Is this the best service station in Britain?


Share post:

Receive free Travel updates

Most motorway services are an uninspiring pitstop of fluorescent lighting, petrol filling stations and fast food. But in Cumbria’s Lake District, Tebay Services is a destination in its own right: more than four million people visit every year. 

The farm shop at Tebay services in Cumbria © Peter Asprey

Opened in 1972 on the northbound carriageway of the M6, Tebay was Britain’s first – and remains one of the only – independently owned, farmer-run services. Set amid the rolling fells of Shap, the building is a world away from traditional boxy, prefabricated motorway stop structures, having been built from local stone and slate. Outside is a lake with resident ducks and swans, and in the car park a coffee truck serving artisan brews. Sarah Dunning, Tebay’s chair and second-generation proprietor, describes it as “an escapist oasis where you can no longer hear the motorway”. On the road to elsewhere, “customers feel like they’ve landed somewhere”. 

c80f39a3 afe8 4e6c 89d9 62749b187bd8
Jams and chutneys come courtesy of Penrith-based Mr Vikki’s © Peter Asprey
da88c022 e634 4654 b5bb 7cfe5ea0fc1c
Pie Mill pies, made with meat from the Tebay farm © Peter Asprey

The mood continues inside: there are no chain outlets here. Instead, travellers refuel on “proper food” – think homemade shepherd’s pie, buns stuffed with locally farmed bacon and Sunday roasts. There’s a butcher’s counter selling whole racks of lamb, Cumbrian-style Camembert at the cheesemongers, and locally sourced cupboard goods including dried spelt pasta, jams and a banana chutney by Penrith-based Mr Vikki’s (excellent slathered on a ham sandwich). The shop also stocks candles (Fellside), hand-carved chopping boards (Hampson Woods) and ceramics from nearby makers. 

The idea for Tebay was born when the Department for Transport announced plans to build the M6 and put a compulsory purchase order on the majority of Dunning’s parents’ farmland. Back then, service stations were all run by oil companies that would bid for ownership of sites: none wanted Tebay. “I imagine they all looked at Shap Fell and thought, ‘This location has no prospects,’” laughs Dunning. “My parents saw an opportunity literally on their doorstep.” After winning the bid to operate on the site they joined forces with Birketts, a local bakery with the necessary hospitality experience, and opened as a refuel site with a small café. 

3cf44a4b 40bd 47ee bc42 013e79571fd9
Tebay chair Sarah Dunning (right) and her sister Jane Lane © Peter Asprey

A southbound site followed in 1992, and today Tebay employs around 400 staff. The remaining farmland, meanwhile, is run by Dunning’s sister Jane, with most of the sheep supplied to Tebay for the café and butcher’s. Sheepskins are turned into rugs and footstools, and sold in the shop. “Most butchers just buy in the cuts they know will sell, but we have to be innovative and make the most of every bit of the animal. The sheepskins are really an emblem of what we’re about,” says Dunning, who sources much of the services’ produce from its onsite garden.

84a0c4d4 15e1 4517 9e82 6d89a9069dfe
Beef joints at the butcher’s counter
1bbf642e c49f 4451 b01c e20a0a29e20c
Tebay’s lifestyle section, stocked with around 80 producers within 30 miles of the station © Peter Asprey

The lifestyle section is stocked with a similar ethos. Tebay works with around 80 producers within 30 miles, offering colourful “Westmorland” socks using wool from the farm’s sheep, bespoke lambswool knits by Harley in Scotland, Anglepoise lamps in limited colourways, and hats and bags by Kendal-based Molly Sellars, who recycles the fabric from abandoned tents.

Travellers tend to dawdle at Tebay. “A lot of people factor us into their journey; they’ll get up early to have a celebratory bacon and egg breakfast here,” says Dunning. “From the beginning, my parents were building a local business, and at the heart of that is people. Tebay is a community. And more than ever, people want to experience that.” Stop by the lake and smell the coffee.

FT Weekend Festival

0c68eae5 f75d 47ab ac3f 1d97bee39b92

FT Weekend Festival returns on Saturday September 2 at Kenwood House Gardens, London. Book your tickets to enjoy a day of debates, tastings, Q&As and more . . . Speakers include Leïla Slimani, Greg James, Rachel Reeves, Jesse Armstrong and many others, plus all your favourite FT writers and editors. Register now at

Source link

Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

Recent posts

Related articles

Sunak’s strategy makes Starmer the real election issue

Receive free Rishi Sunak updatesWe’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Rishi...

Superdry sells south Asian intellectual property in deal with India’s Reliance

Receive free Superdry PLC updatesWe’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Superdry...

Treasury yields fall back from 16-year high after weak US jobs data

Receive free US Treasury bonds updatesWe’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest...

Sunak axes northern leg of HS2 in flurry of ‘radical’ decisions

Rishi Sunak axed the northern leg of the HS2 high-speed rail line to Manchester, promised sweeping education...

Climate change leads homebuyers to seek a place not in the sun

Digital entrepreneur Denys Chalumeau and his wife have just made a permanent move from Aix-en-Provence in southern...

A toxic mix: opioid victims’ $1bn hit from repeat pharma bankruptcy

A little over a year ago, victims of the opioid manufacturer Mallinckrodt were in line for a...

US to offer leniency to companies reporting misdeeds at businesses they buy

Receive free US financial regulation updatesWe’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest...

Japan’s central bank buys $12.7bn of bonds as yields hit highest in a decade

Receive free Japanese government bonds updatesWe’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest...