Thousands of people gathered at beaches across the UK yesterday in what was the hottest hottest day of the year so far - beating a top temperature set the day before.

The mercury climbed to 27.8C (82F) near Heathrow Airport on Wednesday, as sunbathers across England enjoyed new found-freedom following the easing of lockdown restrictions.

London's St James's Park recorded a high of 26.2C (79F) on Tuesday - beating 2020's previous top of 26C (78.8F) set last month.

Balmy conditions have tested the nation's resolve in maintaining social distancing in parks and open spaces.

Met Office meteorologist Greg Dewhurst said that the vast majority of the UK would enjoy a dry, sunny day on Wednesday, with the likelihood of blue skies all day for some.

On the north Devon coast, police said that roads to the area's beaches were "gridlocked" despite pleas to the public from councils who advise against travelling to the south west.

Officers in Ilfracombe and Braunton said they had identified vehicles from "all over the country" in the local area, where toilets and other amenities remain closed.

"Roads towards the North Devon coast are now gridlocked," officers tweeted.

"We have vehicles from all over the country identified, please do not travel here.

"We will still be here when this is over so come back when it's safe to do so."

One officer said "valuable resources" were being used to police traffic, adding that elderly people in the area would be "very anxious over the selfish actions of these individuals".

Elsewhere in Devon, police in Barnstaple said they were "running out of tickets" as they urged members of the public not to abandon their cars, while a road policing unit said that double yellow lines from Woolacombe to Morthoe were "covered with cars and vans".

"Cars mounting pavements to get by whilst pedestrians try to cross the road," police tweeted.

"All the offences have been recorded and will be processed in due course."

A slight easing of restrictions in England means people can drive to beaches and countryside beauty spots, where they are allowed to picnic, sunbathe and relax.

But in response to relaxation of measures, leaders in Devon and Cornwall warned second home owners and tourists to "think twice" about visiting the region.

Councils and tourism bodies encouraged people not to travel more than an hour from their local area to enjoy the outdoors and to avoid popular tourist locations, as the region's car parks, toilets and hotspots remain closed.

Weather conditions are expected to become more unsettled on Thursday, with the risk of thunderstorms in the east and south-east of England as a band of rain pushes eastwards.

Temperatures are predicted to cool from 24C (75.2F) or 25C (77F) before the rain to a fresher 17C (62.6F) to 21C (69.8F) on Friday.

Mr Dewhurst predicted a windy start to the weekend with sunshine and showers for many, with the weather gradually turning drier from the south on Sunday and into bank holiday Monday.