A trip to Cheshire provides a handy reminder of this alternative to using the southern end of the M6 and the M6 Toll for journeys between the south-east and the north-west. From the south, the A50 leaves the M1 near Derby and heads across the north Midlands past Uttoxeter to Stoke. Until fairly recently, the best bet on reaching Stoke was to turn left onto the A500 heading south, and then join the M6 at junction 15.
Now it makes more sense (although this is not signposted at the A50/A500 junction), to turn right on to the A500 instead and join the M6 further north at J16, thanks to the Pathfinder project, a recently completed series of improvements to the relevant section of the A500, which mainly involved removing at-grade junctions and roundabouts.
The A50/A500 corridor is dual carriageway throughout, although there is the odd roundabout to slow you down. Of course, this important link should really be a motorway, and there was a plan to do it that way at one time. But it's still a handy way to beat the congestion on the M6 at most times of day.
The only bad bit is at the southern end, where the A50 rather messily links in to the M1 directly or indirectly at junctions 23A, 24 and 24A. It's not just a pig's ear or a dog's breakfast - it's more like a pig's ear being eaten by a dog for breakfast.