Royal Oak, Keswick, June 2016

Hooray, hooray, it’s a holi-holiday. Summertime (according to the calendar if not the climate) sees us back in Keswick for a week of walking. We had planned to go to The Wainwright tonight, as we started our holiday here last year, but there were no tables so we were not able to dine (it was 8pm and we were starving).

So instead, we wandered back to the Royal Oak, where we ate a couple of times last year, and also in its previous incarnations. On a warm Saturday evening, it was very busy but they still managed to squeeze us in. It didn’t take long to choose something to eat and drink (did I mention that we were starving?)

To drink, Mrs MOFAD started with a Westons Mortimers Orchard – a standard cider, but refreshing on a warm summer evening.

For me it was a Thwaites Summer Solstice, a cracking summer pale ale, with a refreshing bitterness.

Not too much later, dinner arrived. I’d opted for the half roast chicken, much like at the Potting Shed a couple of weeks ago.

This one was lacking the peri peri sauce, but was still very tasty, perfectly cooked and juicy. Like I said a couple of weeks ago, when it is done well, a simple roast chicken is a wondrous thing. This was that thing. Served with thin cut chips, a simple salad of “leaves” and tomatoes and some coleslaw, this was pretty much perfect.

I say pretty much, because it was served in some kind of seed tray that you’d expect to find down the allotment. What is this obsession with serving food on things that are not plates? We invented plates to eat from. Use them!

To accompany, a Red Pike from Hesket Newmarket brewery – allegedly a red ale, but the least hoppy red ale I think I’ve ever had.

Mrs MOFAD had the seafood linguine, very tasty with lots of garlic.

We stayed for another drink, for me a pint of Tirril Ullswater Blonde which was something I also had last year, a pleasant golden ale.

A cracking Keswick pub, and a MOFAD card was left.

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Tebay Services aka Westmorland Farm Shops, June 2016

The British service station is usually a thing of derision. Not the most inspiring of places to visit. The butt of a million jokes, including this lovely little routine from Bill Bailey:-

“I’m amazed by how compliant people are in this country. They go into service stations – ‘cathedrals of despair’, as I call them – where baseball-capped ghouls of the night lord it over their congealed bean kingdoms, their fried-bread twilights, their neon demi-mondes, tempting you to enter, to become them, undead. “Ooh, beans on toast, £18.95, very reasonable. Oh no, I’m not going to complain. They probably pump them up from London in special tubes.” God, £18.95? If that was the price, for my money, each bean would have to be carried over in a heron’s beak and laid on an orchid and then placed on a very rare train set and carried all the way to my table on the train set and then pinged off by a tiny little rare vole and it rolls onto a beautiful silk leaf and I eat it with a Fabergé egg. Then you’d get your money’s worth.”

Over-priced? Seemingly. Disappointing? Almost always. The same endless selection of shops? Tick. WH Smith, Costa, Starbucks, KFC, McDonalds, maybe an M&S or Waitrose if you’re lucky.

However, there are now at least four alternatives.

Back in 1972, John and Barbara Dunning, local farmers, set up Tebay Services in partnership with local bakers when the M6 cut through the Lune Gorge. It was the first and is still the only family run motorway service station on the UK road network, starting out as a small 30 seat café serving home cooked, locally sourced food.

And they are still there, family owned, still farming, and still with their passion for all things local. In 2004 they opened farm shops on site, with butcher’s counters arriving in 2008.

It is a lovely place to visit, nothing like any other service stations on the network. You can still get everything you would expect, just better. The shop sells the usual range of confectionery, news, drinks etc. But it is also a farm shop, with loads of local ales and ciders, loads of deli style stuff like chutneys, pickles, sauces and breads. And then there are the food counters, local meats, cheeses, pies, quiches, fish, sauces, fruit, veg, olives and even some exotic imports like massive Sicilian lemons.

So if this just happens to be your last stop before arriving at your holiday cottage, you can do a lot of your shopping for your week of self catering holiday ahead. And maybe stock up on a few things to take back home a week later.

You can also get a sandwich, some coffee, or a more substantial meal. And in warmer months (I’m guessing, since we only usually pass this way in June time) there is a little shed outside with a BBQ grill, serving delicious burgers and sausages. The best service station burger ever. And there is also cake, like this delicious lemon drizzle cake.

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So, if you’re heading north on the M6, and you find yourself just past junction 38, you’ll find this little oasis. And it does have its own oasis too, a little lake replete with local birdlife. There’s also a very similar one on the southbound side too.

And now there are 2 sister service stations, in the form of Gloucester Services, just before junction 12 if you’re heading south on M5, or just after if you are northbound. They are doing exactly the same thing as Tebay, supporting local producers and selling great produce.

The only service stations to be MOFAD approved!