A dual carriageway leading to a major international airport might not seem like the obvious leisurely route, but the A555 cycle path offers all-too-rare mile after mile of well-surfaced cycling across the south of Greater Manchester, separated from cars, with useful east-west links and surprising views. Plane spotters will be pleased, too.
- Distance 14.9 miles (24 km)
- Elevation gain 475 ft (145 m)
- Time allow 1 hour 15 minutes
- Difficulty Gentle
- Route type Off-Road Trails
- Suitable for City or Folding Bike, Gravel Bike, Hybrid Bike, Mountain Bike, Road Bike
- Attributes Asphalt surface, Bridges, Family-friendly, Gentle climbs, Ideal for electric bikes, Out and back, Reasonably flat, Roads, Shared paths, Suitable for older kids, Urban, Views of towns and cities
- Places Bramhall, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Handforth, Hazel Grove, Heald Green, High Lane, Manchester, Poynton, Stockport, Woodford, Wythenshawe
This long strip of green space on the edge of Greater Manchester’s outer suburbs had been earmarked for a road since even the earliest days of the city’s fledgling Ringway airport. Planned as the route of a major Outer Ring Road as far back as 1945, it was all reprieved by the building of the M60, right up until 1995, when an oddly isolated section of dual carriageway opened between Bramhall and Handforth.
It would take over two more decades, and £290 million, before plans were finally actioned to fill in the gaps and make the A555 a major part of the local road network. Earlier plans for high-speed flyover junctions were replaced with flat traffic light junctions and a 50 mph limit imposed to allay fears it could simply serve to siphon traffic off motorway routes. The completed road and cycleway opened in late 2018, following a public open event where locals flocked to ride and walk the full length of the carriageway free of traffic.
An onward extension north east to Bredbury remains a massively contentious local issue — taking traffic off unsuitable roads but risking immediately overloading it all with travellers bypassing the M60, and either way trashing the rolling greenery of the lower Goyt valley in the process.
To the east, then, this “new road” begins from the A6 between Hazel Grove and High Lane, making it a potentially useful connection to the hills, while at the western end it connects into cycle links around Manchester Airport and Wythenshawe. Along the way it passes near to Poynton, Bramhall, Handforth and Styal. As a cycle route on its own it’s both interesting and mundane, helpful and frustrating.
For a start, it’s less a cycleway and more a shared pavement. And, even if pedestrian traffic is mostly light along a barren road like this, a really surprising number of people do seem to make this their dog walking route of choice, and the statutory 2.5 metres the planners went with for the path is always that bit tight. You’ll come away wondering what it would have really taken to add another 50 centimetres, or even separate bikes and people entirely, or iron out those right-angle bends, or add a safety barrier, or, or…
So yes, it’s not as good as it should’ve been, but it’s there and it’s useful and it’s so surprisingly well used, by so many people of all different ages and cycling styles. It could even leave you wondering how completely revolutionary it’d be, to have something as simple as this alongside every other major road.
The route stats featured here are automatically generated by Komoot. For the most accurate guide, please refer to the route details above, based on actual rides recorded by Strava.
Where to start
Unfortunately, despite Middlewood Way (NCN Route 55) being just a few hundred metres away, there’s no safe cycle link between the two, or further south to High Lane, avoiding the inhospitable A6. Threaphurst Lane can be used to at least cut out some of the A6, but families or the less fearless would likely still feel the need to walk 400 metres of the (unhelpfully narrow) pavement on the dreaded road itself. Hopefully, one day soon, this won’t be the case.
Wythenshawe has good access south of Shadowmoss tram stop and NCN Route 85, the Airport Orbital Cycleway, crosses the A555 at Styal Road for links further into South Manchester and even out towards Cheshire and Wilmslow.
By train: Middlewood railway station just about links in well if you’re happy to negotiate the twisting Norbury Hollow road and cobbled level crossing, though this rules it out as a family-friendly link. In theory it should also be possible to link into Manchester Airport railway station, but the network of shared paths across multiple, ever-changing junctions doesn’t lend itself to an easy route description.
By car: There’s now ample space for parking along the deserted bypassed A6 at the Hazel Grove end — note that the “bus bridge” over the A555 itself is camera enforced, so stay on one side.
Things to note
- Though raised and separated by a thin strip of grass, much of the shared cycleway has no barrier between the path and the fast road, with vehicles travelling directly towards you when you’re cycling east. Ensure younger cyclists are confident and stable enough before attempting this route.
- Metal barriers form “chicanes” at several accesses onto the route. Though the gap between these is wide enough, three newer chicanes near Queensgate Primary School at Bramhall are tighter and could be tricky for non-standard bikes or trailers. If any of these present a problem, please do complain to Stockport Council — they go against even the government’s guidelines.
- The many crossings of other roads — toucan, parallel and uncontrolled — generally work well, but if you’re new to this kind of route it can tricky negotiating them astride a bike. If at all worried, hop off to cross.
- The crossings could make this route tricky for those who can’t easily dismount or navigate their cycle over sometimes slightly small traffic islands.
- The whole route is shared with pedestrians and, particularly around greener areas like Woodford Rec, you’ll encounter dogs trailing leads across the path and people lost in their own world. Be patient, ring a bell or shout a warning and ensure they are aware before passing. See more Tips for Cycling on Shared Paths.
Get ready to ride
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- Joining the cycleway at the eastern end is done only (and truly only) by turning into the old route of the A6 Buxton Road and following it to a narrow new “bus bridge” over the A555. Don’t, whatever you do, stray onto the wide new A6 link and try to join the A555 at the major T-junction: there are no cycle facilities and more importantly no dropped kerbs to easily escape. Instead, from up above now on the old road, follow the signposted path heading down to the A555. This then curves immediately westwards to join the shared foot/cycleway right alongside the dual carriageway.
- Doubling back, you pass under three bridges in close succession: the bus bridge, the Manchester to Buxton railway line and an accommodation bridge for the land either side. While Norbury Brook meets the road on the other side, the shared path is sandwiched against continuous fencing and at times unsettlingly close to the road lanes, though on a raised kerb. You soon approach the large junction with the A523 London Road North, the best place to turn south to Poynton, though there are no cycle lanes beyond. Otherwise, it’s time to use your first of many toucan crossing buttons.
- Over the junction, the road begins at first a gradual and then a plodding gradient upwards, curving across the greenbelt to climb up through its unremarkable cutting. You dip slightly under Woodford Road, which has a connecting path, only to then rise up the “biggest” climb on the route, taking you over the West Coast Main Line railway. If this unexpected challenge took you by surprise, stop to gather your breath and look behind for a remarkable panorama of the western edge of the Peak District. Can you spot Lyme Park?
- Onwards, the route settles into far flatter and easier going. A series of crossings for the Bramhall Oil Terminal are next, alongside a huge gyratory where the Poynton Bypass will soon join. Shared paths link over to Chester Road and Woodford, though don’t yet lead to any onward safe cycle paths. The A555 route now gladly leaves the side of the carriageway to cut across scrubland on the embankment next to Bramhall’s southern suburbs. A series of pointless metal chicane barriers require navigating here, installed later by Stockport Council after a single complaint of cyclists “speeding” on the narrow path. At the same time, their “cycle route” then takes you around a ridiculous pair of completely blind, narrow bends against tall fencing, to pop out onto the A5102 Woodford Road. Perhaps there’s something to be said for design impacting behaviour.
- Cross the A5102 using the toucan crossings then follow the short path behind the trees to where it joins the Woodford Recreation Ground access road. Turn left onto this slightly potholed and abandoned-looking road and continue straight ahead, eventually branching off onto a thankfully smooth new tarmac path. This takes you along the top of the A555 cutting where the original 1995 section of road, built without space for a cycle path, began. Sports fields and paddocks of horses sit to the other side. Half way along, the Fred Perry Way walking route crosses — these paths are due to be upgraded for cycling, providing links right to Bramhall and left, via a bridge over the A555, to some lovely quiet looping lanes around Woodford, namely Church Lane and Blossoms Lane.
- The next crossing at Hall Moss Lane comes without lights. Though the road can seem quiet, drivers do tend to speed past, so take care as you cross and then turn left across the bridge and, staying on the side pavement, right into Dairy House Lane. The tarmac path then branches off over a culvert to run alongside the A555 again between wooden fences. As if still unsatisfied, at Spath Lane it soon sees you negotiate a poorly signposted dog-leg to the right, up over an older accommodation bridge. Signs warn, worryingly, that this narrow route can be shared with tractors, so stay alert as you make the short, sharp climb over the bridge then drop quickly again the other side onto a gravel path — the inconsistent “that’ll do” approach of this cycle route now clear.
- At the huge Stanley Green interchange with the A34 Handforth Bypass, the path continues north to provide a route into Cheadle Hulme. To stay on the A555, cross the two toucan crossings over multiple lanes — sorry, no flyover for us. Follow the path on the other side, narrowed badly by metal barriers, to the left around the retail park (convenient at least for B&Q and Halfords) and up the off ramp slip road from the A555 above. Even being on a raised pavement, this feels unpleasant and unnerving, to be climbing narrowly against fast traffic leaving a dual carriageway, and worse if you need to pass someone. Atop the flyover, there is at least an interesting view over the landscape, with passing main line trains and three tower blocks over near Handforth adding to the very urban suburban scene.
- Still just about within Stockport, the next and penultimate crossing is at Wilmslow Road, where the path again climbs up from the A555. Here the traffic engineers tried something completely different, as if just for the fun of it: a parallel crossing. This zebra for both cycles and pedestrians is certainly convenient, finally giving bikes the upper hand against cars, though sat close to two roundabouts it can feel a bit dicey checking and double checking drivers coming both ways are definitely giving way. You then drop quickly back onto the second new section of road, completed in 2018, to cut across green space between Heald Green and Styal, into the borders of Manchester.
- Styal Road is the final interchange to navigate, sitting directly above the railway junction for Manchester Airport. Continue straight across, then ahead for the airport itself and the end of the route. The Airport Orbital Cycleway crosses here too; an older and rather poorer loop of shared pavements and some off-road tracks. Follow it left to head clockwise towards Styal, or right and anti-clockwise through Wythenshawe. Ahead, the A555 has a final flourish as aeroplanes suddenly thunder directly overhead, appearing to almost skim the comically miniature lampposts — and your head — below the end of the original runway. Further transport geekery, after the trains, planes and new roads, is satisfied by the Metrolink tram line that turns to run directly alongside the cycleway. The route now merges into the slightly confusing network of shared paths around the growing Airport City business district. Time to turn around and head back to those green hills?
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Please note: While great care and attention has been put into gathering these routes, ensuring details are accurate and determining their suitability, all information should be used as a guide only and is not a replacement for using your own judgement or research when setting out on new adventures. Peaks & Puddles cannot be held responsible for any problems you may encounter.
Always ensure your equipment is safe for use, that you are well prepared carrying everything necessary including access to a good map. Follow the Highway Code and the Countryside Code at all times, respect the landscape and the wildlife and people you encounter. But most importantly, have fun!