Abernethy, pp.15-18.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   ABERNETHY, a parish partly and chiefly in Perthshire, and partly in Fifeshire; bounded on the north by the Earn river, which separates it from the parishes of Dunbarn and Rhynd, and by the estuary of the Tay; on the east and south by Fifeshire; and on the west by the parishes of Dron and Dunbarn. This parish is of an irregular figure. It extends from east to west about 4 miles; and from north to south, in some places, nearly 5. The surface is uneven; a considerable part is hilly, and belongs to that ridge of hills called the Ochills. The low-ground, betwixt the rivers Tay and Earn on the north, and the hills on the south, forms nearly an oblong square of about 4 miles in length by 1½ in breadth. About 25 feet below the surface of this flat, and 4 feet below the highest spring-tide mark in the Tay and Earn, there is uniformly found a stratum of moss from 1 to 3 feet thick. This moss is composed of remains of oak, aller, hazle, birch, &c. The soil above this bed is composed of strata of clay and sand. The Earn, by breaking down the opposing banks in its serpentine turning, has formed beautiful links or haughs on each side of its stream, which are secured from being overflowed, by embankments. The Tay, which washes the eastern part of the northern boundary, is here navigable, and affords salmon and sea-trout. The proprietor of Carpow has valuable fishings upon it. In the middle of this river, opposite to Mugdrum, in the parish of Newburgh, is an island called Mugdrum island, belonging to this parish. It is nearly 1 mile in length; its greatest breadth is 198 yards; area 31 acres. The Earn, which bounds the northern part of the parish till it falls into the Tay, a little below the mansion-house of Carpow, is navigable for several miles. It also produces salmon and trout, which are chiefly sent to Perth, and thence to the English market. There are two passage-boats on the Earn: one at Cary, which is seldom employed; another at Ferryfield, upon the estate of Carpow, near the junction of the Earn and the Tay. The Farg, a rivulet rising on the borders of Kinross-shire and flowing into the Earn about 1½ mile west from Abernethy, also abounds with small trout. There is another small rivulet, the Ballo burn, anciently called the Trent, which flows through what is called the glen of Abernethy. Population of the entire parish, in 1801, 1,488; in 1831, 1,776. Houses 324. Assessed property, £7,976. – The population of that portion of the parish which is in Fifeshire was, in 1801, 133; and in 1831, 164. Number of houses 28. Assessed property £1,496. The valued rent is £884 15s. 1d. Scots. The real rent about £8,000 sterling. The town of Abernethy is nearly in the centre of the parish, 3 miles west by south from Newburgh. It is a burgh of barony under Lord Douglas, coming in place of the earls of Angus. It has a charter from Archibald, Earl of Angus, Lord of Abernethy, dated August 23, 1476; which was confirmed by charter of William, Earl of Angus, dated November 29, 1628. There is a cattle fair here on the 12th of February; also on the fourth Wednesday in May, and second Thursday in November. Population, 800. – This place, though “now a mean village,” says Dr Jamieson, “once boasted high honours, and had very considerable extent. It would appear that it was a royal residence in the reign of one of the Pictish princes who bore the name of Nethan or Nectan. The Pictish chronicle has ascribed the foundation of Abernethy to Nethan I., in the third year of his reign, corresponding with A.D. 458. The Register of St Andrews, with greater probability, gives it to Nethan II., about the year 600. Fordun and Wyntoun agree in assigning it to Garnat, or Garnard, the predecessor of the second Nethan. Abernethy had existed as a royal seat perhaps before the building of any conspicuous place of worship. For we learn, that the Nethan referred to ‘sacrificed to God and St Bridget at Aburnethige;’ and that the same Nethan, ‘king of all the provinces of the Picts, gave as an offering to St Bridget, Apurnethige, till the day of judgment.’ Fordun expressly asserts, that, when this donation was made, Abernethy was ‘the chief seat, both regal and pontifical, of the whole kingdom of the Picts.’ He afterwards relates, that, in the year 1072, Malcolm Canmore did homage, in the place called Abernethy, to William the Bastard, for the lands which he held in England. I have elsewhere thrown out a conjecture that this place may have been denominated from the name of Nethan the founder. It has been said, indeed, that ‘ the name which Highlanders give to Abernethy, is Obair or Abair Neachtain, that is, the work of Nechtan. But it seems preferable to derive it from Nethy, the name of the brook on which it stands.” 

   This parish is in the presbytery of Perth, and synod of Perth and Stirling. Stipend £256 5s. 7d.; with a glebe of the value of £12, and a manse. Patron, the Earl of Mansfield. There are about £270 unappropriated teinds. The schoolmaster has the maximum salary, with the interest of a mortification of £190, and some other small fees. There are two private schools. The church is remarkable for nothing but its antiquity; there are no records, nor so much as a tradition when it was built. The Secession have a church here. Abernethy was in ancient times the seat of an episcopal see. When Kenneth III. had subdued the Picts, he translated the see to St Andrews; but long before this Abernethy was known as a principal seat of the Culdees. While they held it, there was an university here for the education of youth, as appears from the Priory book of St Andrews. In the year 1273 – by which time the Culdees were much discouraged – it was turned into a priory of canons-regular of St Augustine, who were brought, it is said, from the abbey of Inchaffray. 

   In the church-yard stands a tower of an extraordinary construction. South-west from the kirktown there is a hill, called Castle-law. Dr Jamieson says: “Although the round tower of Abernethy has attracted the attention of many travellers and writers, and been the subject of various hypotheses, no one has ever thought of viewing it as connected with the royal residence; as it was undoubtedly used for some ecclesiastical purpose. That good-humoured old writer, Adamson, assigns a singular reason for the erection of this building; while he seems not to have known that there was another of the same description at Brechin, considerably higher than this. He pretends that this was built by the Picts to prevent the Scots from trampling on the body of their king after his death:- 

Passing the river Earne, on th’ other side, – 

Thence to the Pights great Metropolitan, 

Where stands a steeple, the like in all Britaine 

Not to be found againe, a work of wonder, 

So tall and round in frame, a just cylinder, 

Built by the Pights in honour of their king, 

That of the Scots none should attempt such thing, 

As over his bellie big to walk or ride, 

But this strong hold should make him to abide. 


This tower is hollow, but without any staircase. At the bottom are two rows of stones, projecting as a sort of pedestal. It is 75 feet in height, and consists of 64 regular courses of hewn stones. At the base it measures 48 feet in circumference, but diminishes somewhat towards the top; the thickness of the wall being 3½ feet at the bottom, and 3 at the top. It has only one door, facing the north; 8 feet in height, 3 wide, and arched. Towards the top are four windows; they are equidistant; 5 feet 9 inches in height, and 2 feet 2 inches in breadth; each being supported by two small pillars. Some intelligent visitors assert, that, whatever may have been the original design of this work, it has at one time been used as a cemetery. Where the earth has been dug up, to the depth of three feet, a number of human bones have been found in the exact position in which they must have been interred; which, it is urged, would not have been the case, had they been thrown in from the adjoining ground. It stands at the corner of the present churchyard. ‘South-west from the town,’ we are told in the ‘Statistical Account,’ ‘there is a hill, called Castle-law. Tradition says, that there was a fort upon the top of it.’ ‘This,’ it is subjoined, ‘probably served for one of those watch-towers on which the Picts used to kindle fires, on sudden invasions, insurrections, or the approach of the enemy.’ But if any place bids fair to have been the site of a royal residence, this seems to have a principal claim. It follows, however; ‘About a mile and a half east from Abernethy, a little below the mansion-house of Carpow, stood the ancient castle which belonged to the lords of Abernethy; part of its foundation may be still seen.’ Now, it might be supposed that here, as in other instances, the person who obtained the grant of royal domains would prefer the occupation of the ancient residence to the erection of a new one. The distance would be no objection. For I have elsewhere proved, from the most ancient authority, that, during the Pictish era, Abernethy was far more extensive than it now is; as the king, in his donation to St Brigid, extends its limits to a stone near Carpow. I acknowledge, however, that the place called Castle-law seems to claim the preference. For, from the most minute inquiry, I learn that there is a tradition, perfectly familar to every one in the vicinity, that this was the residence of the ancient Pictish kings. In confirmation of this article of traditionary belief, an appeal is made, not only to the vast quantity of stones still remaining on this hill, but to the description of those that have been carried off in successive ages. Unlike the materials of the cairns, which are so commonly met with in our country, these have, in a great measure, been hewn stones. A house in the neighbourhood has, of late, been entirely built of dressed stones carried off from the Law. There seems, therefore, to be no reason to doubt that this has been the site of very extensive and superb buildings. The remains of a surrounding moat are yet to be traced on the west side. At the bottom of this hill, an eminence is called the Quarrel-know, i.e. knoll, where, according to tradition, the Picts were wont to celebrate their military games. This may have been its original appropriation, whence in later ages it might continue to be employed for similar purposes. But the name itself can hardly claim so early an origin; having most probably been given to it, in an age in which the use of the cross-bow was common, from the designation of the arrow shot from it, which was called a quarrel; unless the term should be traced to our old Scottish word quarrell, or querell, denoting a quarry. The view from this elevation has been deemed worthy of its ancient royal honours, as scarcely excelled by any in Scotland, – a country so rich in beautiful and picturesque prospects. While the classic Earn unites with the noble Tay at your feet, the eye is delighted with the richness of the carse of Gowrie; and the prosperous town of Dundee is seen in the distance, with the numerous sails that enliven the expanding river in its course to what was anciently denominated the Scythic sea.” – by the south-west corner of the parish, among the hills, stands Balvaird castle, which belonged to the Murrays of Balvaird, in the reign of Robert II. It is now the property of the Earl of Mansfield, the lineal descendant of that ancient house. 

   ABERNETHY, a parish partly in the shire of Elgin, partly in that of Inverness; bounded on the north by Duthill and Inverallan parishes; on the east by Banffshire; on the south by Braemar; and on the west by the river Spey. The parish of Kincardine, or Kinchardine, which belongs exclusively to Inverness-shire, having been united to this parish about the time of the Reformation, it is sometimes known as the united parish of Abernethy and Kinchardine. The name is descriptive of the situation of the kirk-town with respect to the Nethy, being within a mile of the fall of that stream into the Spey. The meaning of the name Nethy, or Neich, is not known; that of Kinchardine, or Kinie-chairdin, is ‘the Clan of Friends.’ It is 15 miles in length, measured from Cromdale on the north to Rothiemurchus on the south; and from 10 to 12 in breadth. The surface is highly diversified with haughs, woods, and mountains. A stretch of about 3 miles of low land and meadow, along the bank of the Spey, is often overflowed by that river, which here runs smooth and slow. The arable ground bears but a small proportion to the uncultivated. A great proportion of the surface is covered with woods: on the Grant estate alone there are 7,000 acres of natural fir-wood. – The only river of any note, besides the Spey, is the Nethy, which, rising on the northern side of the hills to the east of Cairngorm, known as the Braes of Abernethy, flows in a north-west direction through the forests, and empties itself into the Spey, 4 miles above Grantown. It is about 12 miles in length, and is a rapid running stream; after rains, or thaws, it swells so as to bring down the timber that has been cut in the forests of Grant to the Spey, whence it is sent in rafts to Garmouth. There is a bridge over the Nethy about a mile above its confluence with the Spey, having a water-way of 84 feet. A little to the east of the Nethy is the burn of Cultmore. The Dualg burn flows into the Spey about 4 miles above the Nethy. There are several small lakes in Kincardine, the most considerable of which is Loch Morlach, in Glenmore; it is of an oval form, and nearly two miles in diameter. It is in the bottom of the glen, and surrounded with aged fir woods, which rise gradually towards the mountains. It discharges itself into the Spey by the Morlach burn, which is about 4 miles in length. In Glenmore there is another small loch, in extent about one acre, which abounds with small fat green trout. At the foot of Cairngorm, about a mile from its base, is Loch Avon, whence the river of that name issues. At one end of this loch is a large natural cave, called Chlachdhian, or ‘the Sheltering stone.’ Of the mountains of this parish, Cairngorm, or ‘the Blue mountain,’ is the most remarkable. It commands an extensive view. The shires of Ross, Sutherland, and Caithness, are seen from its summit. See CAIRNGORM. – Besides a great deal of birch and alder, there are two very large fir forests in this parish. The fir-wood of Abernethy, now belonging to the earl of Seafield, is of great extent, and very thriving. “It is not a very long time back,” says the writer of the old statistical account of this parish, “since the laird of Grant got only a merk a-year for what a man choosed to cut and manufacture with his axe and saw; people now alive remember it at 1s. 8d. a-year, afterwards it came to 3s. 4d. and then the laird of Rothiemurchus, commonly called Maccalpin, brought it up to 5s. a-year, and 1lb. of tobacco. Brigadier Alexander Grant – who died in 1719 – attempted to bring some masts from his woods of Abernethy to London; but though a man of great enterprize in his military profession, did not persevere in this, owing to the many difficulties he had to encounter, such as the want of roads in the woods, skill in the country-people, and all kinds of necessary implements. About the year 1730, a branch of the York-building company, purchased to the amount of about £7,000 of these woods of Abernethy, and continued till about the year 1737; the most profuse and profligate set that ever were heard of then in this corner. This was said to be a stock-jobbing business. Their extravagancies of every kind ruined themselves, and corrupted others. But yet their coming to the country was beneficial in many respects; for, besides the knowledge and skill which was acquired from them, they made many useful and lasting improvements; they cut roads through the woods; they erected proper saw-mills; they invented the construction of the raft, as it is at present, and cut a passage through a rock in the Spey, without which, floating to any extent could never be attempted. Before their time, some small trifling rafts were sent down Spey in a very awkward and hazardous manner: 10 or 12 dozen of deals, huddled together, conducted by a man, sitting in what was called a currach, made of a hide, in the shape and about the size of a small brewing-kettle, broader above than below, with ribs or hoops of wood in the inside, and a cross-stick for the man to sit on; who, with a paddle in his hand, went before the raft, to which his currach was tied with a rope. These currachs were so light, that the men carried them on their backs home from Speymouth.”1 The duke of Gordon is proprietor of the fir-woods of Glenmore, in the barony of Kincardine. See GLENMORE. Population, in 1801, 927; in 1831, 2,092, in 445 families, of whom 204 families were employed in agriculture. Houses 436. The valued rent is £1553 16s. Scots; the gross land-rent of the two parishes, exclusive of the woods, is about £2500 sterling. 

   This parish, formerly a vicarage, is in the presbytery of Abernethy, and synod of Moray. Patron, the Earl of Seafield. Stipend £234 2s. 1d., with a glebe valued at £7, and a manse. Unappropriated teinds £98. Schoolmaster’s salary £25 13s. 3½d., with about £20 fees; scholars average 75. There is a small private school. The church of Kincardine is 8 miles distant from the village of Abernethy. The parish-minister officiates two successive sabbaths in Abernethy church, and every third sabbath in that of Kincardine. The latter church has sittings for 600; the former, for 1,000. Both are well-built. – There is a large oblong square building near the church, called Castle-Roy, or the Red castle, one side measures 30, the other 20 yards; the height is about 10. It never was roofed, has no loop-holes, and only one entrance to the inside. Neither history nor tradition give any account of it. – The Hon. John Grant, Chief-justice of Jamaica, was a native of this parish; and Francis Grant, Lord Cullen, and Patrick Grant, Lord Prestongrange, both eminent jurisconsults, and lords of session, were connected with this parish. At Knock of Kincardine was born, in 1700, John Stuart, commonly called John Roy Stuart. He was a good Gaelic poet. 

   The Rev. John Grant in his statistical account of this parish, published in 1792, says:- “The incumbent remembers when the people of this country kept out a watch in the summer-months, for protecting their cattle, and these watches kept up by a round of duty, and reliefs at certain periods.” Mr Grant also supplies the following anecdotes of some of his clansmen:- “Robert Grant, commonly called Bailie More, lived in this parish. It is said, he used to hang people for disobliging him. He seldom called juries: he hanged two brothers on a tree within a thousand yards of this town, and buried both in one grave on the roadside. The grave and stones above it are still visible. Another, named James Grant, commonly called Bailie Roy, who lived long in this parish, hanged a man of the name of Stuart, and after hanging him, set a jury on him and found him guilty! The bailie had many reasons for being in such a hurry. The man was, unluckily for him, wealthy, and abounded in cattle, horses, sheep and goats, all of which were instantly driven to the bailie’s home; Stuart’s children set a-begging, and his wife became deranged in her mind, and was afterward drowned in a river: it is not very long since. This same Bailie Roy, on another occasion, hanged two notorious thieves, parboiled their heads, and set them up on spikes afterward. At another time, he drowned two men in sacks, at the bridge of Billimon, within a few hundred yards of this manse, and endeavoured to compel a man from Glenmore, in the barony of Kinchardine, to assist him and the executioners he had with him in the business; which the man refusing to do, the bailie said to him, ‘If you was within my regality, I would teach you better manners than to disobey my commands.’ This bailie bought a good estate. There was another of them, called Bailie Bain, in this country; who became so odious, that the country-people drowned him in Spey, near the church of Inverallan, about 2 miles from hence. They took off his boots and gloves, left them on the bank, and drove his horse through a rugged place, full of large stones. The tract in the sand, boots, &c, discovered what had become of him; and when a search was made for him down the river, a man met the party near the church of Cromdale, who asked them what they were searching for? they answered, ‘For the bailie’s body;’ upon which he said, ‘Turn back, turn back, perhaps he is gone up against the river, for he was always acting against nature.’ As their power was great, and generally abused, so many of them enriched themselves. They had many ways of making money for themselves; such as, 1. The bailie’s darak, as it was called, or a day’s labour in the year from every tenant on the estate. 2. Confiscations, as they generally seized on all the goods and effects of such as suffered capitally. 3. All fines for killing game, black-fish, or cutting green wood, were laid on by themselves, and went into their own pockets. These fines amounted to what they pleased almost. 4. Another very lucrative perquisite they had, was, what was called the herial horse, which was, the best horse, cow, ox, or other article, which any tenant on the estate possessed at the time of his death. This was taken from the widow and children for the bailie, at the time they had most need of assistance. This amounted to a great deal on a large estate. This practice was abolished by the late Sir Ludovick Grant in this country, in the year 1738.”

1  This description of the Spey currach is exactly that given by Herodotus of the vessels used by the natives in navigating the Euphrates between Armenia and Babylon.