The M56 is sometimes rather poetically described as the "North Cheshire motorway", and runs from Greater Manchester to Chester, with connections to the Wirral and North Wales.

At its Manchester end, the M56 is one of very few roads to present a metaphysical problem. It appears to stop end-on with the A5103 Princess Parkway, but at just the point where it ends, a spur branches off towards the M60 and Stockport. The Sharston Spur, as it's known, is longer than the remaining stub of motorway. It branches off at what appears to be the terminus of the M56, but the junction is number 3, and junctions 1 and 2 are then located on the spur. So is the spur actually the mainline of the M56? It's called a spur, and it looks like one, being much narrower than the M56 proper just beyond it. But it has numbered junctions and it connects the M56 to another motorway, which the main route doesn't. Perhaps it's a hybrid - in which case we might need a new word. Is it a mainspur? A spuline? Or maybe a spainlur?

Traffic running between the M6 from the south and the M56 towards Manchester is not catered for at the M6/M56 junction. Instead, this traffic is directed to leave a junction early and follow the A556 through the villages of Mere and Bucklow Hill. Work started on the desperately-needed bypass for this route started in 2015, after decades of prevarication. It's astonishing to think that the route between Greater Manchester and all points south - including the West Midlands and London - continues to rely on this single-carriageway road.

The M56 has no junction 13. Conspiracy theorists might have you believe it was reserved for the southward extension of the M57 Liverpool Outer Ring Road, but there's a little thing in the way called the Mersey, which is a good mile or two wide at this point and there's no evidence that plans existed to bridge it. A more likely reason is to provide for future expansion of the Stanlow oil refinery or other nearby industrial complexes.

At the western end of the route, the M56 has been extended more than once. At first it stopped at junction 14, but the A5117 from there onwards was badly congested, so it was extended to reach the M53 and then further west to another point on the A5117. A final extension - just a short one, removing the terminal roundabout so that the road free-flows into the A-road beyond - opened in the mid-2000s and completes the route towards North Wales.

Start
Cheadle
End
Chester
Passes
Manchester Airport, Warrington, Runcorn, Ellesmere Port
Connects to
Length
34 miles
Open Junctions Section
Sep 1971 J11-14 Preston Brook → Hapsford
Jan 1972 J1-7 Wythenshawe → Bowden
Dec 1974 J7-9 Bowden → Lymm
Jul 1975 J9-11 Lymm → Preston Brook
Mar 1981 J14-16 Hapsford → A5177

Exit list

Junction   Eastbound               Westbound  
1
7.5 km
Ring Road (E & N)
Leeds (M62 Link)
Stockport
M60 Link
Didsbury
A34


A34


M60
EAST
M60 (M62)
A34 N/A
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanes
2 miles, 2 lanes 1 mile, 2 lanes
2
8.7 km

B5168

A560
(M60)
A560


Wythenshawe
Altrincham
A560 (M60 Link)
LanesLanesLanesLanes
  1 mile, 2 lanes
3
10.2 km
Manchester
Cheadle
Stretford (M60 Link)
A5103
Altrincham
Congleton
Wythenshawe
(A560)
(A5103)
(M60)
(A560)
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
2 miles, 4 lanes 1 mile, 4 lanes
4
11.5 km
Wythenshawe
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
  1 mile, 4 lanes
5
12.5 km
Manchester Airport
Terminals 1 & 2
Airport Manchester Airport
Terminals 1 & 2
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
1 mile, 4 lanes 1 mile, 4 lanes
6
14 km
Hale
Wilmslow
Macclesfield
A538
A538 A538 Hale
Wilmslow
Macclesfield
A538
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
4 miles, 3 lanes 4 miles, 3 lanes
7/8
20 km
Altrincham
A56






A56

A56





A556
(M6)
Northwich
Birmingham
A556 (M6 Link)
Lymm A56
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
5 miles, 3 lanes 5 miles, 3 lanes
9
28.5 km
Preston
Leeds (M62 Link)
Birmingham
Manchester (N)
Lymm
M6 Link
A50
B5158

M6


A50
M6 Preston
Liverpool (M62 Link)
M6 Link
Warrington
Lymm
A50
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
3 miles, 3 lanes 3 miles, 3 lanes
10
33.5 km
Warrington
Northwich
A49
A49 A559

A49
Warrington
Northwich
A49
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
3 miles, 3 lanes 3 miles, 3 lanes
11
38.2 km
Runcorn (E)
Warrington
A56
A56 A56 Preston Brook
Daresbury
A56
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
3 miles, 3 lanes 3 miles, 3 lanes
12
43 km
Runcorn
Liverpool Airport
Widnes
Northwich
A557
A557 A557 Runcorn
Liverpool Airport
Widnes
Frodsham
A557
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
5 miles, 3 lanes  
River or canal Weaver River or canal Weaver
  5 miles, 3 lanes
14
51.5 km
Stanlow
Helsby
A5117
Services Chester
A5117 A5117 Stanlow
Helsby
A5117
Services Chester
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
3 miles, 3 lanes 3 miles, 3 lanes
15
56 km
M53 M53 Ellesmere Port
Birkenhead
M53 Link
Chester
Wrexham
M53 Link
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
3 miles, 2 lanes 3 miles, 2 lanes
16
61 km
N/A A5117


A540



A494
WEST

A540
NORTH WALES
Queensferry
A494
Hoylake
Chester
A540
LanesLanesLanesLanes Signs LanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
Routes

Picture credits

With thanks to Roy Greenwood, Bob Henshaw, Peter Edwardson and Tony Moore for information on this page.