If, like me, you've ever travelled with young kids and felt you needed a better, more entertaining, maybe even healthier (!) stop-off than the usual motorway services, then here is an ideal blog post for you!
A fab new guide, 'The Extra Mile' has launched which features glorious and different places to break up your journey across England, Scotland and Wales.
Its co-author Laura Collacott has highlighted some of the most family-friendly motorway alternatives for us. Here's her lovely piece with details at the bottom of how you can get yourself a copy of 'The Extra Mile'. I can't wait to visit some of these gems! Over to Laura...
Going away with the kids can be magical. Getting there? Often less so.
Long drives in a confined space do little for even the most harmonious family dynamics, and the prospect of a limp sandwich and feeble latte at the services offers little reprieve. Enter the Extra Mile, designed to show you unique, independent spots near motorways and arterial routes where you and your brood can revive yourselves. For us, that means excellent food, friendly faces and uplifting scenery within striking distance of a junction.
When the bickering gets too much, try breaking the journey at one of these family-friendly pitstops, and explore a little more of Britain as you go.
Loch Leven’s Larder, M90 (Postcode: KY13 9HD)
The sweeping views alone make a stop at Loch Leven’s Larder worthwhile, but away from the carefully stocked shelves in the food hall and modern café (which uses many of the farm’s own ingredients in its dishes), the 1.5 mile, buggy-friendly path around the fields is ideal for grabbing a breath of fresh air, and the play area is within eye-sight of the café so parents can pep up on hot drinks while little folk let off steam.
Restoration Yard, A68 (Postcode: EH22 1ST)
Just outside Edinburgh, Dalkeith Country Park rambles over 2,000 acres of parkland and has been in the Buccleuch family’s hands for more than 300 years. While adults may be interested to see the graceful palace built in 1711 for the first Duchess of Buccleuch, the whole family will enjoy a stop at the Restoration Yard. Once the rather glamorous stable block, the buildings have been transformed to bring visitors several fantastic eating options, an artisan deli and tasteful homewares shop to browse. Be careful your kids don’t bolt for the eye-widening Fort Douglas Adventure Park when you arrive: wooden fortress is a fantastic place to let them burn off some energy before your onward journey.
Mainstreet Trading Company, A68 (Postcode: TD6 0AT)
When your little people have had enough of the car, make a storytime stop at the Mainstreet Trading Company. It started as a bookshop and has dedicated cushion-filled book burrows beneath the stairs where kids can indulge their imaginations an audiobook. Meanwhile parents can browse the shelves of the deli, sagging under the weight of fantastic local delicacies, or enjoy a strong coffee and slice of the highly regarded Tunisian cake in the cafe.
High Parks, A1 (Postcode: DL8 1TP)
Whisper the words ‘fairy woods’ to your children and you may be relieved of ‘I spy’ duties for a few precious minutes. Found at the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, High Parks has made the most of its beautiful landscape with the addition of an enchanted wood to its child-pleasing array of farm animals, street-scene play area and fort-themed playground. The whole family can enjoy some magic spotting on a meander through the woods before refuelling at the tea toom while drinking in the panoramic vista.
Farmer Copleys, A1 (Postcode: WF7 5AF)
A most-modern farm shop, Farmer Copleys has plenty to divert adults and children. Take a selfie in the giant deckchair, meet the animals close up (the fluffy donkeys are our favourite!) and peep through the window in the shop to see fantastical fudges and jams bubbling away in the Jam Kitchen. When tummies start rumbling, food in the Moo Café is top notch and has enviably low food miles: many of the ingredients come from the fields outside.
Blakeys Bus Cafe, A140 (Postcode: NR14 8AE)
If you have a child who’s transport-mad, you’ll be prepared to drive across East Anglia to have tea in a converted Bristol Lodekka bus. Co-owner Rachael is known locally for her impressive bespoke cakes, which are served here on vintage china at gingham-dressed tables. Children can have a special bus box meal and you can pick up a Blakey’s Bus kids’ book to keep them entertained when you cajole them back into the car.
Crockford Bridge Farm, M25 (Postcode: KT15 2BU)
If the M25 car park is living up to its name, pull into Crockford Bridge Farm. Open from Easter to December, it’s largely an al fresco venue and so best enjoyed on finer days when kids can make the most of the play area. In the PYO fields alongside you can pick anything from asparagus to strawberries, depending on the season, then refresh in the brightly coloured Tea Shack and Ice Cream Parlour. Suppliers are strictly local and the homemade lemonade in summer is just the ticket.
Visit Hillbrush, A303 (Postcode: BA12 6FE)
Bear with us when we say this brush factory in the heart of Wiltshire is a brilliant place for families to break the journey along the A303. Hillbrush has been making brushes in Mere since 1922 but recently opened a café and visitor centre alongside. Little people love the colourful and tactile exhibits in the museum and parents can browse the shop for unique gifts, from shaving kits to hedgehog door stops.
Woods Cafe, A30 (Postcode: PL30 4AL)
Release your little cherubs into Cardinham’s beautiful woodland if they’ve built up a head of steam. There are miles of footpaths to explore, a brand new and absorbing Zog activity trail and an adventure play area to maximise before replenishing energy levels with a hunk of cake at the adorable Woods Café. Food is organic, local and reliably excellent.
Central Cross Cafe, M5 (Postcode: GL52 2DX)
Cheltenham’s Pitville Park has a magnificent adventure play area that’s guaranteed to keep children entertained for hours, if they can drag themselves from the Peacock Palace and petting zoo. When they’re tuckered out, fill up at the award-winning Central Cross Café – found in the old park pavilion – which serves Fairtrade coffee, sandwiches, pastries and cakes. Chairs are slung with blankets so you can enjoy the fresh air even on brisker days.
Hawarden’s Farm Shop, A55 (Postcode: CH5 3FB)
For those feeling cooped up after too long in the car, the nature trail around Hawarden’s 25 acres of fields is a perfect pause when traversing North Wales. Pick up one of two sets of questions (one aimed at under-5s) from the Farm Shop to fully unleash your inner nature lover with a scavenger hunt.
If you’re shorter on time, the traditional wooden play area is just the place to let children loose while you sup on a reviving cup of tea.
Laing’s, M6 (Postcode: CA6 4DS)
Owners George and Judith turned near-disaster to triumph after a bout of foot and mouth devastated their farm in 2001, turning their attention instead to crafting timber buildings. The family business has flourished and today you can ogle the selection of dreamy shepherd’s huts and glamping pods while little people enjoy the equally well-crafted play house, swings and mini tractors in the play area. Food in the café is home-cooked and wholesome, and spare hats, bibs, wipes and sun cream are thoughtfully provided for children, should you need them.
Brockholes, M6 (Postcode: PR5 0AG)
The visitor centre at Brockholes is a wonder, floating improbably on the lake. It’s the centrepiece of the enormous nature reserve – once a quarry – and a haven for birds and wildlife. Tour the accessible paths and hides as a family, spotting local wildlife from otters to roe deer as you go, or head to the huge adventure play area to let your little monkeys swing on the zip wire and in the climbing forest.
'The Extra Mile: Delicious alternatives to motorway services in England, Scotland and Wales' retails at £12.99. To be in with a chance of winning one of five copies, head over to our competition here!