Alternative family friendly motorway stops
Is the thought of a long motorway journey with the kids bringing you out in a rash? They may be a necessary evil (the journey, that is), but you can give the bland service stations a swerve and take a welcome break from the tedium at one of these alternative stop-offs.
Stoke Bruerne, Northamptonshire
The picture-perfect canal town of Stoke Bruerne is a great spot for a breather. Time to spare? The Canal Museum on the Grand Union Canal tells the fascinating story of Britain's historic canals. Enjoy a leisurely lunch at The Waterside Café and watch the boats cruise by.
You'll find a level access from the car park to the canal towpath and toilet facilities, plus ramped access to the museum café and shop.
3.5 miles, 7 min from M1, Junction 15 (Sat Nav postcode: NN12 7SE)
Watford Staircase Flight, Northamptonshire
Opened in 1814 and still going strong, this popular stop is a stone’s throw from Watford Gap Services. Take a calming breath at the Watford Staircase Flight surrounded by lush greenery.
Access from the A5 Watling Street is difficult and not suitable for wheelchairs or prams.
5 miles, 9 min from M1, Junction 18 (Sat Nav postcode: NN6 7UJ)
Foxton Locks, Foxton, Leicestershire (12.4 miles, 19 min from M1, Junction 20)
Foxton Locks- on the Grand Union Canal is one of the UK’s best canal landmarks. Stretch your legs on the sandy towpath. There's a tearoom and a pub close by, should you need refreshments.
Parking is free and there are public toilets in both car parks at the top and bottom of the locks.
12.4 miles, 19 min from M1, Junction 20 (Sat Nav postcode: LE16 7RA)
Bristol Floating Harbour, Somerset
Bristol Floating Docks on the River Avon has something for everyone with galleries, museums and bars a-plenty. The old warehouses are now home to contemporary exhibitions and studios, if art tickles your fancy.
You can walk or take a wheelchair around a complete circuit of a substantial part of the old docks, but see the website for further details.
8.5 miles, 24 min from M5, Junctions 18 and 19 (Sat Nav postcode: LE16 7RA)
Maunsel Locks and Somerset Space Walk, North Newton, Somerset (4.2 miles, 12 min from M5, Junction 24)
The pretty Bridgwater & Taunton Canal has a tea shop next to the narrowboats. If you want to stay longer, there are boat trips departing from the canal centre. It's also a stop on the Somerset Space Walk – a cracking 22km walking route that forms a scale plan of the solar system.
Everyone can enjoy the tranquillity of canal life from the towpath or the waters perspective, with disabled parking and access. Parking is free at the visitor centre and toilets are available for customers at the pub/cafe.
4.2 miles, 12 min from M5, Junction 24 (Sat Nav postcode: TA7 0DA)
Etruria Industrial Museum, Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire
By the Caldon and Trent & Mersey canal, this is the very last steam-powered potters’ mill left in the UK. The interactive exhibition is a fabulous way to teach the kids about Britain's industrial heritage.
The visitor centre has a tearoom, toilets (including disabled toilets), and there's plenty of room for a picnic by the canal. Unfortunately, as the mill is a grade 2 listed Victorian factory building, access to the mill for those with mobility difficulties is limited.
5.2 miles, 10 min from M6, Junction 15 (Sat Nav postcode: ST1 4RB)
Anderton Boat Lift, Northwich, Cheshire
Connecting the River Weaver to the Trent & Mersey Canal, the Anderton Boat Lift, built in 1875, is a whopping 50 feet. There’s a visitor centre, cafe and shop to explore too.
Entry is free, with access for wheelchairs and prams, and baby changing facilities in the toilets.
7.8 miles, 16 min from M6, Junction 19 / M56 Junction 10 (Sat Nav postcode: CW9 5UB)
Lune Aqueduct, Lancaster, Lancashire
The Lune Aqueduct on the Lancaster Canal is an impressive feat of civil engineering which dates back to 1797. It towers above the River Lune and is a lovely place to wildlife-watch. There's a cafe and a pub close-by to rest weary legs and sate growling stomachs.
Pay & Display car park but once parked everything is free. There are no toilets on site.
1.3 miles, 5 min from M6, Junction 34 (Sat Nav postcode: LA1 2TJ)
Lee Valley Park, Waltham Abbey, Essex
The Lee Valley Park is a huge green space along the River Lee, which runs from Ware, Hertfordshire, right to the River Thames at East India Dock Basin. There's also Lee Valley Park Farm, where you can see meerkats alongside more conventional farm animals.
All of Lee Valley Regional Park’s venues have disabled access and surfaced pathways for wheelchairs and prams. Lee Valley Park Farm contains the Bumblebee cafe, toilets and a gift shop on site. Standard entry is £9. Under-2s and carers go free.
5.9 miles, 15 min from M25, Junction 26 (Sat Nav postcode: EN9 1RD)
Five minutes from the M40, Oxford Canal is a lovely place for a stroll. There's also Tooley's Boatyard and the Banbury Museum, where you can entertain the kids with interactive exhibitions.
There are various places to park along the canal but no parking at the boatyard. Admission to Banbury Museum is free with lift access to all floors. There are also baby changing facilities on all floors of the museum.
1.4 miles, 5 min from M40, Junction 11 (Sat Nav postcode: OX16 2PG)
Hatton Lock Flight, Hatton, Warwickshire
The Grand Union Canal is a steep flight with a whopping 21 locks. From Hatton Locks Cafe, you can watch the narrowboats go up and down. A little jaunt around this historical site will take you to the Maintenance Yard and Asylum Wharf.
Pay & Display car park but no charge to the locks. Toilets are available at Hatton Locks Cafe.
4 miles, 8 min from M40, Junction 15 (Sat Nav postcode: CV35 7JL)
Tardebigge Lock Flight, Tardebigge, Worcestershire
Drive ten minutes from the M42 and you'll be in rural Worcester. The Worcester & Birmingham Canal has the UK's longest lock and is a great place to stretch your legs. Tardebigge Engine House is now a restaurant if you want a tasty sit-down meal.
Disabled access and toilets available. There is on-site parking and pets (including guide dogs) are welcome.
4 miles, 9 min from M42, Junction 1 (Sat Nav postcode: B60 3HD)
National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire
This is one whole minute off the M53 on the Shropshire Union Canal. It's also a weather-proof collection of narrow boats, barges and icebreakers all housed inside Victorian buildings.
Open 10am – 5pm every day. Admission fees start at £6 and under-5s go free. You'll find lots of free parking with disabled spaces., and the towpath along the canal runs right up to the museum.
0.5 miles, 1 min from M53, Junction 9 (Sat Nav postcode: CH65 4FW)
Daisy Nook Country Park, Failsworth, Greater Manchester
The Rochdale Canal, which runs through 40 hectares of country park, is within spitting distance of the M60. There are picnic sites for a spot of alfresco lunch alongside woodland, wildflower meadows and walking paths to explore. It also boasts a café, toilets, playground and a barge-themed sand pit.
There's plenty of parking available and disabled access.
2.3 miles, 7 min from M60, Junction 22 (Sat Nav postcode: M35 9WJ)
Standedge Tunnel, Marsden, Yorkshire
Opened in 1811, the Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is the longest, deepest and highest canal tunnel in the country. It can, if you have time and are so inclined, be explored by glass-bottomed boat. There’s a visitor centre by the entrance and a café offering snacks and drinks.
The visitor centre and cafe are open every day with free admission and they're fully accessible for prams and wheelchair users. The official car park is at Marsden train station which is a 15 minute towpath walk from the visitor centre.
8.2 miles, 19 min from M62, Junction 23 (Sat Nav postcode: HD7 6NH)
Bingley Five Rise, Bingley, YorkshireA little further out (half an hour from M62) is The Bingley Five Rise staircase on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. It's hugely popular with a cafe and shop onsite.
Entry is free. There is pedestrian access from the street but please note no parking is available.
13.2 miles, 30 min from M62, Junction 26 (Sat Nav postcode: BD16 4DT)
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, North Wales
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal isn’t strictly near a motorway, it's actually on one of Wales' longest (and most spectacular) roads. It's also a world heritage site and well worth visiting if you're in the area.
Open every day 10am – 4pm until October, limited days during winter. On your way, look for the brown signs to avoid narrow and steep routes. Disabled access, toilets and parking available. Trevor Basin Visitor Centre provides a buddy service for visitors who are a little nervous of crossing the aqueduct (this is available for wheelchair users or those who need an arm to lean on).
1.2 miles, 5 min from A5 (Sat Nav postcode: LL20 7Ty=Y)
For details of what to see and where to visit please look at the Canal & River Trust website
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