|Distance:||99.3 miles (159.8 km)|
|Meets:||M1, M6, M56, A38, A46, A500, A556, A594|
|Former Number(s):||A6, A564|
|Old route now:||A4012, A5130, A509, B526, A5199, A511, A5007|
|East Midlands Airport|
|Route outline (key)|
The A50 forms a high-speed link across the Midlands, fulfilling a role which was planned to be taken up by the M64. The road has also lent its name, at least provisionally, on official Government documentation to what would eventually become the M1.
Leicester - Markfield
The A50 starts on the A594 in the centre of Leicester, at a traffic light controlled junction. It then makes its way through Leicester, initially as a non primary single carriageway, until it meets the A563 at the Groby Road Roundabout. By this point it is a dual carriageway.
After the Groby Road Roundabout, the A50 gains primary route status then makes its way to the M1 at the Markfield Interchange via a number of roundabouts, and a grade-separated roundabout with the A46 northern bypass.
Kegworth - Stoke-on-Trent
From Markfield to Stoke, the A50 has been vastly upgraded, with much of the route being built in the 1980s and 90s.
One of the upgrades turned the A50 into a Derby southern bypass. As such it disappears at Markfield and then reappears further up the M1 at the infamous junction 24 at Kegworth, the centre of the East Midlands traffic network, where the motorway also meets the A6, A453 and nearly-but-not-quite the A42.
The A50 now follows the River Trent and its tributaries all the way to Stoke. There was once a plan to build a motorway, the M64, along this route. Due for varyious reasons the road was never built. Instead a watered-down version, now the A50, was built. However, the A50 is now almost fully grade-separated all the way, and even has numbered junctions for the first few miles. The first section is actually a multiplex with the A6, but the numbering gives the A50 the dominant role. At junction 2 the A6 turns off towards Derby, and at junction 4 the A38 is crossed near the Toyota factory at Burnaston, by means of a large stacked roundabout interchange and service station between the two, called the Toyota Island. The next junction, J5, with the A516 from Derby is the last numbered junction.
At Foston, the original A50 route is rejoined. After going under a footbridge that dates back to old A50 days, the first roundabout since the M1 is met, at the A515 junction near Sudbury. Still largely on new construction, with GSJs and a rough concrete surface, the A50 passes Uttoxeter (the A522 follows the original route of the A50) to Blythe Bridge where there is an awkward junction between the new A50 and the earlier bypass (the redundant section now being part of the A521). With that exception, the road continues fully grade separated as it runs past Longton, until it ends on the A500 "D-road" to the south of the city centre. The last mile or so (past Stoke City's Britannia Stadium) is a spur, the continuing road leaving at a roundabout GSJ earlier.
Stoke-on-Trent - Warrington
In the pre-motorway era, this was one of the principal arteries of the road network. If you were driving from London to Glasgow via the West Coast route, you would probably have gone this way rather than taking the A6 through Derby and Manchester. It was superseded in the early 1960s by the parallel M6 through Cheshire, with the result that it remains largely in its original state and still has much of the feel of the trunk roads of the 1950s. Long stretches were once three-lane, but all of these have now been removed. Even when the M6 is congested it remains surprisingly quiet and - at least between Kidsgrove and the southern edge of Warrington - makes an enjoyable and interesting drive.
The first section is the old spine road of the Potteries, passing through the centres of Hanley, Burslem and Tunstall and in general traversing a depressing, run-down urban environment. Most through traffic would now use the A500. A number of other main roads are crossed, in particular the A53 just north of Hanley. Confusingly, Hanley, not Stoke-upon-Trent itself, is the main shopping and commercial centre of the merged local authority of the City of Stoke-on-Trent, and is signposted as "City Centre". It has a modern inner ring road, mostly now dual-carriageway.
North of Tunstall, the A527 northern bypass crosses at a roundabout, and the A50 reaches a summit at Goldenhill. It then descends the steep, twisting Kidsgrove Bank to Kidsgrove itself, whose principal claim to fame is that it lies at the northern end of the Harecastle Canal Tunnel, one of the engineering wonders of the world when first built in the 1770s. On the county boundary the road goes under a canal before crossing the A34 which runs from Newcastle-under-Lyme to Congleton and Manchester. Interestingly, in this area both the A50 and A34 have a TOTSO where you need to turn right at a crossroads to continue northwards on the same road, the "straight on" road linking them being the A5011.
Beyond the A34 junction, the A50 at last emerges into open country, and a mile further on reaches Church Lawton. Here the mainline of the A50 TOTSOs twice either end of a one-way road. Northbound traffic has to detour via the B5077 and turn right at traffic lights onto the A5011 to rejoin the A50. The road crosses the Trent & Mersey Canal and the A533 peels off on the left towards Sandbach. It then runs through a quiet, rural part of south Cheshire, crossing the A534 by a signal-controlled crossroads at Arclid, before reaching the large village of Holmes Chapel, where it intersects the A54. Between Arclid and Holmes Chapel the width and alignment clearly indicates a former three-lane road. In the centre of Holmes Chapel is a very narrow section by the Parish Church which is not wide enough for two buses or lorries to pass - this must have been a serious bottleneck in pre-motorway times.
Just beyond this is a pair of mini-roundabouts where the A535 diverges on the right towards Wilmslow. The A50 dips to cross the River Dane, and then runs through more lush countryside to Knutsford, passing through Cranage and Allostock. Previously NSL this section has been subject to "speed assessment" by Cheshire East Council, and now has a blanket 50 mph throughout until Knutsford is reached. Along here on the left is what used to be Shearings' coach interchange station, now relocated near to M6 Junction 20, with the premises now being used for other purposes. Nearing Knutsford, the Barclays Bank IT centre at Radbroke Hall is on the right, and the attractive Toft Hall can be seen on the left.
On the south side of Knutsford, the A537 (which, unlike the A50 to the south, is a primary route) from Macclesfield joins from the right. Knutsford is an attractive, prosperous old market town which was fictionalised by Mrs Gaskell as "Cranford" in the days before it was primarily a dormitory for Manchester. There's a short stretch of new road alignment (1930s?), allowing the A50 to avoid one of the main shopping streets, Princess Street. A prominent landmark on the roundabout at the end of this is the ancient, thatched White Bear pub.
Leaving Knutsford, the A50 heads towards Mere Corner where it intersects the extremely busy A556 which links M6 Junction 19 and M56 Junction 7. On the right is the entrance to the famous stately home of Tatton Park. Beyond Mere Corner is a magnificent, wide, half-mile tree-lined straight, which is one of the finest pieces of rural main road I've come across. This must have been a three-lane road in the good old days. The A50 continues on a fast, well-aligned course past High Legh until it crosses the M56 and intersects with the M6 at the much-altered Junction 20, now a dumbbell but originally a roundabout straddling the motorway. There's another fast couple of miles towards Warrington, ending with a relatively modern (1950s?) bridge over the Bridgewater Canal, where the road originally went under the canal via a single-track aqueduct. Legal driving pleasure abruptly comes to an end here as Warrington BC in their infinite wisdom have plonked the start of the 30 limit on the middle of this bridge at least a third of a mile before the road becomes built up.
The A50 crosses the A56 - which serves southern suburbs of Warrington - at a set of traffic lights and then runs through the prosperous suburban area of Latchford. It crosses the Manchester Ship Canal by the Latchford Swing Bridge, one of three carrying main roads south from Warrington, and still occasionally swung to allow ships to proceed up to Manchester. The original course of the A50 then continued straight ahead to end on the A49 in the centre of Warrington, but in the 1930s it was diverted around a new bypass to the east of the town, including a bridge over the Mersey and then the whole route of the B5211, to join the A49 a couple of miles north of the town centre. This runs through mainly 1930s council estates and must have been heavily built-up almost from the start.
According to the 1922 Road Lists, the original start of the A50 was at Leicester where, curiously, it ended on the A426 by the Royal Infirmary. It then headed north along Oxford Street to join its current route. The road was extended by way of the historic battlefield at Naseby to Northampton along the B568 some time between 1927 and 1932. The further extension along the A506 from Northampton to the A5 at Hockliffe, near Dunstable, dates from 1935.
The construction of the M1 and then Milton Keynes meant that the A50 was no longer a viable route south of Northampton, so it was truncated back to start on the A508 to the north of the town in the 1970s, with this section given a variety of different numbers to dissuade drivers from using it in its entirety. Northampton was still the southern end of the A50 in 1997 but general renumbering in the area following the creation of the new A14 saw this section renumbered the A5199. So, now the A50 begins once again at Leicester.
Markfield - Stoke-on-Trent
From M1 J22 the A50 used to continue through Coalville, Ashby de la Zouch, Swadlincote and Burton upon Trent, over what is now the A511 (itself a recycled number – the original A511 is now part of the A444). After going through Tutbury, the old and new roads meet up near Foston, north of Burton.
The entire section of A50 from Foston to Stoke-on-Trent is also on a new line, having been heavily upgraded between the 1940s and 1990s, with the Uttoxeter bypass so early it had to be dualled later. The old route is still easy to follow and mostly still classified, with the westernmost section now an extension of the A5006.
Incidentally, the initial plan was that the A50 would remain on its current route when the Derby southern bypass (i.e. the section of A50 between Uttoxeter and the M1) was opened, as that was given the provisional number A564. Only the Hatton bypass actually opened with this number; it was quickly decided to give the road the A50 number as an M1-M6 link.
- Leicester: SK583047
- Markfield: SK479111
- Kegworth: SK474275
- Foston: SK202316
- Stoke (spur): SJ878436
- Warrington: SJ605903