I have always been a lover of the outdoors, and like nothing better than a few nights under canvas. Until two years ago, I had a two man tent, but got fed up having to do the duckwalk to get in and out of the darned thing, so I went out and bought a six man..........just for my wife and myself. The first time we used it we were overjoyed at the fact that we could actually stand up in it, and the addition of a canopy meant that we could sit inside the tent when the rain was lashing down, with the door rolled up, and the groundsheet stayed dry.
One of my favourite places is the Lowther Hills in Dumfries and Galloway, a beautiful place when the sun is shining, but dour and cold in bad weather. A couple of miles west of the village of Wanlockhead, the highest village in Scotland, is my preferred camping place, and this is where I met Nelson.
Nelson is in his late seventies, but he travels from his home on the Isle of Wight, all the way up to the Lowthers, and farther, to spend a few weeks panning for gold, which is what he was doing when we first met.
He showed me the gold he had panned there over the weeks of his stay, and I was so impressed that I decided there and then that I would be there the next weekend with all I needed to pan the river..........and a permit. From the end of July 2010, my wife and I were camped in the hills most weekends, as I cultivated a bad back and sciatica, because, rest assured, digging rocks, gravel and sand is hard work. What did I find for my weeks of dedicated digging?.................sod all!.............but I`m not someone who gives up easily. 2011 didn`t see us camping there at all, due to work commitments and really bad weather, so my permit ran out.
This year I hope we will get out there among the sheep and the red grouse, weather permitting, but, having renewed my permit, I have been panning on five occasions this year, and have found some gold, two large flakes, a small nugget and some specks. The secret is to dig down to bedrock if possible, because the gold lies really deep, among black sand, so each visit sees two holes I started getting deeper and deeper.
Today my latest piece of equipment arrived from the USA, an aluminium sluice onto which you put the stuff from the river bed. The gold, being heaviest, drops through mesh and get trapped in fibre matting, while all the lighter material gets washed through the sluice. With a sluice you can process lots more material than is possible from continually filling your pan and slooshing it out.
BTW "Slooshing" is a very Scottish word which you won`t find in any dictionary, but it really fits the bill in the context of gold panning.
I know that I will never get rich panning for gold in the Lowthers, unless I trip over the mother of all nuggets, but it ticks all my boxes. So wish me luck lovely people, and I will keep you informed of my success...............or not.