The present Elcho Castle was begun around 1560 by the Wemyss family, in whose possession the castle remains to this day.
Built on a Z-plan, it consists of a massive central rectangular block rising to four storeys, attached to which are an assortment of round and square towers. On the ground floor is the kitchen and vaulted storerooms, while a wide sweeping stone staircase gives access to the first floor, where the main hall is located.
Next to the main hall is a bedroom, and in these two rooms are remnants of ornate 16th century plasterwork.
Above the main hall are a further two storeys, divided by a wooden floor of which only the beams remain.
The Wemyss family lived mainly at Wemyss Castle in Fife, so this was effectively a house in the country for the laird and his family. However it was built during turbulent times, so as well as the fine details there is clear evidence that it was built to be defended.
At ground level there are 17 gun-loops, several of them covering the only door into the castle. On the roof is a walkway and guard towers.
The castle occupies a fine defensive position on a rocky outcrop on the banks of the River Tay. At the river side of the castle this rock was quarried away to provide stone for the castle, at the same time creating a rocky cliff face.
At the front of the castle there was originally a barmkin, of which little remains. A round tower still stands, marking the south-east extent of the courtyard, and a low section of walling remains to the south-west.
The 16th century Elcho Castle is thought to have been built on the site of an earlier structure. The Wemyss family had links to the plot at least as far back as 1429, and possibly earlier. In his 15th century writings Blind Harry mentions that William Wallace stayed in the tower of Elchoch in the 13th century.
The land was granted to the Wemyss family by James III in 1468. In 1628 John Wemyss was made Lord Wemyss of Elcho, followed in 1633 with the title Lord Elcho and Methel and Earl of Wemyss. David Wemyss, the 6th Earl of Wemyss, fought on the Jacobite side at the Battle of Culloden and escaped to France, and Elcho Castle was neglected.
By the late 18th century Elcho Castle was falling into disrepair, and the family’s main residence was Gosford House in East Lothian. However the 8th Earl of Wemyss, Francis Wemyss Charteris Douglas, re-roofed and re-glazed the castle in 1830 to protect it for the future, and in 1929 the 11th Earl of Wemyss, Hugo Richard Charteris, placed it in state care (although the Wemyss family retain ownership).
Alternative names for Elcho Castle
Elchoch; Elchok; Elthok