On The Road: How to get your kicks at a service station on the M6

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The Independent Travel

I've seen the future of motorway service stations. It's located at junction 38 of the M6, has its own butcher's counter and a play area to ensure even a fractious four-year-old runs out of steam before the journey home.

Better still, it acts as a gateway to thousand-acre-sky countryside of northern and eastern Cumbria – the less crowded but equally delightful alternative to the heaving heart of the Lake District National Park this summer.

I didn't believe it either at first. I mean, a service station whose name is whispered in reverential tones? A place described as "the Keira Knightley of service stations" by author and fell-walking regular Stuart Maconie?

Come on. You're pulling my Little Chef. But then I arrived at Tebay, astride the M6 near Penrith.

It is family-owned and one of only two independent service stations in the UK (the other is in Scotland, since you ask).

For a guidebook writer with a looming deadline and a discerning-critic toddler as co-pilot, pulling off the M6 that fine morning was a family-travel eureka moment, much as the Lakeland fells inspired Wainwright and a bunch of daffs did it for Wordsworth.

Tebay covers all the bases for a sanity-saving family stop: healthy lunches for kids, separate kids' bathrooms with low sinks, a fauna-themed play zone and a delicious roast of the day.

No soggy chips and cardboard bacon here – the beef and lamb come from the adjoining farm. I tucked into Cumberland sausage and browsed farmhouse cheeses in the shop, while little one clambered over the slides and fed the ducks outside. It had to be the least stressful and most satisfying start to a Lakeland odyssey.

In fact, I was such a convert that I stopped on the way back too. We grabbed Galloway beef burgers and locally made ice creams from the outdoor kiosk, then perched on stone seats in the sun-dappled grounds and soaked up the views, while at that very moment service stations across the country were a summer-holidaying frenzy of teething toddlers, ram-jammed car parks and lukewarm coffee.

Footprint's Lake District with Kids by David Atkinson ( www.atkinsondavid.co.uk) is out now (£13.99)