Minor British Institutions: Motorway service stations

British motorway service stations have names – Cullompton, Birchanger Green, Charnock Richard – full of the wistful harking back that takes up a lot of our time and tablemats.

The reality is readily explained by their first principle: that they should be a stopping-off place, not a destination. Sensible, really, since speed is the point of motorways, not congestion creation.

Thus the determination, triumphantly accomplished, that we shouldn't be allowed to enjoy ourselves too much. Many will point to the unnaturally bright lighting and otherwise inexplicably narrow range of refreshment; I believe it explains, too, why the loos are so hard to locate, why the hand driers in them are quite so loud, and why the route back to the motorway is so bewilderingly serpentine.

But the British have enjoyed complaining about travel relief facilities back through coaching and pilgrim inns to the very first service stations – the mansiones – set up by the Romans. Next Grumbling Opportunity, 1m and 24m.

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