Big jams as UK hotter than Athens and Riviera

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS OF holidaymakers left Britain from airports and ferry terminals, leaving behind Mediterranean temperatures that made this year's April Fool's Day one of the warmest in memory.

While an estimated 1.5 million Britons chose to spend Easter abroad, those left behind basked in domestic temperatures that not only rivalled some of the traditional holiday destinations but handsomely exceeded them.

Although the temperatures failed to beat the 1 April record of 22.6C set in Cambridgeshire in 1907, much of central and southern England was hotter than Nice, Athens, Los Angeles or Rome.

It could get even hotter. Although many areas may be overcast today and tomorrow, forecasters said it could reach 22C on Easter Day and Bank Holiday Monday - as hot as Buenos Aires, as sunny as Cairo and almost as good as Cape Town.

It was a different story last April, when rivers burst their banks, cutting off towns and villages after torrential Bank Holiday rain. Worst hit were mid-Wales and eastern England, with up to 7,000 homes damaged.

Motorists have been warned to expect heavy congestion throughout the weekend, especially on coastal roads. Those who took to the roads yesterday endured tailbacks, accidents and congestion on nearly every main route.

The AA estimated that 10 million road journeys will be made over the four-day holiday, a 5 per cent increase on last year.

The build-up of holiday traffic on motorways had begun by midday yesterday. "People always think they can avoid congestion by leaving earlier but everybody seems to have the same idea," said Michael Johnson of the AA.

By yesterday lunchtime the temperature had reached 18.6C at Heathrow airport. The hot weather, caused by a band of high pressure sweeping up from the Azores, may be interrupted today before returning later in the weekend, forecasters suggested.

Colin Donnelly of the Meteorological Office said: "It will become unsettled and overcast in some regions and there could be some light rain, which will spread from the west to the east."

The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) said 800,000 people were due to depart from British airports over the weekend.

Steven Freudmann, Abta president, said: "With Easter falling early this year many of us are taking the opportunity to experience a little sunshine overseas or take some time to sample a spring city break."

Staff at Gatwick said they were preparing for 327,000 passengers to pass through during the holiday, with their busiest day expected tomorrow.

Favourite destinations from Gatwick are Malaga, Tenerife, Dublin, Orlando, Faro and New York.

Easter Monday is expected to be Heathrow's busiest day, with almost 170,000 passengers. Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin, Edinburgh and New York are the most popular destinations for travellers from the airport.

Britain's ports were also busy as holidaymakers headed for the Continent. Dover Harbour Board is expecting more than 260,000 passengers over Easter.

Motoring organisations reported heavy congestion on the M1, M3 and all round the M25 as many office workers began their holiday break early and all main routes out of London were jammed for hours. Drivers on the M4 endured an 18-mile tailback as cars poured west out of London.

A traffic spokesman, Sean Sloan, said: "A lot of people - because schools are off and it's lovely weather - took the opportunity to take off early for the Easter break.

"So the rush-hour kicked in about lunchtime, a lot earlier than it normally would. The roads have been very busy for about six hours."

Bank Holiday congestion is expected in Essex tomorrow because of a protest by truckers over the rise in fuel prices and vehicle tax. At least 50 lorries are expected to take part in a four-hour convoy, which will hit parts of the A120, A12, M25 and M11.