Abernethy is a truly ancient village whose history can be traced back over more than two thousand years. It guards any landward approach to Fife from the north and lies just off the A913. Today it is a quiet and attractive village with interesting wynds and a fascinating story to tell.
Much of what you see today in the centre of Abernethy dates back to the 1700s or 1800s and, apart from the parked cars, would probably look very familiar to anyone from that era. The exception to this fairly uniform date of origin is a very obvious one. Right in the centre of Abernethy, springing skywards from a corner of the market square, is the Abernethy Round Tower.
At the foot of the tower is an even earlier relic, in the form of a Pictish symbol stone dating back to the years around 600. This was found nearby forming part of the foundations of a house, and is damaged as a result. Nonetheless the markings remain extremely clear, comprising a decorative tuning fork with a hammer one side and an anvil the other. Beneath them is part of a decorative motif known as a crescent and V-rod.
The first indication of settlement in and around Abernethy comes from the iron age fort on Castle Law, just to the south-west of the village. This was probably still in use in AD209, when the Romans started to build a fortress and port a mile north of Abernethy at Carpow, on the River Earn close to where it flows into the Tay.
Only two hundred years later, in the 400s, Abernethy was home to a Christian church, and in the following century a Columban monastery was set up here. The Pictish King Nechtan IV founded a cathedral here in the early 700s, and by 1100 Abernethy was a major centre for the Celtic Culdee monks, being home to both a religious university and a monastery.
Nechtan's involvement may explain the oddity of Abernethy's name. "Abernethy" would normally translate as mouth of the bright river, which is a little odd given its location a mile away from the nearest river of any significance. More convincing is the suggestion it was known in Gaelic as "Obair Nechtan" or Nechtan's work. It's quite easy to see how this could end up as Abernethy.
In 1072 the same William the Conqueror who had invaded England in 1066 invaded Scotland with a large army supported by a fleet. The Scots under Malcolm III were no match and hostilities ceased after the Treaty of Abernethy was agreed here between William and Malcolm. In English eyes this was the document that would later support the claims of Edward I and others that the Crown of Scotland was subordinate to the Crown of England.
In later years the Culdee monastery was replaced by a Augustinian one and a collegiate church was also founded in Abernethy. The Reformation of 1560 brought an end to the village's role as an ecclesiastical centre: and since then it has served as a focus for the rural River Earn valley to the north. You can find out more about the story of Abernethy and its people at the Museum of Abernethy.