SUN hats were out, sunglasses were on and icecream vans were out in force as an early blast of summer settled across Hampshire.

Temperatures topped 20C as the county basked under clear blue skies, making it easily the hottest weekend of the year so far.

In Southampton, the Common came alive as hundreds of people soaked up the rays and took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather.

Others took the opportunity to head to beaches at Lepe and Calshot in the New Forest, with some daring to dip their feet in the water.

And it made for glorious conditions for the thousands of Hampshire runners who turned out for Sport Relief events on Sunday morning.

Weather experts say temperatures in Hampshire have been on a par with Madrid and Paris, while the mercury rose to 22.2C in parts of north-west Wales.

But it was still some way off the UK record for March of 25.6C, which was recorded in Cambridgeshire in 1968.

The warm weather has also brought a boost for local business.

New Forest District Council leisure boss Councillor Di Brookes said: “This kind of weather is a huge bonus for somewhere like the New Forest which enjoys a lot of tourism trade.

“It’s so good after a cold and grey winter and gives everyone a boost – long may it continue.”

And, according to forecasters the settled spell will last all week.

A Met Office spokesman said: “We have got high pressure over the UK at the moment and it is due to stick around for a few days yet.”