Holidaymakers head for the side roads

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THE BRITISH were confident of outwitting the worst of the French lorry drivers as the weekend holiday invasion of the French roads began in earnest last night.

On the hovercraft Princess Margaret, plying between Dover and Calais, most drivers heading into France said that they expected problems, but no one knew where or when. It was time for the stiff upper lip.

Few had made any plan of action beyond keeping to side roads and 'playing it by ear'. Even fewer had information about which roads were blocked or how to find out. For some it was going to be a long permanent diversion to their holiday home.

Sandy and Irene Walker, en route with their three children to a rented apartment in Perpignan, said they would keep off the motorways. 'We will just stick to the B roads and routes nationales even though it will take us longer,' Mr Walker said. 'We never thought of cancelling. It was either a matter of staying in Dover or going for it. We decided to go for it - who wants to spend their holiday in the south of England.'

June and Barry Hannan, from Chester, were setting out with daughter Christine, 16, for the Dordogne, where they have rented a house. Christine said that she spoke schoolgirl French. Mr Hannan said: 'I have been looking at maps for the last two days. I am hoping somebody in France will be able to tell me which parts to avoid.

'Nobody in Dover seemed to know what was going on. There was not even a blackboard with a travel bulletin displayed at the hoverport.'

A young couple touring Europe with their six-month-old daughter were putting their faith in newspapers, radio and the AA. Michael and Julie are visiting friends on the Channel coast and then heading for the Loire.

'We are prepared for some delay and the journey will take much longer. All we know is that if we get stuck the baby is going to be a real handful,' Michael said.

However, one family will not be taking it slowly down country backroads. Dr Hugh Chalmers, his wife Jacky and his two daughters, from Edinburgh, have made a contingency plan and are sticking to it. They will make the journey to a caravan near St Tropez in the south of France by driving through Belgium, Germany and Italy.

Like most other drivers, Dr Chalmers was anxiously poring over a road map, but his included several other countries.

'We nearly cancelled, but we found that our holiday insurance would not have covered us. At lunchtime on Thursday we had more or less decided not to come but we changed our minds at the last minute,' he said.