There was a wall of traffic on the M5 heading towards holiday hotspots like Weston-super-Mare on Friday.
The situation was made worse by climate protesters, who took part in a slow-motion demonstration on a section of the highway through Somerset.
Closer to home, the motorways were busier than normal for a Friday but generally continued, although there were serious delays on the M42 near Tamworth after two lanes were closed by an accident. Traffic lined up for more than six miles late Friday afternoon.
The RAC said around 18.8 million leisure trips are expected in the UK over the weekend and into Monday. That’s the most since the company started tracking the number of summer getaways in 2014.
Transport analysis firm Inrix predicted the M5 south of Bristol to be one of the busiest roads. He also said roads between the West Midlands, Snowdonia and the North Wales coast were congested.
Meanwhile, there were chaotic scenes at the port of Dover, where the chief executive described being “disappointed” by the lack of resources at the French border.
Doug Bannister said it was “extremely frustrating” as travelers faced long queues at the start of their summer getaway. He refrained from guaranteeing that the backlog would be cleared in the coming days, but promised that officials were doing all they could to resolve the issues.
A ‘critical incident’ has been declared by the Port of Kent due to six-hour queues as tourists are urged to consider staying away.
A lorry driver said he had been queuing in his HGV in Dover since 6pm on Thursday and was still waiting to cross the Channel after 10am on Friday morning. “I’ve been through something like this before, but this is the worst,” he said.
The Port of Dover has attacked the French authorities for “woefully insufficient” border control staff, and local MP Natalie Elphicke has claimed French border officials “did not show up for duty”.
The port said resources at the French border had increased on Friday morning and traffic was slowly starting to move, “but it will take some time to clear the backlog.”
Mr Bannister said the port had shared “granular details” “hour by hour” on how much traffic it expected, in a bid to avoid such disruptions.
Apologizing for the situation – one of the busiest times for overseas travel from the UK, as most schools in England and Wales split for the summer – he said said they had been “abandoned” by the French authorities.
He said: ‘I am very sorry that the travelers we have in port today are affected.
“To be let down like we did with inadequate resources and slow processes across the border is just extremely frustrating.
“We shared in detail, hour by hour, the amount of traffic we were anticipating, so we knew exactly what we needed to put in place at the French border.”
He said Saturday was also likely to be busy, adding it was “just the start of a very busy summer for us”.
Asked if he could reassure travelers planning a trip in the coming days that the backlog will ease, he said: ‘I would really like to be able to do that – we give all due consideration. possible care to ensure that there will be enough resources in place to handle this very busy first weekend of the summer.
Passengers embarking on cross-Channel crossings from Dover must clear French border controls before they can board a ferry. The port said in a statement that it had increased the number of border control booths by 50%.
It continues: ‘Unfortunately PAF (Border Patrol) resources have been insufficient and well below what is needed to ensure a smooth first weekend of the peak summer getaway period.
Ms Elphicke said there had been “weeks of preparation” for this week by the port, the Department for Transport and the Kent Resilience Forum, and “a lot of work with their French counterparts too”.
She said: “Despite all of this, French border officials did not report to work at passport checks as required. This caused considerable delays.
Delays at Dover are blocking tourist and freight traffic on the region’s congested roads.
One Twitter user wrote shortly before 7am that there was “a complete stalemate”, while another said they had “waited five hours and still not in port”, adding: “Sitting in the lanes while waiting to go to border control Zero movement.
A serious accident between a van and a lorry also led to the closure of the M20 in Kent.
National Highways South-East said the delays between Junction 11 (Westenhanger/Hythe) and Junction 12 were “severe”.
Ferry operator P&O Ferries has told passengers to allow at least five hours to clear access roads and security checks.
Passengers have been advised to take extra water and snacks, to ensure they have enough fuel in the tank and not to attempt return routes to reach the port due to concerns over the worsening congestion situation, especially for local residents.
The AA said its latest data showed other ports, such as Portsmouth and Newhaven ferry ports, were doing reasonably well.