|Distance:||80.1 miles (128.9 km)|
|Meets:||A5268, A41, M53, A55, A533, M56, A49, A50, A556, M56, A560, M60, A57, A57(M), M60, A58, M66, M65, A6068, A59|
|Old route now:||A682|
|Route outline (key)|
The A56 is still a fairly important regional road across northwest England, and (before the completion of the ring road at least) the main road through the city of Manchester (the A6 being a mere side road). Once a trunk route from Chester to Burnley, primary from Burnley to Colne, but then secondary from Colne to the A59 near Skipton (which was always fairly puzzling as Skipton was the primary destination after Burnley, but you had to go onto a secondary route stretch to get there, the primary route following the A6068 to Keighley, despite Keighley never being an official "primary route destination" until 1999). This last stretch has now been "upgraded" to primary status (although the road is still as bad as it ever was). Only the dual carriageway bit between the M66 and M65 remains a trunk route these days, and the road has largely been superseded by the faster A51/A54/A556 (and later the M56), and the M66/M65.
Section 1: Chester – Manchester
The A56 leaves the city of Chester on the ring road near the main railway station, heading east to the M53/A55 junction, where the Warrington and Manchester traffic is signed onto the motorway, leaving the A56 (still primary) as a local road serving Frodsham. The A56 runs through quiet, low-lying dairy country, passing through the villages of Mickle Trafford and Dunham. It then has a TOTSO with the A5117, which was built in the 1930s as the "Chester By-Pass", allowing North Wales-bound traffic from industrial Lancashire to avoid Chester. It then runs through the village of Helsby, with the striking rock outcrops of Helsby Hill, and the pleasant small market town of Frodsham. It then crosses the Weaver Navigation Canal via a distinctive swing bridge, and passes through the village of Sutton Weaver. Crossing to the other side of the M56 motorway it reaches the A533 with which there is a short multiplex back across the motorway. Eastbound traffic has to turn left onto the A533 and do a full circuit of the roundabout at the eastern end of Runcorn's Southern Expressway.
After leaving the A533 the A56 goes through Preston Brook before meeting the M56 at J11. It then heads north towards Warrington, bypassing the village of Daresbury, birthplace of Lewis Carroll, by an impressive section of 1970s dual-carriageway. It diverges off to the south of Warrington, through the prosperous suburb of Stockton Heath towards Lymm, keeping to the south of the Mersey, and hence remaining in Cheshire.
The A556 (from Chester via the A51 and A54) meets at Bowdon, where there is an elaborate junction with the M56 – designed to accommodate a never-built motorway link to the M6. It heads north into well-heeled Altrincham, Sale, and onto the M60, crossing the now more slimline Mersey and into Lancashire.
The A56 continues north through Stretford, and past the two Old Traffords (football and cricket), onto a new section of dual carriageway past Salford Quays, and into Manchester. It meets the A57(M) Mancunian Way (Manchester's own inner-city motorway and the southern section of the ring road), and heads straight into the city centre as Deansgate, formerly a main highway through the centre. At the top end towards Victoria is where the A6 would previously have crossed – to the right is St Mary's Gate, which leads into the pedestrian area; left is Blackfriars Street signposted for through traffic (which should by rights be using the ring road). Deansgate ends a block further north. Ahead past the cathedral is Victoria Street which was part of the A56 until 2012 when it was closed to be converted into a public square (although for much of 2013, a temporary cathedral - dubbed the Cathedral on the Street - was here whilst the actual cathedral was closed for repairs). Most maps, therefore, show the A56 detouring into Salford, bearing left across Victoria Bridge then right across the Chapel Street bridge (formerly the A6041); however, the right turn into Chapel Street is prohibited (explaining why traffic needs to use Blackfriars Street). After rejoining its original route the A56 passes under Victoria Station before crossing the ring road again. Of course, traffic heading through Manchester would ignore the A56 and use the ring road.
Section 2: Manchester – Hapton
Now heading west of north, the A56 runs past the two Strangeways (prison and former Boddingtons brewery). It enters Salford for a short distance before going through Prestwich and again crosses the M60. Still primary, it heads northwards to Bury, with its funky 1970s ring road which it shares with the A58, then north to Edenfield parallel to the M66 where that road ends, although there is no access to the motorway unless you are heading south on the A56.A680 at a roundabout over the motorway, and then drops down to pick up the reins along a trunk-route dual carriageway north to the M65 at Hapton between Blackburn and Burnley. Originally this just by-passed Edenfield, and the A56 carried on through Rawtenstall and north to Burnley and Nelson. Since the mid-1980s, however, the A56 has diverted onto the Haslingden bypass, explaining why it has to TOTSO at the next junction, before continuing via a new high-level bit east of Accrington, before dropping majestically onto the M65. The old A56 has been renumbered as A682 as far as Nelson.
As we approach Haslingden, it is the A682 that takes the main line of the dual, the A56 forking off to the left, and becoming almost single-carriageway with the sliproads splitting again for the A680. After passing under the roundabout, we pass to the west of Haslingden and have only the south-facing slips for the B6232 to disrupt our journey. However, that soon ends with the at-grade roundabout with the A680 at Rising Bridge providing a slight hold up. The Accrington Bypass is just as fast, with only a couple of minor at-grade side turnings to bother us before we reach the GSJ with the A679, and then a mile further on the M65. The onward route is the A6068, the A56 multiplexing with the M65 through to Nelson.
Section 3: Nelson – Broughton
Rather than just ending, the A56 multiplexes east along the M65, and should resurface where the motorway ends at Colne. However, due to a numbering cock-up, the old stump of the A56 from Nelson was left as it was when the remainder changed to A682. As such the road reappears at traffic lights on that road in the centre of Nelson (at the spot where the A682 used to turn off the A56) before continuing through Colne as it always did, although there is now a one-way loop. The road then heads north, soon crossing the A6068 (eastern extension of the M65) at a roundabout before continuing along a heavily congested bit through Earby and Thornton in Craven. It ends at a roundabout on the A59 west of Skipton. A bypass has long been planned on the old railway bed which runs parallel to the A56 from Colne to Thornton, but the postponing of this due to budget constraints seems to be an annual event.