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Publication Account

Date 1987

Event ID 1016937

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


The round tower at Abernethy is probably broadly contemporary with its counterpart at Brechin (no. 66), dating from the 11th century. It stands approximately 22 m high, and access to the top, from which there is a superb view, is by means of a modem spiral stair. The internal diameter remains constant at 2.515 m but externally the wall battens from 4.648 m at the base to 4.267 m at the top. The bottom twelve courses are built in a different stonework to the remainder, but the entrance door is constructed of the same stonework as the upper section of the tower. This suggests that there may have been an earlier tower and that on rebuilding it a new doorway was slapped in the existing base. The stone used for the bottom courses is remarkably similar to that used for St Rule's Church, St Andrews (see no. 64), and both may come from the same source, possibly by sea as land transport from a common quarry is highly unlikely at this early date.

It is probable that Abernethy was a place of some importance throughout the Dark Ages. It is mentioned in the margin of one of the surviving copies of the Pictish king-list and some scholars believe that the king-list may have been compiled here in some vanished Pictish monastery, perhaps related to the tower. Several early carved stones have been found in the vicinity, including the Pictish symbol stone now set against the wall of the tower, beside the gate into the churchyard. This is a 7th century stone,incomplete but bearing four sharply incised symbols: a 'tuning fork' flanked on either side by a hammer and anvil, and below a crescent and V-rod. Alongside is a metal collar, or jougs, by which offenders were chained as punishment in medieval times.

South-west of Abernethy, on a flank of Castle Law, there is a ruinous but still impressive hillfort (NO 182153). Its situation allows a clear view over the Tay and Earn rivers to the north and over Abernethy Glen to the south-east, a minor route-way into the interior of Fife. The fort was defended by a massive stone wall, some 6 m thick, which has collapsed into a broad band of rubble; excavation revealed that the stonework had been strengthened by transverse and longitudinal wooden beams. There is an outer wall at the west end of the fort, and a rock-cut cistern inside the fort on its south side.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Fife and Tayside’, (1987).

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