Thursday, December 9

‘The Gold Rush is One Thing’: Meet Scotland’s New Seekers | Life and Style

BBeyond the old Cononish Farm buildings in Eas Anie, past the corrugated sheep sheds and the deer control fence, Stanley Lister has an eerie calm for a man standing so close to an explosives truck. Nearby, an incinerator canister smokes with detonators that cool down in the late-summer breeze, and the air is thick with the smell of phosphorus. “The dangers here are mosquitoes,” he says through his mask, before donning a helmet and ear protectors. “Oh, and watch out for the tacos [horseflies]. Damn nasty “.

Lister, a 29-year-old mining engineer from Lochgilphead, stands on top of a hill within Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park in Argyll, across from the Cononish Gold Mine near Tyndrum, a roadside gasoline stop north to the wildest places in Britain. . Ready for action, he is preparing for the next blast, a ritual that takes place twice a day in the depths of Beinn Chùirn, home to the only commercial gold mine in the UK, where the mine’s owners, de Australian origin, Scotgold Resources, claim 200 million pounds sterling. hidden in plain sight. With each detonation, the miners advance three meters down one of the three headings, or caves of gold, closer and closer to their prehistoric bounty. “It’s a bit romantic, but I love being underground,” says Lister, splashing through a silvery pool of rainwater toward the head of the 1km-long mine shaft with his colleagues. “It is peaceful and quiet. No distractions.”

TThe Cononish Gold Mine is strangely beautiful. A cathedral for geologists, it was first excavated in the mid-1980s by an Irish resource company; They only got as far as the test drilling of an exploratory tunnel before the price of gold plummeted and they were forced to close. Today, it seems like his idea of ​​what a modern gold mine should look like: puzzling, with a cool, humid atmosphere, a constant 12 ° C temperature, and a tunnel floor that is uneven and full of glittering puddles. One can inspect the roof, assembled with rock bolts, mesh and shotcrete, in case, as 41-year-old operations manager Jason Saint later says, one of the fractures breaks. “This is a working mine,” says the Brisbane native, quite naturally. “Shit happens.” The rock walls are tinged with sulfides and when headlights illuminate each miner as they face the darkness, it gives them a golden aura in the gloom. It’s no wonder some see it as some kind of scavenger hunt.

Outside the Cononish gold and silver mine near Tyndrum in the Central Highlands of Scotland.
Supplies for the two daily explosions at the Cononish mine. Photograph: Robert Ormerod / The Guardian

Mining for gold in a Scottish glen may seem more arrogant, but all the colors you can see on rock faces – a streaked spectrum from snow-white quartz to silver and dirty gold. – tell you exactly why it’s worth it. The mine reeks of ambition, with expensive technology doing the hard grafting at the on-site gold processing plant, and it will soon scale to a 24/7 operation, primarily, according to senior geologist Rachel Paul of Edinburgh, who is leading the project alone. for women. geology team, because they can’t get the gold out fast enough.

The Cononish gold and silver mine processing plant near Tyndrum in the central highlands of Scotland.
The Cononish Processing Plant. Photograph: Robert Ormerod / The Guardian

The vein has enough ore for nine years of production, he says, with up to 30g of gold hidden in each ton; the arsenal at the entrance is already worth over £ 700,000. “The exciting thing is that there is a tradition of mining in Central Asia, Africa and Australia, but doing it at home is totally different. You watch a TV show like Outlander, with its emotional pull for visitors, and that’s a market that we can access. Why not a piece of Scottish gold as a souvenir? “

SCotgold are not the only people who have spied opportunities in the hills and wilderness of Scotland. Through the blockade, a handful of sediment-carrying rivers and streams went from being playgrounds for salmon fishing and paddling to stages for a wave of local hunters. Spurred on by leave and extra time at home, the socially estranged gold digger joined other new hobbyists like the night walker and urban gardener. Prospecting offered comfort in a besieged world, and as restrictions have eased, the gold rush has not stopped.

Danny Weir, panning for gold in Scotland
‘Building a dam is like being a little kid again’ – Danny Weir, who has been researching for eight years. Photograph: Robert Ormerod / The Guardian

Look slightly north from Tyndrum to Glen Orchy, with its pine-lined shores and glittering waterfalls, and you may find 53-year-old Danny Weir, the head of Scotland’s gold panning community. An outgoing, full-time caretaker, who today dresses in camouflage and fishing waders, has helped fuel a growing number of enthusiasts. Sometimes he teaches newcomers how to do it themselves, or he’s knee-deep in flowing water himself, working in a makeshift sluice to remove precious minerals from the sediment. The skill, he says, is to be patient, using a plastic sluice tray instead of a tray (it helps process more material faster) and adjusting the variables (water flow, slope, tray angle) until the gravel move at the correct speed. Only then will you be able to find the heaviest remaining gold particles.

The hands of someone looking for gold in a Scottish river
Two ladies caught about six bits today. It is not worth much, but it is the thrill of the hunt. Photograph: Robert Ormerod / The Guardian

“Today I taught two women,” he says. “First timers. They caught about six bits. It’s not worth much, but it’s the thrill of the hunt. And building a dam is like being a little kid again. I love it.”

Weir, from the Ayrshire town of Irvine, started panning eight years ago, “because of my love of cowboy movies.” Learning the tricks of the trade at Mennock Water in the Southern Highlands near Wanlockhead, a former mining village, he might see six others over a long weekend. Now, he is the central figure in a regular gathering of 60 like-minded fans. That’s a tenfold increase, and of the wave of interest across the country, he says, “The gold rush is one thing and I’ve seen a big rebound. Not surprising after what people have been through recently. Now people can travel again, they come from Cornwall and Devon. “

Gold Diggers Derek McNab and Lisa Kain in Scotland
“A little competition between us is part of the fun”: new panners Derek McNab and Lisa Kain. Photograph: Robert Ormerod / The Guardian

Many prospectors are first inspired by a visit to the Wanlockhead Lead Mining Museum, where a license to collect gold by hand costs £ 10 per person or £ 20 per family. Without a permit, it is still illegal: strict legislation states that gold or silver found in the country must not be withdrawn or sold without permission from the crown or the land owner, and in the case of Mennock Water , Scotland’s most popular washing place. , that’s the Duke of Buccleuch, one of the richest people in Britain.

Outside the Cononish gold and silver mine near Tyndrum in the Central Highlands of Scotland.
The gold reserve at the entrance to Cononish is already worth over £ 700,000. Photograph: Robert Ormerod / The Guardian

Of course, today’s activity pales into insignificance in relation to the real Scottish Gold Rush of 1869, caused when news of a profitable gold prospector returning from Australia’s gold fields appeared in the local newspaper, prompting 600 adventurers to arrive at the Suisgill and Kildonan burns in Sutherland with their pans and shovels. Images from the period show wiry bearded men and rows of makeshift log cabins built along a riverbank near Helmsdale, with a Klondike tartan-like vibe. Still, seeing dozens of leaning bodies in a hard-to-reach gorge below Scotland’s tallest village feels dramatic, even if the process itself may be entirely pedestrianized.

Hand holding a small jar with pieces of gold on a tray
A treasure of precious gold. Photograph: Robert Ormerod / The Guardian

Among today’s permit holders are newcomers Derek McNab, 47, a gardener, and Lisa Kain, 46, a cook, who have traveled from South Lanarkshire every weekend for the past month. His attitude is one of contagious wonder: “It’s the beautiful place, the wilderness camp, the thrill of finding something,” says McNab. “Plus, a little competition between us is part of the fun,” adds Kain.

For David Allison, 41, a Nottingham lab analyst, coming so far north in search of bullion was prompted by his love of the countryside: “Even if I can’t find gold.” Then there’s John Smillie, 72, of Airdrie, who got hooked for the first time. “I want my ashes to be scattered here: it is now my favorite place in the world.”

Scottish Gold Panners the Bell and Stobbs families at Mennock Pass, near Wanlockhead
‘Panoramic Gets Kai off the Xbox’ – Paul Stobbs with family and friends at Mennock Pass. Photograph: Robert Ormerod / The Guardian

Further along the creek are two co-workers from the processing plant and their sons from nearby Kirkconnel in Dumfries and Galloway. Their soggy sneakers and running shorts, which are not the traditional mosquito-resistant rainwear uniform, are indications that they are taking a more pragmatic approach. “The panorama gets Kai off the Xbox, especially during school holidays,” says 31-year-old Paul Stobbs. “I’m getting interested now, but only because he installed the hatch for me,” his son replies, looking at the transmission. as much as the roaring sheep and the clouds in the sky.

It is rare in life to see people of all ages and walks of life together, and there is simmering tension between the various factions as they seek the same reward. Instead, there is just camaraderie and a sense of restless ambition, as if everyone who is dedicated to hand cleaning is working toward a common goal. There is no doubt that the good times are returning to the hills, all the further north at the Cononish Mine, where the next gold-dumped milestone is just a few weeks away, as in the placid glens of southern Scotland. And if someone is lucky, maybe everyone is.

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