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History of Heart of Scotland (Harthill) services

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Harthill.jpg
Photos of the services in the 1970s.

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Opened by Blue Star 1971
Sold to Alan Pond 1970s
Sold to Roadchef and rebuilt 1986
Sold to BP 2006
Rebuilt and renamed from Harthill 2006

Originally named Harthill services, Heart of Scotland was the first service area in Scotland when it opened in 1971. Lady Clydesmuir and a plaque was left in the hallway.

Its design was modelled closely on the existing English service stations at the time, which was a design quickly found to be far too large for the actual demand. The motorway here was short and used mainly by commuters who were not staying long in the car park or restaurant.

The original eastbound building had two storeys, with a long, heavy bridge linking in with it, looking tall amongst the flat landscape. It cost £650,000 to develop and created 200 jobs.

Highway Restaurants Limited and Alan Pond

The services were opened by Highway Restaurants Limited, which was a consortium between caterers Trust Houses and fuel retailers Blue Star. The Blue Star name was used on signs across the building. They encountered financial difficulties, and within a few years they only had the eastbound restaurant open.

In the mid-1970s, local fuel retailer Alan Pond took over, and opened a westbound café, a new eastbound café and an eastbound transport drivers' café. Despite their enthusiasm, Alan Pond struggled to keep it running. In 1977 there were rumours that they were in financial difficulties, and in 1979 the operator made an agreement to pay a reduced rent, close half the facilities, stop their breakdown service, and close at night - yet still made a loss. Vandalism became an increasing problem too.

The food was commended in 1972, when Egon Ronay listed it as one of the few good service stations. Things had deteriorated considerably by 1977, when he said it was "appalling": he called it "rather desolate and vandalised", the toilets "unsatisfactory" and the waitress service "the loosest meaning of the term". He was more satisfied in 1978, when he said it was the only place that was any good.

Catering

The large two-storey eastbound amenity building had a restaurant with high ceilings and large windows, divided into two areas. At the far end was the Inshore Fisherman, a small area roped off by trelliswork hung with fishing nets, glass floats and plastic lobsters. It was a waitress service restaurant with a fish and chip-shop inspired menu, mainly fresh fish - which at the time was a rarity on the motorway. This was the only 24 hour offer, and reservations could be made.

The larger area was the main café, whose décor was more plain and functional, selling food which was unashamedly frozen. The self service counter lead off at right angles from the main seating area and had a separate entrance from the hallway. A red-with-bits-of-blue colour scheme was used.

Roadchef and Harthill 2

Roadchef Harthill.
The old Roadchef restaurant.

Roadchef, keen to expand their business with new sites, took over in 1986 and replaced the old, two-storey amenity building with a smaller one the following year. This left the old bridge standing on its own, disconnected from the services.

An official reopening ceremony was held on 1 October, attended by the Minister for Home Affairs and the Environment. A documentary on the project was commissioned and filmed, but never edited together.

Held back by low custom and Roadchef's own lack of investment, this new building still went on to become one of the dirtiest sites in the country. In particular the bridge, which now stood on its own and looked like part of a 1960s car park, filled with graffiti and attracted undesirable behaviour.

In 2001, Roadchef considered closing the bridge at night, such was the extent of the vandalism. The local police revealed that over a third of the crime reported to them in the Harthill area involved the service area.

Roadchef had planning permission for a motel here but it wasn't built. On the other side of the road was a Wimpy drive thru, which was opened in 1997 and included 36 seats. It was a rare example of a Wimpy drive thru and a very rare example of any kind of drive thru restaurant on the UK motorway network at the time. Roadchef said they wanted to target people who wanted to eat in their cars, but ultimately no more of these opened.

BP and the third effort

Heart of Scotland bridge.
The old bridge and new services.

In 2006, the services were taken over by BP who decided the best move would be to spend £4.1m demolishing and completely rebuilding it, giving it a new name in the process. The new site is effectively a large petrol station.

After much debate the archaic bridge was finally replaced by a modern, state-of-the-art one, which was lifted in to place on the night of 3 October by the largest mobile crane in Europe. There are photos of it above and BBC News has footage of the new bridge being lifted in to place. At the same time, the two rear accesses were blocked off: eastbound was abandoned, while westbound was connected to its own dedicated parking area.

The old bridge has now been demolished. The new, much more attractive one, allowed the services to double-up as a park and ride facility. This had been an ambition of the Scottish Executive since 2002, but they had been reluctant to promote the facility as users needed to walk across the bridge to get back.

Meanwhile, BP advertised the surplus land for sale in 2008, suggesting it be used for a hotel or restaurant development. This was never taken forward.


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