'Worst storms for years' sweep in

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GALE-force winds, drifting snow and driving rain gave many parts of Scotland a taste of what winter will bring, with disruptions on roads and ferries.

• A man battles against the force 11 storm as he leaves a public meeting in Daliburgh, South Uist. The subject of the meeting was climate change Picture: Robert Perry

The severe weather left 87 people stranded on a passenger ferry off Aberdeen. The NorthLink boat Hjaltland was due to dock in the city's harbour at 7am yesterday, but high winds and rough seas meant the ferry could not dock.

With no sign of conditions easing, the vessel was last night diverted to Rosyth. A Northlink spokesman said arrangements were being made to provide passengers with transport to Edinburgh or Aberdeen.

Services between Lerwick and Aberdeen last night and today have also been cancelled.

Strong gusts led to speed restrictions on many bridges, and fallen trees caused problems on the A82 near Drumnadrochit and a number of minor roads in the Highlands.

Drifting snow forced the closure of the A93 Glenshee to Braemar road, while motorists on the M74 near Beattock and on the A9 at Drumochter were advised to drive with caution, also due to snow.

• Snow has fallen but don't pack your skis yet

The poor conditions led to the cancellation of ferries between Mallaig and Armadale on Skye and Oban-Colonsay, while another 11 of Caledonian MacBrayne's services on the west coast and Hebrides were disrupted, along with the links between Northern Ireland and Stranraer and Cairnryan.

A few centimetres of snow accumulated overnight on ground above 500 metres. On lower ground, flooding was a problem, including areas of Dumfries and Galloway, where more than two inches of rain fell overnight.

The A712 road between Newton Stewart and New Galloway closed with water up to three feet deep in places.

Other roads in the south of Scotland, including the A714 south of Newton Stewart and the A77 south of Cairnryan, were also flooded. A police spokesman at Dumfries said: "It's been one of the stormiest 24 hours for several years."

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency issued three flood watches on rivers in Stirling and Highland and lowland rivers in Angus.

Winds reached Force 11 – over 65mph – in South Uist on Sunday night and caused the temporary closure of roads and further flooding to low-lying areas of the already endangered island.

The causeway that connects South Uist to Eriskay was closed for two hours on Sunday evening as high tides and strong winds made it unsafe to cross.

As the weather raged, a public meeting about the impact on the island of coastal erosion and climate change was taking place in Daliburgh.

On Saturday, a project began to reinforce the dune system that protects the island from the Atlantic. Local people and Oxfam Scotland intend using redundant fishing nets to anchor the dunes on a five-mile stretch until marram grass can take hold and counter rising sea levels – which some fear may actually split the island in two.

Winds reached 46-63mph elsewhere. The Churchill Barriers in Orkney were closed for a time and a number of damaged trees blocked roads in Highlands.

Highland Council urged landowners to check trees and vegetation near public roads and remove any debris that was causing hazards.

The longer-term forecast is also bleak, with storms and heavy winds likely to return by Friday after a brief respite in the middle of the week.

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