THAR’S gold in them thar Scottish hills – but Scots are missing the opportunity to benefit from it.

That’s the verdict of exploration geologist and gold prospector Jim Richards, who has found, lost and made a fortune from the precious metal.

Richards, whose mother was born in Perth, Scotland, now lives in Perth, Australia – but checked out the gold possibilities here when he was in a relationship with a Glaswegian woman he met while diving for diamonds in Guyana.

“I did a little bit of prospecting when in I was in Scotland but I did not have land access, although there is gold there,” he said. “In my opinion the west of Scotland could have a pretty decent mining industry, although it would probably need a bit of government support to get things going.

“I think the government should be looking at something like tax breaks and incentive schemes because it would be a good industry for Scotland, but for it to compete against the big mines in Australia it would need government support.

“As someone who has both lived in Scotland and travelled all over the world as a gold prospector, that is my opinion – the potential is there. Although there has not been a culture of gold mining in the west of Scotland, that inertia could be overcome with assistance.


AT the moment an Australian firm, whose offices are just 100m from Richards’s Perth base, is developing a mine at Cononish in the Highlands, producing gold from it for the first time this summer. Scotgold is hopeful that the Scottish gold will fetch a premium price on the market because of its rarity.

However, Richards believe there are missed opportunities for Scotland.

“If the only money you are getting to build a gold mine in Scotland has to come from Australia, then something is not quite right. It is good that an Australian company has taken it up, but if some local investment followed it would be money well spent. If there were three or four deposits in the area that would cuts costs, as a central treatment plant could be built to take ore from several areas.”

The Australian company has a licence to search for gold in an area covering more than 4,000 sq km and believes other deposits similar to Cononish can be found.

“Cononish itself is quite a small deposit in terms of global gold mining scales, but the area around Cononish we think holds a lot of potential,” said Scotgold technical consultant Chris Sangster.

“Scotland is a country that has been ignored by the mineral exploration venture capitalists for a long time.

“We hope drawing attention to Cononish and developing the opportunity here will spark some interest in the mineral potential of Scotland.”


RICHARDS points out that Scotland has experienced a gold rush before, back in the 19th century, after the metal was found in Kildonan burn near Helmsdale.

The credit for the discovery in the 1860s goes to Robert Nelson Gilchrist, a native of Kildonan, who had spent 17 years in the gold fields of Australia. On his return home, he was given permission by the Duke of Sutherland to pan the gravels of the Helmsdale River and he chose to prospect all the burns and tributaries in a very methodical manner.

He found gold in many places but the greatest concentrations were in the Suisgill and Kildonan burns. The accounts of his findings spread like wildfire throughout the north of Scotland. The Illustrated London News circulated the story further afield and, within six months, more than 600 hopeful adventurers had made their way to the normally deserted Highland glen.

At the height of the Kildonan Gold Rush the prospectors’ huts formed a shanty town known in Gaelic as Baile an Or – Village of the Gold.

There was also a silver mine in the Ochil Hills near Stirling that Richards investigated in the 1990s, although the area is now closed off.

“It was discovered at the time of the Jacobite uprising of 1715 and they mined a roomful of very rich silver ore from it,” he said.


RICHARDS’S new book, Gold Rush: How I Found, Lost and Made a Fortune, tells of his adventures gold and diamond mining around the world and has been described as a “rollicking, funny read with shades of Wilbur Smith” by The Bookseller magazine.

Born in Wales, and earning a geology degree from Goldsmiths College at the University of London, Richards went to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and served in the Parachute Regiment.

But having become obsessed with finding gold and diamonds as a teenager, he gave up a promising Army career to go prospecting after reading an article about a Brazilian gold rush in a magazine.

Chasing gold and diamond rushes around the world, he worked with local miners in treacherous conditions from piranha-infested rivers to war-torn jungles. He discovered a fabulously rich goldmine (for somebody else) in the Australian desert, got caught up in the world’s biggest mining scam in Indonesia and started his own gold rush in the jungles of Laos.

His passion for his quest cost him numerous relationships and he lost money as quickly as he made it, but eventually his determination brought success and he is now one of the mining industry’s leading executives. His current company is working on setting up a diamond mining operation in Western Australia.

How I Found, Lost and Made a Fortune by Jim Richards, September Publishing, £10.99