The Great Escape: Britons brave bad weather and travel disruption over Easter weekend

Cross-channel ferry strike has been called off, but roads are expected to be busy this evening and tomorrow morning

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The Independent Online

The great Easter getaway kicks off today, with millions of Britons hoping the record-breakingly bad weather doesn't scupper their plans.

Up to 17 million cars are expected to hit the roads over the weekend, and breakdown recovery company Green Flag estimates drivers will spend around £360 million on fuel this Easter- a 145% increase on a year earlier.

Around 1.7 million people have plans to flee abroad, with Egypt, Tunisia and the Canary Islands among the top sunny escapes.

Between today and Tuesday, 600,000 people will depart from Heathrow Airport, 214,000 from Gatwick, 110,000 from Manchester, 110,000 from Stansted and 55,000 from Luton. Scottish airports will see more than 100,000 departures.

Many have snapped up last-minute offers to get away from one of the coldest Marches on record.

Top city break destinations are Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, Rome and New York.

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel association ABTA, said: "After two wet summers and no end in sight to the winter, many Brits are desperate for some sunshine.

"We've seen a surge in last-minute bookings to warm destinations and ski lovers are also in for a treat with some of the best snow conditions seen for years."

Those staying in Britain can expect temperatures to pick up slightly over the holiday period but they will be still be way below the easter average.

Easter rail passengers will have to contend with engineering works, including major work at Reading and work on the West Coast main line in the West Midlands.

The Highways Agency has suspended roadworks for the Easter period on a number of England's motorways and major A roads.

But for safety reasons, works remain in place on some busy routes, including the M1 near Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.

The AA reckons as many as 17 million cars will take to the roads over the holiday period, with the busiest periods expected to be this afternoon and Good Friday morning.

The link in Manchester from the M602 J1 westbound to the M60 J12 was closed due to an overturned lorry.

On the M25 anti-clockwise between J27 and J26 in Essex there were delays due to a broken-down vehicle.

On the railways today there were problems for passengers passing through Reading even before the engineering work was due to begin there.

There were delays of up to 40 minutes between Reading and Paddington in London.

A strike at French ports that would have severely disrupted cross-Channel ferry services was called off today. French port control officers had been due to go on a 24-hour stoppage that would have hit ports such as Calais, Dieppe and Cherbourg.

P&O Ferries had warned its passengers to expect long delays today and on Good Friday and there were fears of traffic build-ups on routes to the port of Dover in Kent.

But at 2am the strike was called off after successful late-night talks in France.