Metal panned in Highlands to be part of 2014 prizes

Shooter Jen McIntosh kisses her Commonwealth medals won in New Delhi. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Shooter Jen McIntosh kisses her Commonwealth medals won in New Delhi. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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IT WON’T be just any old gold medal. It will be a gold medal made in Scotland.

Up to 12 grams of the precious metal are to be recovered from a stream in the Highlands and offered to Commonwealth Games organisers in Glasgow to create a memorable prize for a 2014 podium topper.

Local enthusiasts are panning the Kildonan burn at Helmsdale – scene of a gold rush in 1869 – in a bid to ­discover enough 18-carat treasure to create a unique and valuable prize. Organisers of the project also hope any leftover reserves could be added to the supplies being used to make all the winning medals, so “a little bit of Scotland is in each one”.

Kildonan burn at Helmsdale in Sutherland

Kildonan burn at Helmsdale in Sutherland

The project has been created by the Timespan Museum and Arts Centre in Helmsdale, which has invited hundreds of panners to contribute their finds towards the making of a medal. A Commonwealth Games 2014 spokesman last night confirmed the offer would be seriously considered.

Museum chairwoman Jean Sargent said: “Wouldn’t it be amazing to see a Scottish winner wearing a medal made of Scottish gold?

“The London Olympics ­declined an offer, which was disappointing, but then we thought who else could use our gold and where better than the Commonwealth Games being held in Scotland?

“There were plenty of Scots medallists at the Olympics, so there should be a number of contenders. We are delighted to be in a position to donate to the Games and really hope they take us up on our offer.”

Sargent added: “It is hoped we can donate around 12 grams of Kildonan gold. Although this is enough to cover two medals, it is our desire to have one special medal made solely of our gold, and that the remaining gold contribution will be added to the bigger mix of gold sourced for all the medals. It is an exciting community effort that will involve locals and visitors wanting to participate in the hoopla in the run up to 2014.

“We are in a remote part of Scotland, with a significant history with the connections with the Highland Clearances, and it would be great to have a piece of this part of the country going to the Games.”

Scots athletes won seven golds at the London Olympics this summer with some hoping to repeat the feat in Glasgow in two years’ time. Track cyclist Sir Chris Hoy picked up two and another was contributed by tennis star Andy Murray. Katherine Grainger and Heather Stanning won rowing events, while canoeist Tim Baillie and showjumper Scott Brash also grabbed golds. Scotland’s most successful gold medallists at Commonwealth Games are sprinter Allan Wells (4) diver Peter Heatly (3) and shooter Alister Allan (3).

Although called gold medals, they are usually made of only 1.34 per cent gold while the rest is silver (92.5 per cent) and copper (6.16 per cent). They have a monetary value of around £450.

A Glasgow 2014 spokesman said: “The medals won by athletes are an important part of the overall athlete experience and we are in the early stages of developing our medal ceremonies strategy in conjunction with the Commonwealth Games Federation.

“The medal design and production process will be further explored next year and consideration will be given to a variety of options and methods, including those unique to Scotland, to meet with the expectations of the athletes.”

The history of Kildonan’s gold started in 1818, when a solitary nugget was found in the River Helmsdale. Gold ­fever only broke out 50 years later when local man Robert Nelson Gilchrist returned home after 17 years in the Australian goldfields. He was given permission by the Duke of Sutherland to pan the gravels of the Helmsdale and he chose to systematically prospect its burns and tributaries.

In late 1868, there was a brief announcement in a local newspaper stating that “gold had been discovered at Kildonan in the county of Sutherland”. In 1869, over 500 prospectors came to Baile an Or – Town of Gold – to seek their fortune. No-one became rich, mainly because it would take an expert gold-panner weeks to collect a single gram from the Kildonan burn unless they were lucky enough to find a nugget. Despite the lack of instant riches, over 2,000 people still pan for gold each year in Helmsdale. And those who give up their finds for a taste of Commonwealth glory will, as well as getting a special certificate to mark their hard work and generosity, get their own reward. “It is a very relaxing pastime,” said Sargent.

Twitter: @AlistairMunro1