Gold in Scotland
Neil DL Clark
Gold is where you find it. Held tight in crevices in the bedrock, or rolling about streams and rivers, or awaiting discovery in veins and ores, there is still a lot of gold to be found. It is not everywhere, but if you are careful, and use the correct tools, it is possible to find gold just about anywhere in Scotland. I use the term “correct tools” quite loosely here as I started panning for gold in a fruit bowl and one of the largest nuggets in Scotland was found using a frying pan. “Correct tools” are any tools that can be used to successfully extract gold within the limitations of the permissions granted by the landlord or Crown. As with everything to do with the land in Scotland, ownership of the gold rights is very complicated. There are, however, a couple of areas where the gold can easily be obtained legally either by permit or by agreement; Wanlockhead in the Scottish Borders, and Kildonan in Sutherland.
At Wanlockhead, the Lead Mining Museum offers basic training in how to pan as well as selling permits on behalf of the Duke of Buccleuch to prospect the rivers and streams in the area. There is a long tradition of gold extraction in the area around Wanlockhead and Leadhills dating at least as far back as medieval times and probably even further back before records were kept. During the reigns of the Stewart kings, gold was washed from the land in fair quantities to line the royal coffers. Although, by the time James VI supplemented his realm with the throne of England, it was no longer profitable. Gold can still be found here as small flakes, pickers and the occasional nugget. One such recent nugget weighed 18.1 grams was found by a Canadian visitor who took a course on gold panning. Such large nuggets are rare, but nuggets weighing a gram or less are recovered relatively frequently.
Kildonan in the north of Scotland is where the only successful gold rush took place in the British Isles. Although gold was known of in the area for a half century at least, it was not until diggers from the Australian and New Zealand gold rushes returned to their native lands that any serious prospecting took place. By the end of 1868, Robert Nelson Gilchrist had found gold. A petition was signed asking the Duke of Sutherland to grant permission for digging the gold from the streams around Kildonan. Permission was granted and the British gold rush began in earnest on the 1st January 1869. Perhaps as a result of restrictions imposed, the lack of experience of some of the diggers, the adverse weather conditions, or the paucity of gold, the gold rush ceased on the last day of 1869. Since then, many prospectors, day-panners and fortune hunters have collected varying amounts of gold from the Kildonan Burn where permission to pan is granted if certain restrictions are adhered to (posted on the gazebo at the site of the former gold rush village at Baile an Or). At least one of the nuggets found here during the gold rush weighed about 60 grams.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the leisure pursuit of gold panning. The Scottish and British gold panning championships have been a popular event at Wanlockhead for years, testing the skills of gold panners from around Britain and beyond. This popular extravaganza of gold panning prowess has its roots in Finland in 1977, with many new national associations forming their own competitions – including the British Goldpanning Association which formed in 1988. Its popularity is such that the World Gold Panning Championships will be back in Scotland at Moffat in 2017.
Although gold has been found in unexpected places around Scotland, it is not often found in much quantity. Where it is found in quantity remains a secret between the panner and his quarry.