On the day that we made the journey from Perthshire to Edinburgh, we decided to stop by Elcho Castle, which we had seen signs for in Bridge of Earn. To “stop by” this little castle, we had to go through some super windy roads that led us to the middle of a bunch of fields. There was a friendly family out riding their horses who assured us we were heading the right way, and after continuing on through a farm (we felt like trespassers), we did eventually get there. We hadn’t trespassed either, as there was only one way in!
My first impression of the castle was that, although small, it was mighty. There was a little cottage just in front of it, and what liked like the remains of a wall around it. The castle itself had a large number of turrets, and sat like an old many quietly watching over the land. I was itching to get inside and find out more.
Given it’s small size and out-of-the-way location, it’s not really surprising that Elcho Castle doesn’t have much history attached to it. It was built as a home for the Wemyss family in 1560, but abandoned sometime in the early 1700s. Most of the house is still original, but in the 1830s there were some repairs on the building, and its likely that the wall that would have once made up the courtyard was dismantled and used in the building of the little cottage. However, being out of the reach of major historical events isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Elcho Castle is one of Scotland’s best preserved tower houses from the 1500s. Damage to the building is minimal, and so you can get in and really picture the building in its heyday…
You enter the building through a small door and are immediately greeted by a wide staircase It was common in the 1500s for guests to immediately take the staircase up to the Great Hall, on the first floor. The rest of the ground floor was service rooms. However, we decided to check out the ground floor first. The fireplace in the kitchen was massive, and there were lots of tiny staircases spiralling up through the house, so servants wouldn’t use the main staircase. The ground floor actually has (what would have once been) an innovative design point; a corridor connecting the rooms. Before this was added, you would have walked from room to room, but the corridor meant that each room could serve an independent function, and the floor on top could be wider. Such a small detail we take for granted nowadays!
We went up the relatively wide staircase to a large room that would have once been divided into the Great Hall (formal area for receiving guests) and the Bed Chamber (which served as a private family room rather than a bedroom). The room would have once been lavishly decorated, but today is just plain. The family must have held a very remarkable status because there’s at least 15 toilets throughout the house! That’s a lot for a building that’s as old as it is!
The big staircase actually stops on the first floor, but there are other smaller ones that lead further upstairs. These upstairs rooms would have been private family rooms, guest accommodation, and possibly the Steward’s accommodation as well. There’s actually a floor missing upstairs, but you can see the marks on the walls where the beams supporting it would have been, and the tight spiral staircases have doorways that open to a sudden drop (fortunately they’re blocked!). Going upstairs also gives you access to the little wall walk, where you can admire the views and have a peek over the edge… if you dare!
Elcho Castle was built at a time when defended castles were going out of fashion, and castle-style country houses were coming into fashion. This explains a lot about the castle’s appearance. However, it’s still a building that can be easily defended; the courtyard wall had at least one circular tower that could be used, the original iron yett behind the door would have been the barricade, and the building has some 17 gun holes to aid in the defence.
Although small and lacking the grand history you might be searching for, Elcho Castle was a very interesting building. The fact that so much of the building is preserved is a feat in its own right, but to be able to go in and see architecture that was innovative for its day, but still maintaining much of the traditions of older styles, was fascinating. It’s a little out-of-the way for most travellers, but if you happen to spot the signs pointing it out, it’s a lovely little place to explore, and then have a mid-morning snack in the shadows of this lovely building.