The M4 motorway connects London to South Wales and calls past major cities of Reading, Swindon, Newport and Bristol along the way. Gateway to the south-west, the M4 is the familiar friend (or foe) of the first stage of families heading from the capital for the beaches of Devon & Cornwall or for the beautiful west coast of Wales and the M4 is also familiar to all those who have ‘gone west’ when heading up to London’s bright lights.
Whilst the rush of traffic or nose to nose caravans (depending on your luck) may not seem all that inspiring, the M4 corridor is packed with interesting places to visit, places to wander and historical sites, some of which are close enough to key motorway junctions to make great alternative stops for families than pulling into yet another soulless motorway services.
1) Burnham Beeches located 4 miles (10 mins) from M4 Junction 6
Cost: free; parking £2
Facilities: Public toilets, picnic benches and cafe available.
Location: SL2 3TE. See map.
Home to some of the UK’s remaining ancient woodlands, Burnham Beeches is also close to the more modern M4 motorway and a perfect alternative to the traditional M4 motorway service stop. Picnic beneath the trees, let the kids have a tear about in the meadows or enjoy a short walk on one of the many trails, including both buggy friendly routes and an exciting raised boardwalk.
2) Dinton Pastures, located 3.9 miles (7 mins) from M4 Junction 10.
Cost: Free; Parking £1 for 1 hr, £1.50 for 1-4hrs, £2 for 4hr +
Facilities: Toilet & changing facilities, good cafe, adventure playground, picnic areas, dog friendly.
Location: RG10 0TH. See map.
Dinton Pastures Country Park covers 335 acres and its numerous lakes are home to a multitude of wildfowl. There are plenty of pushchair friendly trails around the park, suiting all time schedules and children will enjoy the adventure playground. You can even hire pedalo and rowing boats in the summer! The Dragonfly Cafe, open from 0830 daily, serves really good homely lunches and cakes. For bird and wildlife enthusiasts there are several bird hides located around the park. A free map of the trails can be picked up from the cafe or you can try Baby Route’s tried and tested Dinton Pastures Loop walk.
3) Snelsmore Common Country Park & Donnington Castle, located 2.2 miles (6 mins) from M4 Junction 13
Cost: Free; free parking;
Facilities: Toilet facilities; picnic and bbq area; dogs welcome but must be kept on a lead during nesting season.
Location: Closest postcode – RG14 3BD See map.
For those looking for something a little wilder, Snelsmore Common Country Park is a 100 hectare site of heath and woodland, located only a short drive from the M4. This is a great stop for those wanting a breath of fresh air and a bit of a walk after the hustle of the M4, with plenty of options to wander through the peace and tranquility of the park. A dedicated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), Snelsmore Common is home to the nationally rare Nightjar as well as many other animals and plants. For those who like walking, there is a pleasant 4.8km circular route starting from Snelsmore car park which passes Donnington Castle – a ruined medieval castle of which the impressive gatehouse still remains standing today. The walk is stile free and although has tricky bits for pushchairs, is manageable with a good all-terrain buggy. The walk also passes the Blackbird pub, which serves food. A really worthwhile alternative to a motorway services stop on the M4. You can read a description of the walk from the AA here.
4) Coate Water Country Park, located 1.7 miles (3 mins) from M4 Junction 15.
Cost: Free, free parking.
Facilities: Toilets, cafe, play area, bird hides, mini golf & pitch & putt, picnic & bbq area, model railway
Location: SN3 6AA, See map.
Located just a hop, skip and a jump from the M4 motorway (or a very short drive!), Coate Water contains a 56 acre reservoir and another smaller lake, as well as a nature reserve and home to deer, foxes and a large heronry. This is a great alternative to a motorway services stop on the M4 as it has loads of facilities for children including a play area and pitch & putt! Those stretching their legs with a pushchair can enjoy the gentle 2.8km walk on level surfaces around the lake – an estimated 45 minutes at a slow pace and perfect before heading back to the traffic of the M4. There are also plenty of other more adventurous and longer routes, with information available at the office in the car park.
5) Lydiard House & Park, located 1.5 miles (4 mins) from M4 Junction 16.
Price: House & garden entry – adult £4.50, child £2.25, under 5’s free. Garden ticket only & family tickets available.
Facilities: Toilets, cafe and tea rooms, children’s trail, childrens playground.
Location: SN5 3PA, See map.
Lydiard House and Park, once home to the Viscounts Bolingbroke, is an impressive Paladian house set in a large estate of formal parkland, lake and pastures. Historians and the curious will enjoy a nosy around the house itself whilst those looking for fresh air and refreshments will find plenty to enjoy outdoors on the many accessible paths through the estate. It’s geared up for children, with a play area, children’s quiz trail through the walled garden and plenty of room to roam. You can even hire a bbq! Just minutes from the M4, this beats motorway services any day and is the perfect choice for a civilised motorway stop. You can see a map Lydiard Park grounds here.
6) Steam Museum of the Great Western, located 3.9 miles ( 9 mins) from M4 Junction 16.
Price: Adults £6.60, children £4.40, under 3’s free. Family tickets available.
Facilities: Toilets, cafe, museum and shop.
Location: SN2 2EY, See map.
If Thomas the Tank Engine and all things railway are more your kids cup of tea and you are up for a slightly longer deviation from the M4, then don’t miss the opportunity to divert from the M4 to the STEAM museum at Swindon. Housed in a grade II listed railway building the museum tells the story of the railway, as well as offering plenty of interactive displays and importantly, displaying the locomotives themselves.
7) Dyrham Park, located 1.4 miles (3 mins) from M4 Junction 18.
Price: Free with National Trust Memberships (or whole property:adult £10.80, child £5.60.Park only prices available.
Facilities: tea room, tea garden, toilets, shop, play area.
Location: SN14 8HY, See map.
Situated down a long grand drive through beautiful parkland, Dyrham Park is a magnificent late 17th century mansion that is worlds away from the roar of the M4 motorway just minutes away and could not be a more idyllic alternative to a motorways services stop. Managed by the National Trust, Dyrham Park offers historical interest, formal gardens and a lovely deer park to roam in where a close quarters sighting of the Dyrham Fallow deer is almost guaranteed and enough to delight most children. Cream teas are on offer at the tea rooms and there is also a gift shop.
8) Caldicot Castle, located 5.4 miles (12 mins) from Junction 23a.
Price: Adults £3.95, Children £2.50. Under 5’s free. Family tickets available.
Facilities: toilets, tea rooms, gift shop, children’s activity centre, giant outdoor games, picnic area & bbq hearths.
Location: NP26 4HU, See map.
Not far from the bridge, in Wales, Caldicot Castle is a great alternative to an M4 motorway services stop for all the family. First built in Norman times and mentioned in the Domesday Book, Caldicot Caslte became a royal medaeival stronghold and later a Victorian family home. Now visitors can explore the castle, listen to its fascinating history on an audio tour or just soak up the beauty and tranquility of its 55 acres of parkland. Tailored to children, Caldicot offers little ones everything from pond dipping to outdoor games and activities. Those seeking refreshments will enjoy the tea rooms or can make use of the picnic areas and bbq hearths.
9) Bryngarw Country Park, located 2.5 miles (7 mins) from M4 Junction 36.
Price: Free, car park £2.50 per vehicle.
Facilities: Toilets, cafe, pre-bookable restaurant, adventure playground, bbq pits & picnic area
Location: CF32 8UU, See map.
Approaching the end of the M4, Bryngarw Country Park offers those seeking to avoid motorway services 113 acres of scenic parkland to explore and is the deserving holder of a Green Flag Award. With plenty of plants and wildlife and everything from wild countryside to formal gardens and tropical plants, children can run off pent up energy along the many trails and walks through the park. There is also a visitor’s centre with information about the park and an adventure playground. There are also plenty of places and options for refreshments.
These are just a small selection of ideas for alternatives to M4 motorway services stops. Please share your tips for great places to visit along the M4 that avoid yet another trip to the motorway services with a comment below. For more tips on travelling on long car journeys with young children, read this post.