Day-trippers have been urged to stay away from packed beaches this weekend as record numbers of staycationers and soaring temperatures prompt concerns about social distancing.
The Met Office said temperatures reached 36.4C (97.5F) in Heathrow and Kew Gardens on Friday, the hottest August day since 2003 and the fifth hottest on record.
Thousands of people headed for the coast to make the most of the heatwave, leading to 70 coastguard callouts across the UK before midday.
The Met Office issued an amber alert, meaning temperatures could have a “significant” effect on health, and warned people to drink plenty of water and close curtains in rooms that face the sun.
In Bournemouth, visitors were said to have arrived at the beach as early as 3am on Friday, to bag the best spots.
By midday, 19 of 24 beaches along that stretch of Dorset coastline were full, with visitors urged to “head home”.
A mobile phone app launched by Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, showed the beaches, including Sandbanks, were already packed by 10.30am and listed under “avoid, social distancing not possible.”
The app updates beach congestion information three times a day across the whole seafront, which is broken down into zones.
A council spokesman said it had been downloaded 24,000 times and was so successful that other beaches had made enquiries about it.
However, he admitted they had no powers to close the beach if the warnings went unheeded, meaning the system is reliant on the public acting on its advice.
The M27 and A31 were gridlocked, with locals complaining about congested streets and car parks, as well as the mountains of litter left behind.
The council shut the roads to Durdle Door, Dorset’s famed limestone arch.
Popular beaches in Kent, including Main Sands in Margate and Joss Bay in Broadstairs, were also nearing capacity by mid-afternoon, prompting Thanet District Council to urge visitors to stay away or consider alternatives, while the Lake District is seemingly becoming the go-to destination for party-loving staycationers.
Brighton and Camber Sands beaches were also packed, while roads were gridlocked for miles around Clacton-on-Sea, Essex.
In Wales, Whitmore Bay on Barry Island proved a magnet for visitors, perhaps inspired by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit last week.
Dylan Bullard, a councillor from Pwllheli, North Wales, warned that the town was “bedlam.”
“If you’re thinking of coming into town, please consider leaving it to later,” he said.
“The car parks are full and cars are parked illegally. Social distancing is impossible at the moment and people are queuing to get into shops.”
In Northumberland, there were reports of vehicles blocking emergency access to the beach at Beadnell Bay, while at Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire, giraffes were given frozen carrot and willow leaf balls and lemurs tucked into watermelon-based lollies.
In Surrey, eight fire engines were dispatched to tackle a massive wildfire on Chobham Common, where up to ten hectares of undergrowth were alight.
Public Health England (PHE) issued a heat-health warning urging people to take precautions.
Meanwhile, Ian Kelman, professor of disasters and health at University College London, warned the UK’s rising temperatures will make it “highly dangerous” for people to be outside if more is not done to curtail climate change.
He said: “These temperatures are unfortunately in line with the expectations for heat under climate change, which is one of the most concerning health impacts.
“Without stopping human-caused climate change, these levels of summer heat and humidity will become regular, making it highly dangerous for us to be outdoors and even indoors without continual cooling.
“Air pollution can also worsen under heat with its knock-on health effects, such as for cancer and asthma.”
Michael Byrne, lecturer in earth and environmental sciences at the University of St Andrews, warned: “Breaking temperature records year-on-year will absolutely keep happening, unless we take drastic action against climate change that’s a certainty.”
The stifling temperatures are forecast to continue across the South East on Saturday, when the mercury could nudge 37C, with a risk of thunderstorms by Monday.