a ginormous breakfast so small people can share.
Though if you're in need of stroooong coffee then don't choose theirs!
There's an app for iphones etc that can link to satnavs and tell you where the nearest places in the AA Food/Pub Guides are, and you have ratings to help you decide how far you might want to drive to somewhere.
moonbells, there are probably others like that <flashes National Trust membership card anyway>. The idea of using their properties instead of services was actually part of the tweedy lady's sales pitch when we joined. She intoned that there would be "nicer loos"