Surviving the annual road trip
Updated: May 15
With estimates of 18 million people on the UK’s roads over the Christmas and New Year period, visiting family and friends is in danger of becoming more of an ordeal than an opportunity. Getting from A to B is surely a straightforward matter of logistics?
The dictionary defines logistics as ‘the detailed organisation and implementation of a complex operation’ and any family en-route with children, the dog, and the inevitable kitchen sink, will whole-heartedly relate to that description. You are all experienced logistics experts, easily on a par with DPD and Amazon.
Packing the car is a military operation worthy of a medal, finally closing the front door and setting off on time is worthy of a round of incredulous applause and coming to a halt 200 yards down the road because someone has forgotten their mobile phone charger is worthy of a traditional family row. Does that all sound familiar?
Putting these hurdles behind you, it’s time to hit the road. You may well know the route to the in-laws like the back of your hand, but with the roadworks, hold-ups and break-downs that we’ve become resignedly immune to, Sat Nav has become a must-have. That calm voice will come up with directions that are not necessarily always in line with the diversion signs. Factoring in a magical mystery tour may be an enjoyable part of the adventure in the summer but with the shortest day only just ticked off on the calendar, getting to your destination in daylight as quickly and efficiently as intended is sometimes a hard planning act to follow.
If Sat Nav leads you astray, and if you’re brave enough to rediscover some close to extinction map reading skills (you can silence the disbelievers amongst your passengers with the rationale that it’s a generation thing) you might be tempted to confess to the AA Road Atlas – possibly several years and several new roads and new towns out of date – hiding beneath the passenger seat. However, it’s best to keep quiet if a detour that proved to be far-removed from a short-cut, brings you back onto the main road behind the lorry that you were following in the first place. That’s said through first-hand experience gritted teeth.
One of the best ways to cope with a stressful journey is to stop. I don’t mean give up but give in – to a proper break rather than a pitstop. Working some quality time into the schedule means something to look forward to along the way. It doesn’t have to be miles off the beaten track, but it certainly beats the drive-by, drive-through options, and is a break from our enduring love/hate relationship with the institution of the motorway service station.
It’s second nature to recommend pubs and restaurants to all our friends, so now’s the time to start sharing those great stop-off places we’ve found by accident along the way. The places that give motorway service stations more than a run for their money. The places that mean you’ll buy into ‘buy local’ even if you’re just passing through.
Call it favouritism – I’m based in Somerset - but here are some that are a stone’s throw from the main routes into and out of the West Country that claim the credentials of being favourite haunts for locals too.
Call it forward planning – a farm shop road stop isn’t just for Christmas. The Great Staycation road trip needs a break too.
Less than 1 mile from the A303 just outside Ilminster. Don’t be distracted by the drive-through Costa and the Shell service station on the roundabout.
Discover this historic farmstead which has a vision that includes a wonderful café with a terrace, a cottage garden centre, and an interiors barn for some original gifts to arrive with – or to take home for yourself. You might not have time to enjoy the Spa but it’s certainly one to remember.
Just a couple of miles off the A303 at the South Petherton roundabout. Swap the traffic jam for the wild-flower meadows that are an added bonus to the café – and that’s a bonus in itself! Woodland trails and a lake set the scene for weary travellers to take a break. There’s even a florist for fresh-picked flowers from the farm’s garden so no excuse not to arrive with a glorious bunch of flowers for your mother-in-law.
Only half a mile from the same roundabout, Pip's Railway the railway carriage as well as a double-decker bus, this is certainly a different take on a transport café.
Literally just off the A35 near Bridport and another world. If you spot the landmark Colmer’s Hill then you’re there.
As well as the Symondsbury Kitchen café there are some tasty shops too. An animal viewing area for children is the icing on the cake.
By the side of the A35 at Morecombelake on the Devon/Dorset border.
Never mind a room with a view, Felicity’s has a stunning vantage point above the Jurassic Coast. Gorgeous local produce and glorious local scenery will keep you going whatever the traffic is doing.
A 10-minute drive from Junction 30 – the end of the M5 at Exeter – just outside Topsham. This is a great place to take stock and take a break. Darts Farm is a top-notch farm shop with acres of space for children and dogs. There’s a café, fish & chip bar, and the Fired Earth outlet has made its stylish mark in the loos. Give yourself time for some shopping – it’s irresistible.
200 yards off the London-bound side of the A303 near Yeovil. This is a newcomer and the quirky roadside signage, measuring the distance to the turning in the number of fields to go, is a sure sign that someone on board has had first-hand experience of trying to persuade little children that you’re nearly there even if you’re heading home.