Gold panning at Wanlockhead

Today, the villages of Wanlockhead and Leadhills (the highest in Scotland) are probably best known for the centuries of toil that gave them the most productive lead mines in Scotland. However, it was the search for gold during the sixteenth century that revealed the abundance and richness of the lead veins.

At the marriage of James V to Magdalene of France in 1537, cups filled with bonnet-pieces made with gold from Crawford Muir were presented as specimens of ‘Scotch fruit’. From the same district, gold was supplied to refashion an older crown for the King. This Crown of Scotland, last worn at the coronation of Charles II at Scone in 1651, is now on display in Edinburgh Castle and forms part of the ‘Honours of Scotland’.

Earlier, in 1578, Sir Beavis Bulmer headed north across the Border. Having obtained letters of recommendation from Elizabeth I and, with his strong family connections to mining operations in the north of England, he was granted a patent by the Scottish Government ‘to adventure and search for gold and silver mines in the Leadhills’. Due to harsh climatic conditions, prospecting was confined to the summer months only. Nonetheless, over a period of three years, Bulmer amassed £100,000 worth of gold (in tutor values). He eventually returned to England where he presented Queen Elizabeth with a porringer (a small soup dish) made from Scottish gold. On the lintel of the house he left behind were inscribed the words, ‘In Wanlock, Elvan & Glengonar, I won my riches and my honour’.

From the earliest time, men have searched for gold, one of the world’s most precious metals. Its scarcity means that, if you find it, you have found something not just of great beauty but also of great value. Gold will keep its shine, colour and lustre no matter what, and it is for this reason that people have treasured it and will take risks to find it.

The Wanlockhead and Leadhills area of the Lowther Hills in South West Scotland was known as ‘God’s Treasure House in Scotland’ due to the abundance of minerals found in the area. Much of the gold used to form the ring around the shaft of the Scottish parliamentary mace came from this area. The ring signifies the marriage of the land, parliament and the people of Scotland. In addition, there were 26g of gold panned from Scotland’s waters and donated for use in the decoration of the mace.

The allure of gold continues today and the beautiful Mennock Pass, in the Lowther Hills of South West Scotland, provides one of the best areas in the UK to learn to pan. All the burns in the in the area contain abundant amounts of small flakes of gold and even the odd nugget. The Wanlockhead Lead Mining Museum provides gold panning on site and also runs day courses where tuition is given by experienced panners. There are various other areas of Scotland where excellent tuition is available.

There are two types of gold panning. These are recreational panning (prospecting in the rivers and burns) and competition panning. The annual British & Scottish National Gold Panning Championships are held at the Lead Mining Museum and are attended by panners from many parts of Europe. Spectators and visitors are always welcome and it’s free!

So, what do you need to pan for gold? First and foremost, you need permission from the landowner and then you need a pan, a plastic sieve and a shovel or pump to get the gravel from the riverbed into the pan.

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