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The name Abernethy is an extremely potent name in Scottish history. Here was an ancient Pictish capital, and then an ecclesiastical metropolis of the Celtic Church of the Culdees, before St Andrews, conveniently near to Scone, the one-time Royal centre of government only 8 miles away across the River Tay, as the crow flies. Indeed even before that, Abernethy was important, with a Pictish and also Roman fort, port and baths, at Garpow just to the north. Now little more than a village, Abernethy stands at the foot of its own steeply-climbing Ochils glen, right on the Fife border, looking out across the level carse to the junction of Earn and Tay rivers, just where the latter begins to widen to an estuary, 6 miles south-east of Perth.
It is perhaps now most famous for its Celtic Round Tower, one of the only two remaining in Scotland, the second being at Brechin. These are tall, slender, tapering columns, free-standing and not part of church buildings, although sited in later kirkyards. The Abernethy Tower dates probably from the 9th or 10th century, with 11th century alterations. It is 72 feet high and only 8 feet in interior diameter, with walls 3 1/2 feet thick. There were six stages of timber flooring, and door and windows are in the Irish style. The modern clock is somewhat incongruous. These towers served the Celtic clergy as steeples, watch-towers against Viking invaders and others, and refuges. There are still 76 of them standing in Ireland. With its Tower, Church and Churchyard, new Museum, winding Glen walks, Mercat Cross and Traditional Houses, Abernethy village has much to show the visitor, in addition to its resounding history--although scarcely resounding perhaps was the sorry day when the great King Malcolm Canmore did homage to William the Conqueror, in 1072, at Abernethy, as evidently the only way to get the Norman and his invading army to go home.
It was Malcolm's English Queen Margaret, later sanctified by grateful Rome, who instituted the pro-Romish movement in Scotland which was to oust the Celtic Church not only from Abernethy but from all the land. Abernethy was made a burgh of barony in 1476, under the famous Archibald Bell-the-Cat Douglas, Earl of Angus; and his present-day descendant, the Duke of Hamilton, bears the style of Lord Abernethy amongst his many subsidiary titles. The Douglases had inherited Abernethy by marriage with the heiress of the MacDuff line of Hereditary Abbots of Abernethy, who became secularised as the de Abernethy family. To them, as the second main stem of the great MacDuff house, had passed the right of crowning the Scots monarchs, after the end of the senior stem, Earls of Fife, hence the Duke of Hamilton's presenting to the present Queen her Scottish crown at St. Giles Cathedral in 1953, at that significant ceremony.
About two miles east of the village, and actually over the Fife border above Newburgh, are the remains of MacDuff's Cross, where once all man-slayers to within the 9th degree of consanguinity with the Earls of Fife or Lords Abernethy, could claim sanctuary and gain remission of penalty other than the payment of a fixed indemnity to the victim's family--a most useful inheritance in otherwise lawless days. To the other side of the village, high on a shoulder of Castle Law hill to the south-west, is the site of a famous Scots hill-fort, massively built of dry-stone walling with binding timber beaming, a type of construction noted by Julius Caesar. These forts were roughly contemporary with the Roman Invasions. It was in 80 AD that the celebrated Agricola "opened up new nations, for the territory of tribes as far as the estuary named Tanous (Tay) was ravaged", according to the Consul's son-in-law Tacitus. The Carpow Roman fort's site, unlike the Pictish one, is on low ground near the Tay. Nearby is Carpow House, and the scanty remains of old Capow. Here was the ancient seat of the Lords of Abernethy.