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The Scottish Gold Rush 

In late 1868, Robert Gilchrist, a native of Sutherland who spent 20 years prospecting for gold in Australia,  discovered small amounts of gold in the rivers and small burns of Strath of Kildonan, west of Helmsdale.    Gilchrist's instincts to check the Scottish terrain due to similarities to gold-bearing sites in Australia paid off, and he first discovered gold in the Torrish burn. 

 

He turned out to be more successful in the Kildonan and Suisgill burns but failed to keep the discovery as quiet as he would have liked, and public interest was sparked thanks to an announcement in the 28 January 1869 edition of the Inverness Courier.   A gold rush was born, and six hundred keen prospectors descending within 6 months meant that two new temporary settlements were founded - Baile an Or (meaning 'Town of Gold') and Carn na Buth ('Hill of Tents').

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Baile an Or  - taken by Alexander Johnston in 1869

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The frenzy of this first gold rush was short-lived, lasting little over a year.   You can still visit Baile an Or today, though the prospector's huts have long been cleared away.  A sheltered wooden stand displays information about the former settlement, as well as a notice setting out the regulations governing panning for gold in the area.

Since Kildonan, even more prolific locations have been identified and 2016 saw Scotland's first commercial mining operation established.  Gold mining can be very environmentally destructive, but Scottish regulators dictate a strict code of conduct.

Two Skies works only with recreational collectors who hand-pan streams in hope of small nuggets (fine particles nicknamed 'flour' are the norm!) or practise a method known as 'sniping', which involves lying in the icy water combing cracks in the bedrock.  Highland gold has a very high natural purity and can reach up to 22 carats, making the final prize for all that labour worthwhile.

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