Hopes that the hot spell would continue were fading, as experts forecast a change for the worse over the bank holiday. Michael Dukes, of the PA Weather Centre, said today and tomorrow would see significantly cooler temperatures than the past few days across most of Britain apart from the East and South-east.
"But even there it will be cloudy, hot and muggy - not sunbathing weather," he said.
In Lancashire, the Saddleworth Morris Dancers were collecting rushes ahead of any wet weather, in a ceremony that revives a tradition that ran up against church authority early last century.
In a custom dating back to druidical times, two tons of rushes are collected each August, loaded on to a rush cart and taken to the parish church of St Chad in Saddleworth, to spread on its floor - originally to form a compost to warm the church through the winter.
In the early 19th century a local bishop objected to the church being used like a cattle shed and rush spreading in the church, which this year takes place tomorrow, was reportedly abandoned. A rush cart was last pulled in anger in Saddleworth in 1921, but the ceremony was revived when the Morris men built a new cart in 1975.
Traffic on some of Britain's principal routes was moving at the speed of a rush cart yesterday afternoon, as holiday makers set off early in an attempt to beat the jams.
The RAC said the congestion was at least 20 per cent heavier than last year. A spokesman said the number of vehicles was well and the number of accident and breakdown call-outs had also risen. "It seems to have got off to a very bad start," he said.
The worst tailbacks were in the South and South-west, with 20 miles of standstill traffic on the A30 in both directions at Iron Bridge, near Goss Moor.