Just off the Motorway – Or, Clevedon’t


On the long drive back from Cornwall to Leeds we wanted to stop and have a nice meal somewhere other than a Motorway Service Area. Bristol is a little under half way and I’d been to a lovely wedding in the quaint seaside town of Clevedon so I thought it might be a good place to go.

How wrong! Despite it being a bank holiday Monday and a relatively busy day in Clevedon (the annual flower festival was on), most of the town centre was shut. The seafront looked the best bet as it has quite a few pubs and cafés. OK, so it was a little late for lunch and a bit early for dinner, but I didn’t think it was too unreasonable to expect to be able to find somewhere that would serve up a few sandwiches and a pot of tea.

The first place we went to was the Moon and Sixpence pub. At least the barmaid went to ask the manager if the kitchen was still open and politely, if somewhat oddly, reported back that “we’ve been really busy today what with people wanting meals so we shut the kitchen early”. Never mind. So we walked along a little further to Five The Beach. This looked promising, a modern bistro-ish café with toys at each table and a simple but fresh-sounding menu.

Using our experience at the pub to readjust from either the tourist-friendly approach of Cornwall or our big city ways, I went and asked at the counter if they were still serving baguettes (the chalkboard said they were on until 4pm and it was 3.45pm so better safe than sorry). The waiter went off to the kitchen to check and told us that they didn’t have all the fillings left but would come and take our order.

We sat down. OMB played with the toy at our table long enough to work out that it was missing key parts. Waiting staff bustled in and out of the kitchen taking food and drinks out to tables. The baguettes looked nice. Time ticked on. 20 minutes later, a waitress appeared, made eye contact and gave a vague smile at us. Then she proceeded to clear tables. She went away. She came back with a cloth and wiped down some other tables. A couple of ladies came and sat at the table next to us. The waitress went off and came back with an order pad. Hurrah, food would soon be on the way.

Oh, my mistake. Off she went to take the order of the newcomers. Not a problem in itself, even if mildly annoying to the British sensibilities about the importance of waiting in turn. Then, the dread words. “No, the kitchen stopped serving baguettes five minutes ago”. Even when I then said to her, but your colleague just checked and said it would be OK except no-one ever came to take our order there was no response. Just five lost covers for the café and probably a fiver in tips to her.

We gave up and got back in the car, ending up at Gordano services where the nice girl at Burger King gave better and friendlier service than Clevedon managed.

Years back I bought a book called “Just off the Motorway” which compiled a set of recommended pubs, hotels, restaurants and normal-priced petrol stations near Motorway junctions. It was quite a handy guide to getting a better deal from breaks in long journeys than a plate of fried gloop at Julie’s Pantry. They’ve now got a rather amateurish-looking website http://bit.ly/ngjmfx but our experience suggests why they haven’t made it to the big time. Apart from the fact that service stations have improved a lot recently (perhaps they realise that if they are going to have a Waitrose and a Starbucks the other food offerings have to be a bit better than what used to go in the 70s) they offer a degree of reliability that just isn’t there in the small towns and byways. Which is a shame because I’d really have preferred not to have had to eat at Burger King or to feel that it was genuinely the best thing on offer in the area.

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