Recent months have seen numerous visits to these fine establishments on our motorways.  More travel and a need to take more breaks when driving have seen to that.

Now I’m not naive enough to expect fine dining and bargain prices but these places aren’t exactly a joyous oasis for the traveller.

It all starts well.  Signs saying “Services 1m and 30m” give you a decent idea as to whether you should stop now or in half an hour.  A little bit of thought and notice to aid the driver in making an informed choice.

As you exit the motorway in the dark hours and move on to the slip road the fun begins.  First of all the speed limit drops immediately to 20mph.  No warning!  Then the ridiculously sharp bend to the left awaits the tired driver.  0.3 seconds later a tired faded painted word “CARS” with a barely distinguishable arrow stares up from the tarmac.  Was it left or right?  A barely lit sign immediately lists options for coaches, lorries, caravans, motorbikes and eventually cars.  No time to note and assess.  Just swerve sharply right and pray!

Assuming it’s not busy you’re now in the car park and wondering where the hell the front door of the multi-sided facade of the building is.  While trying to find it you realise you’re driving the wrong way around a one-way car park.  But not to worry, everybody else is too!  You park up.  And realise you’re in the hotel only parking zone.  Let’s go round again.  And park again.

Because they’ve not bothered with any thoughts for the pedestrian, you’re now playing dodge the tired motorist as you head to the front door.  If you succeed with this game you’re in!  Toilet, food or WH Smith!  The latter is quickly discounted for charging £1.60 for a standard bar of Dairy Milk.  Two for £3.00 isn’t going to swing it!

Toilets next.  A glimpse up for the signs.  What do you mean I’ve got to walk up a set of stairs for a Jimmy riddle?  That’s insane!  Legs dancing I waltz past the mobile phone accessory shops that occupy the space where the gents used to be.

Once in place I get to stare at an impudence advert on the wall in front of me.  I could do without this but staring left or right isn’t good form.  By the time I’m done I’ve memorised the bloody phone number!

I wash my hands, seek out the broken hand dryer and head back downstairs.  The Krispy Creme Donuts look good.  Remortgage hotline to the bank closed at 8pm so it’s not going to happen.  I wave my AA card at the overpriced Costa Coffee and get 20% off.  Despite there being nobody else at the counter it somehow takes close to five minutes for a latte to appear.  A rest in a near empty seated zone is welcome.  The inability to connect to wifi isn’t.

And then it’s time to get back on the road.  Another walk across the dark unpavemented car park.  Now to find the exit.  Maybe it’s me, but why are service station car park exit signs so poorly located?  I circle the car park twice and eventually spot a narrow exit sign next to a four foot high kerb designed to scrape brand new BMWs.

And now onto the little road that’s going to take me past the petrol station and back onto the motorway!  No!!  For bizarre reasons they’ve designed this place with a two way road.  I’m heading right and a cleaning truck is coming the other way at 3mph.  Get a move on!  Once I’ve negotiated this the road then disappears and becomes free for all on the fuel forecourt.  Forty two shiny pumps available.  Except nobody ever uses these petrol stations because nobody is stupid enough to pay 25p a lite more than they have to!

Another faded exit sign covered in diesel fumes is spotted and the motorway number brings a sigh of relief and allows the foot to hit the floor and the car accelerate to the slip road.  Only to slam the brakes on suddenly because some idiot planner has put a give way sign up around the back of the petrol station to enable traffic from God knows where to have priority.

Eventually an escape to the calmness of the motorway.  Two miles later … average speed check 50mph.  Kill me.

The Giants Causeway