Scotland set for gold rush as 10,000 panners hunt for fortune

A remote Scottish town is in for a gold rush over the next week as 10,000 panners hope to get their hands on the valuable metal.

More than 10,000 people are set to descend on Wanlockhead hills. Picture: SWNS
More than 10,000 people are set to descend on Wanlockhead hills. Picture: SWNS

Thousands of amateur prospectors from around the world are expected to compete in the world championships of gold panning after they arrive this weekend.

They are bidding to become the best in the world during the unusual week-long contest which will be held in the town of Moffat, in Dumfriesshire.

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The event involves competitors from more than 20 different countries who will attempt to find small flakes of gold within a bucket full of sand and gravel.

More than 10,000 people are set to descend on Wanlockhead hills. Picture: SWNS

It comes after interest in the precious metal peaked in recent years.

The highest ever gold price came in 2011 when an ounce was worth more than £1,400.

And today, the global gold price sits at more than £965 per ounce with Scottish gold worth nearly four times as much.

But those hoping to make a fortune in Scotland will be left disappointed, as only specially cut competition gold will be used during the event.

More than 10,000 people are set to descend on Wanlockhead hills. Picture: SWNS

Leon Kirk from Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway, is one of Scotland’s leading authorities on gold panning.

The 53-year-old has been teaching classes in the pastime for 10 years and runs Gold Panning Supplies UK.

He has been panning on a recreational basis for the past 20 years but will make a rare competitive outing during next week’s tournament.

Leon said: “When you mention that you do gold panning down at the pub, people still look confused at you and don’t believe that it exists in Scotland.

“Only a few weeks after it was announced that the championships would be held in Moffat, all the hotels in town were booked up.

“I’m expecting around 10,000 people from all over the world to attend the championships.

“I’m don’t normally do competitive gold panning but with the championships being in Scotland, I felt that I had to enter.

“Scottish gold is typically worth four times the current value.

“If gold is worth around £25 a gramme then Scottish gold would be £100 a gramme.

“There is a very small cottage industry out there making jewellery from pure Scottish gold which is rare and special.

“I run what I call a ‘make a gold digger in a day’ course. People can fast track themselves to the kind of information that it took me two or three years to learn.

“Gold panning in Scotland is getting busier and busier than ever before. I think that’s because more and more people are realising that it’s something they can do here.

“To host it in Scotland is amazing. Hopefully, more people will start to take it up as a hobby after hearing about it.”

Competitors taking part in the championships will each receive a bucket which has between five and 12 pieces of gold in it.

The winner is determined by who is the quickest to find the flakes.

But the week-long event has many different official categories including proficient men and women, veterans, juniors and national teams.

In previous years, the championships have been held in El Dorado in California, Navelgas in Northern Spain and Kopparberg in Sweden.

Native Scottish gold will not be in use during the championships with specially cut competition gold in place.

Due to its rarity, Scottish gold is worth around four times as much as the current value.

In 2015, a Canadian tourist on a Wanlockhead course led by Kirk found an 18.1g gold nugget worth an estimated £10,000.

The man almost threw the 20-carat piece back into the river after initially misidentifying it due to the slightly discoloured appearance.

John Greenwood is another gold panning enthusiast looking forward to the event.

The 51-year-old hit the headlines five years ago when he managed to turn his hobby of gold panning into a pair of wedding rings for his fiance at the time.

John spent 18 months collecting thousands of specks and flakes of the metal in the Scottish countryside.

For him, he gets the most pleasure from giving away his gold to those he loves.

John said: “Gold is wonderful stuff. It’s so difficult to find that when you eventually get some you understand why it has been so celebrated over the years.

“I’ve given away more gold than I’ve ever collected.

“I can hardly imagine that many people in Moffat but it’s a beautiful place and a very exciting occasion for them.

“I’m going to try and go down for a few different days to watch what is going on.

“Competitive gold panning was never something I was interested in doing myself but it’s interesting to watch. It’s very frantic and based a lot more on speed.”

Moffat was chosen for the event because of its “beautiful surroundings, ability to support a large number of tourists and for its proximity to two former host villages”.

The event organisers said: “For the 2017 World Championships, the British Goldpanning Association has selected Moffat as the host town, as it is still near to Leadhills and Wanlockhead.

“Moffat is primarily a tourist town surrounded by hills and wonderful scenery and is therefore accustomed to welcoming many visitors from home and abroad throughout the year.”

Richard Deighton, Chair of Moffat Gold 2017 SCIO, added: “We feel very lucky that the beautiful town of Moffat is hosting this prestigious international sporting event.

“The town has all the services that the event needs for it to be a resounding success.

“With less than a month to go, the final preparations are being made to welcome our guests from near and afar.”