Fort on Forton

Lancaster Service Station, formerly known as Forton, has just been listed as a Grade II building by English Heritage. What took them so long? It was a classic from the day it opened in 1965. I know because I was one of its earliest and most regular customers.

I was doing time at Lancaster University back then, and the hexagonal pinnacle with its sun-deck and restaurant near the top, like the platform of a tree house, at Forton was a god-send for the early morning towering inferno of grease and protein after an night’s earnest conversation and even more earnest drinking. As the first, and last, of its kind – no other service station has Forton’s distinguished architectural lines – it had glamour, It was exotic, It was the spirit of the ‘6os in concrete form. And for us It was a smart place to head for, not least because it was open at hours when virtually ever other source of nourishment was firmly shut.

‘Let’s go to Forton’, the cry would go up, and as many as possible would pile in my Morris Traveller and swish up the motorway for refueling in every sense of the word. It was a pit stop place. You certainly didn’t go to Forton for the food. That was functional at best, even in the restaurant, but its function was critical to the level of hangover you had to manage the next day. Dear heaven, those innocent days are long gone.

On one occasion, in the course of a particular party, I had been persuaded to drive the sturdy Morris Traveller from Lanacaster to Paris for dinner the following night. By the time we finally set out at about 6 am, it was beginning to dawn on me that, what had seemed such a romantic and glorious adventure at 4 am, was not the most sensible thing in my life I had agreed to do.

‘Let’s stop for breakfast at Forton,’ I said to my male companion, who had gone to sleep pretty much immediately we hit the road. He woke as we turned into the forecourt.

“Christ, I’m hungry,’ he said. ‘Breakfast. Then Paris.’

‘R – i –i—ght,’ I said.

We tucked in with gusto.

‘Ok,’ said my companion. ‘Time to head off.’

I climbed into the car with a sinking sensation.

‘Hang on,’ he said and opened the door and was copiously sick. ‘I don’t feel very well,’ he said.

‘You don’t look very well,’ I said. “I think I’d better get you back to your flat.’

‘Good idea,’ he said, and was sick again.

I never go past Forton with thinking of the place with affectionate gratitude.

NB. Curiously, some 30 or so miles north of the Lancaster Service Station on the M6, is Britain’s more remarkable service station, the one at Tebay. Privately owned by the Dunning family, It’s a model of what can be achieved by enlightened commercial nous. It has a large farm shop that stocks the best of Westmoreland produce. It has a very good eatery, which serves good food based on the same produce. It’s clean, decent, thoughtful, has fabulous views, and is a joy to visit. Just turn off at Exit 38

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