A wayside inn

If you were travelling in the early 18th century in the American colonies, on the Boston Post Road between Boston and Worcester, you would have been able to stop at the Wayside Inn, where you would have enjoyed good food and a bed for the night. You can still do so today, and indeed the dinner menu contains ‘traditional New England fare’ of an appetising nature. Of course the Wayside Inn may be old in America, but coaching inns were common in Britain and elsewhere in Europe long before the 18th century. One of the oldest surviving ones in England is the George in Southwark, London (formerly The George and Dragon) dating from 1543 and mentioned in one of Dickens’ novels. I don’t think its menu compares favourably with that of the Wayside Inn, but it is good to see the building still in its originally intended use.

Continental Europe has many examples of fine old traditional coaching inns. The Inn Klausenhof for example, near the university town of Göttingen in Germany, once welcomed Goethe and the Grimm brothers.

For many contemporary travellers, however, the wayside options are rather less attractive, at least in these parts. A league table of British motorway services was recently compiled by Transport Focus. Reading Services on the M4 came out on top, with nearby Heston Services recorded as the worst. I cannot provide readers with the menus, but I can tell you that Heston offers you Burger King, Costa and Greggs. If you think Reading Services must therefore by much much better, I’m not so sure. There is an additional El Mexicana, which I’ll guess is a Tex-Mex sort of thing, but overall it’s pretty much the same offering as Heston.

Even in today’s world of fast travellers, it doesn’t have to be like that. In Switzerland, what you might get at the Luzerner Raststätte can be seen here. There are similar rather more attractive roadside places all over continental Europe.

There is an apparent assumption in Britain that the average motorway driver likes deep-fried food and 1970s-era toilets; indeed they may put up with nothing else. And yet even here change is in the air. My favourite, in what is admittedly not a very crowded list, are the Tebay Services in Cumbria. Here you even have a farm shop, and restaurant food that is nutritious and attractive. We cannot yet find the Wayside Inn on the M6, but maybe things will get better.

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6 Comments on “A wayside inn”

  1. Vince Says:

    There is no need what-so-ever for the food, even the fast food, to be so far removed from what a person on a Clapham Omnibus would call food. The sheer level of disrespect they have for the customer, a customer captured by the road design is hard to credit.
    However, I will say I’ve eaten in some Uni café where the ‘food’ comes close to motorway kaff.
    Oddly when I first encountered them I took it as normal, they way of things. But then regularly visiting France and dining in the French version was an utter revelation.
    Ohh, eating the muck at Dublin airport comes close too.

    Has it something to do with the lease the company has to pay that they price at the very lowest they can get away with and still be on the correct side of legal definitions.

    • Actually I don’t think the food in Dublin airport is that bad these days! I quite like Harvest Market in Terminal 2 (which is I believe a Netherlands business) and some of the restaurants in Terminal 1.

  2. Anna Notaro Says:

    I don’t particularly like long journeys by car but the few times I travelled across the length of Italy via “the Autostrada del Sole”, (which translates literally as “the motorway of the sun” – Mussolini’s best legacy ) I have always enjoyed the culinary aspect of the journey, at each stop one could sample the delicatessen of that particular region, and very decent food (and drinks) overall, in fact I think that Italy is one of the few countries where one can get good food without having to leave the road. (More on road food in Italy here http://www.bbc.com/autos/story/20131001-road-food-italy).
    Obviously, the quality of the food one samples at motorways’ stops (the modern equivalent of religious pilgrimages) is telling of the food culture of that particular country, whether it consider food merely as sustenance or instead as one of life’s pleasures.

    • Vince Says:

      The thing is in Ireland the stuff you get in Café on the road system reflect nothing of the quality of the food from the surrounding district. And in general that’s true for Scotland too. But uniquely we have no services on any motorway that I’ve ever seen. Tolls, yes. Fuel, air or water for the safety of the car, no. And no place to rest ones eyes and have a coffee. Yes, you have signs for services but this means leaving the m-way to detour miles out of your way to some petrol station owner by the brother of some politician.

    • This is it exactly. Motorway services in most European countries give you a sense of where you are and how the local food reflects the culture – and indeed that food its something pleasurable and aesthetic. The UK seems to have missed all this – apart from Tebay, which is absolutely worth a visit.

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