Few feelings beat the thrill of driving, with the music on, with no particular place to go and no particular time to be there.
All that concentration, pedal pushing, enthusiastic singing and steering wheel bongos can make you hungry though.
Thankfully, some bright sparks saw that coming and have endeavoured to make a business out of serving the motorist.
Here we look at 10 of the most iconic restaurants and motorway services to ever grace the roads of Britain.
1 The Ace Café, North Circular Road, London (A406)
One of the best known roadside cafés in Britain, the Ace Café has enjoyed a turbulent history.
Opened in 1938 to serve the truckers using London’s North Circular Road, it was completely destroyed by a bomb in World War One and rebuilt in its current distinctive guise in 1949.
Popularity grew in post-war years with young bikers, known as Rockers, who looked for somewhere they could go to play a jukebox, hang out, feed, drink and hit 100mph on the way.
Sadly the growing desire for cars over bikes and motorists choosing the evolving motorway network over the North Circular took its toll and the café closed in 1969, becoming a tyre fitters.
However, thanks to a campaign to save it, started in 1994 by bike and Rock n Roll enthusiast Mark Wilsmore which won the support of over 25,000 bikers, it fully re-opened in all its fully restored glory in September 2001.
Today it serves as a motoring mecca attracting owners clubs, film crews, enthusiasts and bands for regular meets while bikers, car enthusiasts, tourists and travelling salesmen can all be seen using the café daily.
2 Little Chef, Reading (A329)
Undoubtedly the UK’s best known roadside dining brand, Little Chef owes its being to British caravan manufacturer Sam Alper.
During a transatlantic trade mission, Sam was blown away by the number of busy roadside diners he saw, in temporary structure and caravans, all serving the growing appetite for car travel.
Aware of the growth of the car in Britain, he set about creating his own version for the UK market with the help of caterer Peter Merchant, based on his favourite from across the pond, “The Little Chef Diner” in Leedy, Oklahoma.
Sam’s first Little Chef, a red and white painted cabin with 11 seats and a cheeky chef mascot, opened in Reading in 1958. By 1999, Little Chef had grown to a chain with 439 sites with a UK coverage from Forres in Morayshire to Hayle in Cornwall.
Despite a turbulent journey, brushes with celebrity chefs, and having passed through the hands of no fewer than nine owners, Little Chef still survives today, albeit with a more modest 70 sites, and it remains part of the British motoring psyche.
Most importantly, it still serves iconic dishes like the “Early Starter” all day breakfast and Jubilee Pancake and retains its Chef mascot Charlie on all its branding.
3 The Hyperbolic Paraboloid, Markham Moor (A1)
Lincolnshire architect Sam Scorer was a big fan of concrete and championed it as a construction material of the future.
He experimented with it and was soon seduced by the hyperbolic paraboloid, due to its distinctive Pringle-like shape and its surprising strength, even when built from thin concrete.
In 1961, he designed a petrol station at Markham Moor on the A1, giving it a hyperbolic paraboloid for a roof painted in a crisp white and, in doing so, created possibly the most distinctive landmark on the 400 mile road.
Despite the petrol station closing in the 80s, Scorer’s roof was repurposed with a new roadside restaurant for the Happy Eater chain (later taken over by Little Chef) built underneath it.
In 2004, it was threatened with demolition as part of a junction improvement scheme but, following public outcry, the junction design was amended to save it.
All the publicity generated must have worked and in March 2012 Scorer’s creation became a Grade 2 listed structure.
Sadly, due to National restructuring, the Little Chef had closed a month earlier so sadly an empty building lay under the celebrated structure.
It has since been put on the market in a bid to find a new owner.
4 The Pennine Tower, Forton (M6)
As well as sporting the first ever section of motorway in the UK — the 1958 Preston bypass — the M6 motorway has another celebrity in its midst.
Forton Motorway Services opened in 1964 and was designed to emulate the excitement and glamour that went with this new-fangled, high-speed motorway travel.
The main restaurant was housed in a hexagonal structure at the top of a 20m tower above the rest of the facilities meaning the services could be seen for miles and diners could enjoy views of the countryside and the open road.
There was even a sun terrace on its roof! This not only attracted motorway travellers but also locals wanting to experience 24 hour dining with a view and even The Beatles were known to regularly make the 70 mile journey from Liverpool to enjoy cappuccinos there.
Changes to fire safety laws forced the restaurant’s closure in 1989 and since then the tower top has been closed to the public.
The tower became a Grade 2 listed building on 15th of October 2012, making Forton the only listed motorway service area in the UK.
Today the main services still function and the tower remains a very visible landmark.
5 The UFO, Alconbury (A14)
People must have thought aliens had landed when a UFO appeared in 1990 by the side of the A604 road (now A14) at Alconbury.
However, the flying saucer-shaped structure turned out to be the brainchild of a local businessman to create a space-themed fast food restaurant called “The Megatron”, the spaceship of a fictional Princess Azzara.
When it opened, at a cost of £3.2million, customers ordered from touch-screen consoles, were served by robots or waiting staff in space-age uniforms and dined in a space themed environment.
The whole experience was complimented by laser effects, synchronised with loud music and, on weekends, diners could even meet Princess Azzara, her pet alien Fidjet and Robin the Robot. What was not to like?
By 1993, it had been taken over by McDonald’s, and, although the original interior was ripped out to make way for their standard fayre, that distinctive exterior still ensured it was known affectionately as Spaceship McDonalds.
However, this was not enough to ensure its success and it closed in late 2005. Sadly no replacement buyer was found and it was finally pulled down in June 2008. All that’s left is an empty, ahem, space!
6 The Wansford Knight, Wansford (A1)
Almost 30 years before car-focused roadside hospitality chains were born, one C.G Knight spotted the opportunity to provide a chain of motorist-focused facilities.
In August 1932, he opened his first “Wayside Hostelry” in Coventry, and by 1933, he had created 5 “Knights of the Road”, (Coventry, Hinckley, Leicester, Nottingham and Wansford) on major arterial routes.
Unlike the traditional roadside inn, each Knight was white painted and art deco styled, reflecting the modern, futuristic nature of the private car.
An article in “Motoring Magazine” from 1933 noted that each Knight was equipped with telephone, dining room, lounge with comfy seats, balcony and four bedrooms each with bathroom, balcony and even a garage, while guests could hire pyjamas or night dress. However, despite plans for a large-scale rollout no more were built.
Of the five, Wansford is best known, thanks to a prime site beside the A1. Despite changing hands in 1936, later becoming a Little Chef from the late 70s until 2007 and then lying empty and graffiti covered for about 7 years, the building survived.
Although it never gained listed status, due to key elements of the original design being removed along the way, local architects Harris McCormack spotted its potential and sensitively refurbished it.
Today, renamed “Archaus”, it houses architects Harris McCormack’s headquarters and a motorbike showroom.
7 The Horn, Errol (A90)
Driving along the A90 between Perth and Dundee, you can’t fail to spot The Horn. It’s the café with the giant Friesian Cow on the roof!
Opened in 1975, it replaced a small tartan-shed used by owners, the Farquharson Family, to sell produce from “Horn Farm”, which gave the café its name. Today it retains much of that 1970s charm but, most importantly, a much coveted menu item.
A roll filled with so much bacon it cannot be closed. Nicknamed the “A90 Behemoth” it won the World’s best Bacon Roll” award following a public vote hosted by Technology news website, “The Register”.
It’s not just about bacon though. The rhubarb and apple pies, the ice cream and the Scottish-themed gift shop all further add to its appeal.
The Cow on the roof is a reference to its agricultural roots and also a nod to its former name of “The Horn Milkbar”.
For those who think this quirky place sounds like a must-see, then get in quick. Planning permission has been granted to replace the current facility with a new, larger one more akin to a motorway service station.
Crucially, it will still be run by the same family while, with 24 hour opening, there will be much more opportunity to grab a Behemoth.
8 Llama Karma Kafe, Penrith (A66)
In terms of setting yourself apart from the pack, a roadside cafe in the Lake District that is Llama themed and home to some real live Llamas takes some beating.
Opened in 2008 by the side of the A66 at Penrith, the Llama Karma Kafe describes itself as a “modern building with an eclectic mix of ultra-modern combined with rustic charm, offering local and home produced bistro style foods, the tangy aroma of freshly brewed coffee and a range of animal orientated gifts, toys and Peruvian clothing”.
The idea for the Kafe came from the Owners’ existing Lakeland llama Treks business, after customers suggested they’d love somewhere to come back and see the llamas again.
The building is carefully configured so that the llamas’ daytime paddock is right alongside the Kafe windows so human and llama can observe each other. In 2014 it officially became a zoo!
Those looking for a quick stop can use the takeaway deli, amusingly named “The Deli Llama” while those wanting to stay longer can make use of the B&B, called “The Llama’s Pyjamas”.
All in all a great example of British quirkiness at its finest and a fantastic place to break a journey.
9 Tebay services, Tebay (M6)
The original motorway service areas in Britain celebrated the road and the car and were built with restaurants that offered drivers unparalleled views of them.
Fast forward to 1972, when the M6 was being built through the Lake District, and best practice was to shield services from the road and find sites with amazing views of the Countryside.
Tebay followed this logic and, when the site was released, local farmers, the Dunnings, saw it as a great opportunity to sell local produce so, in partnership with some local bakers, they set up a family run 30 seat café serving home cooked, locally sourced food under the name Westmorland.
Ever since, Westmorland’s approach has been different to their larger competitors.
Tebay remains the only motorway services with a caravan site and, while competitors aimed to address long-standing complaints about quality by introducing high street brands, Westmorland continued to champion the local, introducing farm shops at Tebay.
In 2009 it won Egon Ronay’s British Academy of Gastronomes’ Grand Prix award, thought to be the first time a service station has ever won such a thing.
Today Westmorland is the only family-run motorway services operator in the UK and now operate two more motorway sites, plus a truckstop and the grass-roofed Rheged Centre in Cumbria.
10 Watford Gap Motorway Services (M1)
In November 1959 Britain’s first long-distance section of motorway, the M1, opened. At 62 miles, it was considered long enough to require suitable rest facilities for drivers so the Government identified five sites and invited bids from companies to run them.
Two companies, Forte and Blue Boar, each developed a site and went head to head to open the first motorway service area in the UK.
However, despite both opening, albeit with limited facilities, on the same day as the motorway, it was Blue Boar’s Watford Gap that clinched the crown, offering both food and fuel, compared with fuel only at Forte’s Newport Pagnell site.
The novelty of high speed travel and 24 hour facilities attracted locals and motorists alike, especially the many bands and musical acts who would stop on the way north from London after a gig.
So much so that Jimi Hendrix, on arriving in the UK, was convinced the Blue Boar was a club as he heard so many performers talking about it.
Since then, Watford Gap has inspired a non-complimentary song, courtesy of Roy Harper, and even its own musical to celebrate its 50th birthday.
Today, although largely remodelled, it continues to serve travellers 24 hours a day, although now operated by Roadchef.