An historic place of worship in Moray has moved a step closer to realising a project needed to cope with a huge influx of visitors.
The current car park at Pluscarden Abbey, which only has space for eight cars with no room for coaches, has been overwhelmed with visitors during the peak tourist season in recent years.
Campaigners want to create more spaces for visitors so the tranquil atmosphere of the ancient monastery can be preserved.
Now plans have been lodged with Moray Council for planning permission to create the car park in a field outside the gates to the 13th century abbey.
The room for 30 cars and two coaches was initially expected to be delivered as part of the £1.8million South Range restoration project to the Benedictine monks’ home.
However, recent experiences with tour coaches arriving without prior notice has led to the plans being brought forward.
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In documents submitted to planners, building consultant John Gleeson said the proposals would help to ensure less vehicles driving through the grounds leading to the monastery, which would preserve the peaceful atmosphere and increase safety for visitors.
He said: “The currently rising trend in numbers of tourists visiting to such areas has considerably increased the view of the abbey community that the car park facilities require urgent improvement.
“Thus, being proactive to the current problems and needs and with the view that such matters are only going to increase because of the significant rise in projected visitors numbers to Moray, has brought forward the need for car parking improvements ahead of their previous phasing.”
About 15,000 people visit the ancient buildings every year.
The council has already submitted a bid to the Scottish Government’s rural tourism infrastructure fund for about £80,000 to cover the costs of the car park with the remaining £34,500 to be supplied by the abbey. The result of the application is expected in April next year.
Grenville Johnston, chairman of the South Range Project Appeal committee, has said the resident monks at the abbey are “content” with the expected rise in visitors to their home.
Pluscarden Abbey restoration
The larger car park is just one part of the latest renovation project at Pluscarden Abbey.
The monastery lay dormant for centuries before it was revived by monks from Gloucestershire in 1948.
About two-thirds of the original buildings, which can trace their origins to 1230, have been restored over the last 70 years.
The £1.8million South Range Project is the latest drive at the abbey.
As well as a new car park the St Scholastica’s building outside the gates, which is currently used as a female retreat, will be converted into a visitor attraction and heritage centre for tourists to learn more about the community before walking up the hill to the 13th century buildings.
Meanwhile, new buildings, which will be called St Joseph’s, will be built to provide accommodation for up to 10 women to stay while on a retreat in Moray alongside space for an expanded library will be created in the basement.
Fundraising events, including a pilgrimage from the home of Pluscarden’s first monks who came from France, have been held in recent years to help contribute to the total.
A bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund is also being prepared to secure a large proportion of the required money.