Have a go at panning for gold and make some deer friends while you’re at it, writes Catriona Thomson
There’s gold in them thar hills,” or so the saying goes. So it would be foolish not to try out a family leisure activity that offers the potential for economic enrichment. We headed in the direction of Aberfeldy, Perthshire to the Highland Safaris HQ, with daughters, Eve and Hope, to have a go at gold panning. Along for the day as we try our hand at prospecting is our very own golden girl, Granny Evelyn.
The headquarters is a base for a number of activities; Land Rover driving safaris, walking and biking are all masterminded from this award-winning site. If you find yourself nearby and seeking adventure then this is the place to come. After collecting our equipment, we were given a brief beginner’s guide to the technique required. The key instruction is to gently wash away grit in the purpose-made water sluice, taking care not to lose your treasure.
The day we visited, there was a layer of ice on the surface of the water, so Granny Evelyn installed herself at a table in the cosy cafe and shop and laughed at the crazy treasure hunters hard at work. She enjoyed coffee and cake while we put our backs into it and swirled copious amounts of water in our platters, buoyed by the promise that you can keep whatever you find.
To our surprise and delight we quickly found some tiny jewels and gem stones. Once you get an eye for it, you are able to gather garnets and what might have been the tini-
est flakes of real gold, although if I’m honest they could easily have been glitter. We did, however, find nuggets of fool’s gold or iron pyrite to give it its proper name. Jasper, sodalite, amethyst, peridot, barytes, galena, clear quartz and rose quartz are all there if you look hard enough and identification samples are displayed so you can work out what you’ve got. It’s pretty addictive and satisfying, popping our booty into our plastic bag.
Chased inside by the cold we filled up with lunch and the biggest slice of coffee cake I’ve ever seen. We had signed up for the Red Deer Encounter in the afternoon to get a close look at the majestic beasts which live on site. Our guide took our group into their pen, alongside the tame but curious deer who allowed us to feed them by hand as we learned a little about their wild cousins. In the neighbouring field are the rest of the herd, including a young stag called Zoom, who boasts a head of fine antlers. They will soon fall off to grow again in time for the rutting season in autumn. He looked pretty content among his harem of hinds.
Sadly, we didn’t make our family fortune. With gold trading at approximately £1,000 per ounce, please don’t all rush at once.
• Gold panning costs £5 per bucket of grit or £15 for 4. Daily Red Deer Encounters at 12:30pm cost £5 per person or £15 per family of four. For further information, see www.highlandsafaris.net