“ Near Perth / Perthshire / Scotland „
Elcho Castle is situated about five miles from Perth, near the river Tay, couple of miles from the village of Rhynd. It's not a particularly famous or iconic castle, but it's a well preserved one and in a superb setting.
The castle goes back to late 16th/early 17th century and the estate has been in the Wemyss family since 1468. It's still nominally owned by the Earl of Wemyss, but it's in care of Historic Scotland (£3.70 adult admission price, free to members or holders of the Explorer Pass).
The castle itself is still standing, and is much more than a picturesque ruin. All walls, floors and roofs are still there (it was re-roofed in the 19th century) and although very little of the original interior features still remains, the building itslef gives a good idea of what life was like for the family and its retinue of servants and retainers. It's essentially a huge stone-built tower house, which originally has been surrounded by a courtyard with many smaller-scale buildings of which little remains today.
It's still very much a defensive structure: there is only one door, well defended by gunloops, ground-floor windows are small and heavily barred, and the walkways and guard towers on the roof level reinforce the impression.
But Elcho Castle was built as a home as well as a stronghold. Most of the ground floor is taken up by a large kitchen, with huge fireplace and several adjoining storage and function chambers. A sweeping staircase (the largest one) leads to the first floor and the great hall, in which a large table, a fireplace and some wrought-iron candlesticks give more idea of what the room was like when filled with inhabitants and visitors. Sometimes, there is a dressing-up box in the hall that allows the visitors to try on some period-style hats and other garments.
There are three other staircases in the castle, much narrower and steeper than the main one, which lead to many bechambers (several with what seems like en-suite toilet facilities) and all the way up to the roof-level walkways from which magnificent views of the surrounding countryside and the river Tay.
On the riverside of the castle there is a disused quarry (probably used when the castle was being built), now a shady overgrown garden, but apparently it was originally linked to the river and provided the castle with a private dock!
The surrounding grounds are very pleasant, with some ruined walls of the original courtyard buildings, a cute stone-built cottage and expanses of grass lawn, shaded by old beech trees and several picnic tables near the (new) orchard. On a sunny day it's a nice place to have a picnic lunch, and if you pick your spot well, you will be able to see between the trees to the river, and the other bank with some red fishing boats.
Unfortunately there is no access to the Tay from the castle grounds: apparently there are some plans (or at least, ideas) to develop such access, and have a jetty with a water-taxi service, but as for now, the views of the river is what visitors have to be content with.
Outside the main site, before the car park and the gate, there is a recently restored stone dovecot, an attractively conical building which can be walked into (there is no pigeons - the top hole has been covered by a transparent domed window), prettily situated by a small burn.
There is a small gift shop which also sells ice-cream and hot and cold drinks, but no food so if you are planning this picnic, bring your own provisions. It's a quiet site, and on weekdays you are likely to be one of only few visitors - or may even have it to yourself. It gets busier on weekends and holidays, but is never crowded.
Despite being only about five miles from Perth, Elcho Castle feels incredibly secluded: located in the corner of a rolling countryside, between M90, river Earn and river Tay, it has a quiet, almost time-forgotten feeling: a hidden gem.
There is no public transport whatsoever, so you need to drive. The castle is couple of miles down winding, mostly single-track road from the village of Rhynd (which has no public transport either). It's well sign-posted from Perth (leaving Perth turn left off Edinburgh road just before the slip road to M90, coming off M90 turn first right, while still on dual carriageway ) or Bridge of Earn (turn right just after the bridge).
You need to drive through a working farm to get to the castle itself and at the time of writing (June 2009) there was some major electrical work going on at the farm and the cars had to be parked on a grass verge before: a short (maybe five minutes) walk, although with more visitors I can imagine parking and particularly turning round being a bit of a pain.
Elcho Castle is not really accessible to the wheelchair bound, apart from a part of the lawn. Inside of the building has uneven floors and lots of stairs, while part of the grounds (including that leading to the toilets) is steep lawn. There is no disabled toilet.
Small children should be able to enjoy Elcho with no problems, though the narrower staircases might be a bit of a challenge to any under three, so prepare yourself to carry your toddler if you want to go all the way up.
Open April to October.
This castle dates back to the early 1500's.