Welcome to Bolton West Services – unless you're Peter Kay
Aficionados of Britain's stop-start motorways will know the M61 north of Manchester for two reasons.
First, for the Worsley Braided Interchange, whose 17 lanes earn it a place in the Guinness World Records for the most number of parallel carriageways. The second is for Bolton West Services.
Until now the benighted rest stop between Junctions Six and Eight has been branded the country's worst. Leaking roofs, freezing 1970s buildings, surly staff and the unmistakable waft of urine emanating from the crumbling toilets saw it compared to something from the Soviet era.
Its infamy was sealed when local comic Peter Kay filmed a spoof documentary there on a day in the life of harassed service station boss Pearl Harbour as she awaits the arrival of celebrity visitor Bob Carolgees.
This week, however, following a £12.3m facelift, the new owners, Blackburn-based Euro Garages, declared it officially open again under its old name Rivington Services.
For thousands of travellers heading to and from the Lake District or Blackpool this summer, a shiny new Spar shop, Subway, Starbucks and Burger King await.
The Independent can report that the toilets are clean enough for you to eat your £2.99 meal deal straight off the modern slate flooring. New manager Shabbir Bukhat was showing off the site, with its two free cashpoints, baby-changing facilities, multi-faith room and showers. Inside, diners happily munched on Whoppers and knocked back cappuccinos.
"Before, it was very bad," explained Mr Bukhat. "People would drive in, take a look and just drive off again.
"Since we reopened I have received a few cards from the regulars saying, 'Well done and good luck.' "
Mark Goodge, whose website Motorwayservices.info receives 4,000 hits a day, said his online visitors had rated the old Bolton West a miserable one burger on the five-burger scale. "It was like an old transport garage on the side of the road," he said.
Service stations have mirrored our changing perceptions of long-distance car travel, he explained. "In the 1960s they were quite upmarket and seen as destinations in themselves. But with the oil crisis of the 1970s, the cost of motoring went up and they ceased to be seen as glamorous."
Recent years have seen criticism mount over the cost and standard of facilities as roads became more congested and the motorway experience ever more depressing.
But he added: "They are getting better. They are certainly expensive, although that is not always the fault of the operators, who have to pay the Highways Agency for the right to be there and unlike elsewhere in Europe do not receive any public subsidy."
Those stopping at Rivington yesterday tended to welcome the changes. First-time diners Ron and Ruth Bates, en route to their static caravan in the Lakes, were impressed. "It's certainly nice and clean and the staff are very helpful," said Mr Bates. Regular users were more pleased. Lorry driver Mark Sweeney said he always used to cross his legs and hang on until he reached the M62. "It's a lot better and cleaner," he said. "There was a restaurant but you wouldn't have eaten there."
There were some complaints, however. Gemma Webster was among a voluble party of 20 pink-shirted ladies on their way to Blackpool from Sheffield for a hen weekend.
"I like the high ceilings," she said. "But the Spar should sell beer. When you see the Spar sign you expect beer."
1959: First service station opens at Watford Gap, Northants. Food is initially served from sheds until a restaurant opens the following year.
1960: Newport Pagnell near Milton Keynes on the M1 becomes second service station. It is opened under Forte brand.
1974: Hartshead Moor services on the M62 used as makeshift hospital and investigation centre after IRA coach bomb kills 12 and injures 38 army personnel and their families.
1977: Watford Gap becomes a popular meeting place for musicians but is immortalised in song by Roy Harper who wrote: "Watford Gap, Watford Gap / A plate of grease and a load of crap".
1986: Welcome Break brand adopted by Trusthouse Forte. South Mimms becomes first services on the M25 north of London.
1996: Granada buys out Forte Group but is ordered to sell 47 Welcome Break sites by Monopolies ommission.
1998: Roadchef purchases Blue Boar Group and Take A Break for £80m.
2001: Granada sites rebranded Moto, offering customers M&S and Costa brands in its services. Moto is the UK's biggest service station operator.
2008: Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal (who has claimed he was named after a service station) called in to revamp Little Chef.
2009: Bolton West voted Britain's worst motorway service station by users of motorwayservices.info
2011: Tebay services becomes the first to install a charging point for electric cars.
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