The M1 motorway runs north-south for 193 miles between London and Leeds. For many families, the M1 motorway is the immediate escape route from London to some of the UK’s most beautiful countryside. The Peak District is accessible directly from the M1 motorway ‘s northern end as well as it being the starting point for many adventure further afield to the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and Moors, Northumberland and even Bonny Scotland! For those already based in the heart of England, the M1 motorway provides a direct link to all that London has to offer.
Service stations are not brilliant for families – they are busy, hazardous and often expensive. Also, when you are travelling with kids it is nice to give everyone time to stretch their legs, so why not take your journey nice and slow and stop off somewhere beautiful, historic or just a bit pleasanter than the usual motorway service station? Here are some suggestions for alternative service station stops for those travelling with children on the M1 motorway.
Most of the M1 motorway service station alternative suggestions are just a short drive from a major motorway junction. A few of them (Bosworth Battlefield, Sherwood Forest, Chatsworth House) are a little further than would normally be included but are in the list as they are such iconic destinations in their own right they are worth a long deviation from the M1.
N.B. This post is not updated regularly so please remember to check out the website of each destination before you go there for latest opening times, directions and prices. If you spot something out-of-date with the information below, please post a comment so I can update it for others.
1) Dunstable Downs, Chiltern Gateway Centre and Whipsnade Estate – located 6.9 miles (13 mins) from M1 motorway Junction 9.
Cost: Free. Parking – £2 at Dunstable Downs.
Facilities: Family friendly walking trails, kite flying, picnic area, cafe, shop, baby changing facilities, pushchair accessible.
Location: Whipsnade Road, Dunstable, LU6 2GY See map.
Perched on the edge of the Chiltern Hills, Dunstable Downs are the highest point in Bedfordshire and a perfect spot to catch the breeze and stretch your legs after being cooped up in your car in the motorway. Run by the National Trust, there’s a cafe and picnic benches for those in need of refreshment, baby changing facilities in the Gateway Centre (check website for opening hours) and plenty of walks to try out, including some suitable for pushchair and wheelchair users. Visit the link above for full information.
2) Willen Lake and Park, Milton Keynes – located 2.1 miles (5 mins) from M1 motorway Junction 14.
Cost: Free. Parking – 80p for 1 hour, £1.20 for 2 hours (see here for charges)
Facilities: children’s play area, cafe, walking and cycling trails, mini railway (weekends only), adventure golf,watersports & aerial rope course (external companies), nature reserve (North Lake).
Willen Lake is a large recreational area for all the family and with many different activities on offer in easy reach of the M1 motorway. North Lake is a dedicated nature reserve, there are plenty of walking and cycling trails, a kids playground, a cafe and even a mini railway at weekends. For those looking to while away more than a quick half hour, there are watersports an aerial ropes course, adventure golf and more. Check out the website for full details of facilities.
3) Coton Manor and gardens – located 8 miles ( 15 mins) from M1 Junction .
Cost: Adults £6, children £2.
Facilities: 10 acres of gardens including bluebell woods, meadows, ornamental birds (including flamingos), pigs and cattle, cafe, shop.
Location: Coton, NN6 8RQ. Click here for detailed directions.
With 10 acres of varied gardens to explore, Coton Manor is perhaps more of an M1 motorway stop-off primarily for the horticultural enthusiast . With a cafe in the coverted stable-block, cattle, pigs, flamingos and other ornamental birds and wildfowl to discover, this is also a nice place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of the M1 and the kids’ legs. The gardeners amongst you will be glad to know there is a nursery here! Please check the official website for Coton Manor before visiting for opening hours as it is closed over the winter.
4) National Space Centre – located 5.4 miles (15 mins) from M1 motorway Junction 21 or 6 miles (13 mins) from M1 motorway Junction 21a).
Cost: Adult £13, Child £11, under 5s free. (n.b. at time of writing one day ticket could be upgraded for free to an annual pass)
Facilities: free parking, baby changing facilities, fee free cash machine,
Location: Exploration Drive, Leicester, LE4 5NS. Visit the National Space Centre website for detailed instructions.
From the UK’s largest domed planitarium to a 42m high rocket tower and a white-knuckle ride space trip simulator, the National Space Centre is well worth a slightly longer deviation and break from the M1 motorway traffic if you have a budding astronaut in the family. Loads of hands-on things to do that will keep the kids talking for the rest of your motorway journey. Closed Mondays outside of school holidays –please check for full details of opening hours.
5) Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre and Country Park – located 12.3 miles (23 mins) from M1 motorway Junction 22 or 16.4 miles (26 mins) from Junction 21.
Cost: Parking is £2.50, free access to the country park, Entry to the exhibition centre – adults £7.95, children £4.75, under 3’s free.
Facilities: exhibition centre, restaurant, gift shop, country park with accessible walking route, baby changing facilities.
Location: Near Market Bosworth,CV13 OAD. Detailed maps and directions can be found here.
OK – this is quite a bit further from the M1 motorway than other service station alternatives listed but Bosworth is one of those places that if you are interested in British History and not often passing this area of the country, could well be worth a detour. The Battle of Bosworth was where Richard III fought and lost the crown in a defining moment of English history and ushering in the start of the Tudor years. At the exhibition centre you can gain a sense of how the battlefield would have been in a series of interactive displays, kids can try on armour and explore the artefacts from the battle. Bosworth also boasts an adjoining country park where you can walk through the now peaceful and lovely countryside that was host to the battle. There are historical reenactments, guided walks and other events from time to time – check the website for Bosworth Battlefield.
6) Attenborough Nature Reserve – located 3.8 miles (9 mins) from M1 motorway Junction 25
Cost: Free. Parking – £1.50 donation
Facilities: Fully accessible visitor centre including lakeside cafe and shop, walking trails, wildlife spotting, ducks to feed!
Location: Barton Lane, Attenborough, Nottingham, NG9 6DY or click here for full directions.
Run by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, Attenborough Nature Reserve is an award winning wildlife centre based in a lovely lakeside location just ten minutes from the M1 motorway. There is so much going on for children and families so its worth checking the website to see if your visit will coincide with one of the many activities. Otherwise, enjoy the beautiful scenery, check out the visitor centre information and displays and grab a coffee and bite to eat at the cafe. A perfect place to escape and reconnect with nature as a family before rejoining the M1 motorway madness.
7) Bolsover Castle – located 2.6 miles (7 mins) from M1 motorway Junction 29a
Cost: Adult £8, Child £4.80, under 5’s are free.
Facilities: Cafe, shop, baby changing facilities, picnic area, exhibition and plenty of running around outdoor space for little ones.
Location: Castle Street, Bolsover, Derbyshire – S44 6PR – click here for full travel directions.
Bolsover Castle is an impressive and romantic building managed by English Heritage just over 5 minutes from the M1 motorway. With its lofty position and great views across the surrounding area, the castle offers plenty of picnic space and the chance for children that have been cooped up in the car to charge about in the grounds with a ball or kite. There is plenty of history too and children can explore the castle’s past at the Discovery Centre, find out more about the English Civil War and even dress up as a cavalier! Please check the website for opening hours as off-season the castle is often shut on weekdays.
8) Chatsworth House – located 16.8 miles (29 mins) from M1 motorway Junction 29
Cost: Adult £19 , Child £13 (other tickets for just the gardens, farmyard and adventure playground available for less). Parking – £3. Or you can park in Pilsley village and enjoy the miles of walks in the estate for free.
Facilities: Historical house, 105 acres of gardens and estate walks, farmyard and adventure playground, cafe, restaurant, farmshop and gift shop.
Location: Chatsworth, Bakewell, DE45 1PP – click here for detailed directions from the M1.
It’s expensive, it’s 30 minutes from the M1 motorway and does not meet the normal criteria for an alternative motorway stop-off. However, Chatsworth, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire, is one of the UK’s most impressive stately homes and many find it worth the extra time out of long journeys. For fans of the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Chatsworth featured as Pemberley as well as starring in several other films and TV programmes. (For P&P fans of the BBC version, you’ll need to travel to the western Peak District to Lyme Hall for filming location of Pemberley and famous Mr. Darcy jumping in lake scenes – that really is too far from the M1 for a stop-off)! There is loads to keep everyone entertained here and worth a longer deviation from your M1 motorway journey. Please check the website for opening times as Chatsworth is closed during the winter season.
9)Sherwood Forest – located 13 miles (25 mins) from both M1 Junction 30 and M1 Junction 29.
Cost: Free. Parking – £3 at weekends and school holidays.
Facilities: Visitor centre, restaurant (also serves snacks), shop, baby changing facilities.
Location: Edwinstowe, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, NG21 9HN – click here for full directions from M1.
Another great part of England’s folkore and history is located under 30 minutes from the M1 motorway near Nottingham. Sherwood Forest will forever be linked with world famous hero and champion of the underdog – Robin Hood although is also an ancient forest with a fascinating history steeped in royalty and nobility of its own. Find out all about the tales and history surrounding the mysterious figure of Robin and Maid Marion under the very old greenwood trees of the forest. There are plenty of walking and cycling routes to explore and a visitors centre with refreshment options available to recharge before rejoining the M1 a couple of junctions further on to continue your journey.
10) Clifton Park and Museum, Rotherham – located 3.8 miles (10 mins) from M1 motorway Junction 33
Cost: Free – both park and museum. Parking – 40p for 1 hour, £1.30 for 3 hours.
Facilities: Museum, adventure playground & skate park (largest free playground in Yorkshire!), water splash, rides, adventure golf, cafe, icecream & burger vans, gardens, accessible toilets.
Location: Clifton Lane, Rotherham, S65 2AA. Click here for a map.
An economical but action-packed service station alternative – all just ten minutes from the busy motorway bustle of the M1 .Clifton Park has everything necessary for a quick child friendly motorway stop-off and also boasts the largest free playground in Yorkshire. Refreshments are available (cafe during museum opening hours) and if it’s a bit wet and drizzly you can find out about the local area in the free museum. There is a free water splash area open on the weekends (currently limited access) with paddling pools and water jets and changing area and if that’s not enough, there are even a few small rides! Check opening hours and visiting information here.
11) Lotherton Hall – located 2.5 miles (5 mins) from M1 Junction 47
Cost: Adult £5, Child £2.50 (parking free with entry or £3.70 for parking alone)
Facilities: Baby changing, adventure playground, cafe, shop, walks and trails, play area, picnic area, bird garden.
Location: Off Collier Lane, Aberford, Leeds, LS25 3EB. Click here for detailed directions from M1.
An Edwardian House with an impressive estate close to the end of the M1 motorway, Lotherton Hall was once home to the Gascoigne family but these days is a great family-friendly attraction. Explore the estate on the many walking trails, including some suitable for pushchairs and look out for the red deer, let the little ones run wild in the playground and visit over 200 species of bird in the bird gardens. There are refreshment options available and plenty to do for everyone. Visit the website for more information and opening hours.
Have you found a great place to stop-off along the M1 motorway or have you visited one of the above places? Let us know how how you got on and leave a comment. For more tips on travelling on long car journeys with young children, read this post.