IT is the only medieval monastery in Britain that remains home to monks and is an oasis of calm and solitude deep in the Highlands.


But now the residents of Pluscarden Abbey in Moray have added their voices to a growing groundswell of dissent to proposals to build a dual carriageway within a stone's throw of their ancient retreat.

Members of the Catholic Benedictine group have come together with the local community of Pluscarden village to object to a plan by Transport Scotland which could see a new route for the A96 built in the valley just half a mile from the Abbey.

The A96, which links Inverness and Aberdeen, is currently being adapted into dual carriageway along its entire route, with Pluscarden valley one of four options suggested for the next stage of the project, starting east of Auldearn at Hardmuir and heading past Elgin and onto Fochabers.

A public consultation on the proposed routes has been undertaken, with the closing date for submissions coming today. However, the actual works would not begin for several months, with environmental, engineering and traffic assessments scheduled to begin next year and last until 2017.

Pluscarden Abbey traces its foundation back to King Alexander II of Scotland in the year 1230, although it fell into disuse for several centuries, finally being restored in 1948.

Brother Michael, Cellarer at the Abbey, said building a major road in the valley would shatter the peaceful atmosphere enjoyed by hundreds of visitors every year.

He said: "Many people who come here speak of the peace and quiet that surrounds the Abbey, something that would not exist with the constant drone of traffic nearby.

"We went to a meeting in the village hall to discuss the proposal and will be putting our thoughts down in a submission to Transport Scotland.

"This plan is just one of the routes proposed and I would hope that it has just been included to show that they are including all the options they can."

He added: "In the documents laying out the options, Transport Scotland themselves list the environmental damage this route would create, so we hope that it is not something that will be considered as the plans are finalised."

Angus Dixon, Chairman of the Pluscarden village hall, warned the road would be the most devastating thing to happen to the area since the infamous Black Wolf of Baddenoch, The Earl of Buchan Alexander Stewart, sacked and burned much of Elgin in 1390.

Mr Dixon said: "We called the meeting to get a plan together to raise public awareness of the possible option to build a dual carriageway through the Pluscarden valley.

"Most people are unaware of the proposal and we think it is not on to have a closing date of June 21 for comments about such an issue.

"All the 40 or so people at last night's meeting agreed that a road would be highly damaging in this valley, a place of great landscape beauty, peace and with important wildlife.

"This is a valley well known by many people around the UK and the world, because of the abbey and building such a road would wound the hearts of people far and wide."

Mr Dixon added that running a dual carriageway through the valley would be similar to building on some of the country's most ancient monuments.

He said: "When we first heard of the proposal, it was thought to be a hoax. It would be like building a multi-storey car park next to the Glenelg Brochs."

A spokeswoman for Transport Scotland said: "The Scottish Government has given a clear commitment to dual the A96 which will see delivery of around 86 miles of upgraded road between Inverness and Aberdeen. This huge job requires careful, in-depth planning and design so we deliver the right scheme and help tackle congestion, make journey times more reliable and, crucially, improve road safety for all along the route.

"All comments received on the outcome of the early assessment work will be carefully considered as we take the work forward to the next stage of design."