|Distance:||6.6 miles (10.6 km)|
|Meets:||A639, A6539, A6032, A63, M1, A642|
|Route outline (key)|
The A656 is the main road north from Castleford, though it never really feels like a rural main road until it's nearly over. Much of it is named Roman Ridge, running as it does along the course of a Roman Road from Castleford, once a Roman fort.
Glasshoughton - Parlington
In recent years the A656 has seen a southward extension and now almost reaches the M62, but not quite. Today the road begins at a signalised junction immediately north of junction 32 of the M62. It's the A639 that passes through the junction, and which travels away from the traffic lights to the west on a new road providing access to modern retail and housing developments at Glasshoughton.
From here the road is the former A639, a modern suburban road with low-rent commercial properties down one side and post-war semis on the other. We turn left at a small roundabout (Castleford specialises in very small roundabouts) and then right at the next, and this is the point at which the A656 used to begin; the ex-A639 bears left and is now numbered A6539.
A broad and nondescript urban road carries us north from here, with the housing stock now more Victorian, and the ends of terraced houses on the right. A short downhill run takes us to the next (tiny) roundabout, which is followed by the road's only dual carriageway - about three hundred metres of it, taking us under a railway bridge to the next roundabout. This one is very large and fast, but it still has a tiny central island. It is a nightmare most of the time and is a favourite for local driving instructors to frighten their students. The road to the left is the A6032, which takes us back to the A639.
At the other side of the roundabout, the road is immediately narrower, and we cross the River Aire on a claustrophobic hump-backed bridge. From here the road remains relatively narrow and provides access to a run of garages, cheap tyre retailers and scrubby industrial units as we traverse a narrow strip of land between the river and canal. A second sudden and steep bridge crosses the Aire and Calder Navigation, and marks the boundary where we cross from Wakefield to Leeds.
Ahead, the road now stretches out ahead in a straight line - we have joined our Roman Road. From here the 30mph limit ends and we enter a National Speed Limit zone. Not so long ago that would be the limit from here all the way to the end of the road, but today we'll slow down a couple of times along the way.
A straight, narrow Roman Road continues for the next few miles, but it never seems very rural. The continuous streetlights are connected with overhead wires, which makes it feel more hemmed in, and as we skim the edge of Allerton Bywater, a former mining village that struggles to find a purpose for itself these days, there are a couple of sets of traffic lights. The limit is 40 through here, and then rises to 50 as we clear the end of the development. The street lighting finally ends here.
The road breaks from its straight, Roman line to travel round some shallow bends that take us uphill through woodland. One imagines that the original Roman Road took the hill head-on and that later travellers preferred an easier line to the top.
The road straightens out but we're still going uphill as we approach the next set of traffic lights where a local road crosses. To the left is the start of the B6137 and the village of Kippax (another ex-mining village; there are a lot of them around here). To the right the road is unclassified and will take you to Fairburn and its RSPB reserve. The traffic lights have always looked a little odd here, standing alone at a crossroads in the middle of farmland.
As the road levels out it passes more industrial units on the right, and the small settlement of Ledston Luck, before arriving at a roundabout where it crosses the A63. Here the 50 limit ends and National Speed Limit resumes.
Beyond the A63, the road is much quieter - the majority of traffic turns left towards Leeds - and there are more trees closing in the line of the road from surrounding farmland. Never quite at ease in the countryside, the A656 passes some more industrial units and other built-up things here and there. Another humped bridge crosses the main Leeds to York railway line.
A small turning on the right leads to Micklefield, and then we are swept away to the left on a new, broad road surface. The Roman road departs to our right, where the A656 used to run before the motorway, replaced with a fast new alignment running for about a mile over open fields. This is theoretically the highest-standard part of the A656, being a new rural road opened in 1999, but it received substantial safety improvements in 2012, including lots of "two way" signage and chevrons around its bends after several serious accidents, some of them head-on collisions.
The new road leads to a very large roundabout where the A642, B1217 and A656 all terminate at the roundabout at junction 47 of the M1, promising journeys to The North and The South at the end of a sliproad. Our journey ends here.
Original Author(s): Chris Marshall