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much gold is hidden among its bedrock deposits. In the meantime, I’m learning just how hard sniping for gold really is. Head down in the Turret with my hands and face fast going numb in the frigid waters, it’s as much as I can do to stay in one place as the river buffets me about, let alone spot minute fragments of gold on the river floor at the same time. For the panning experts, however, this

is all in a day’s work. Taking a breather from plundering the river’s base with the zeal of a one-man JCB and the accuracy of a laser-guided missile, seasoned sniper Leon Kirk explains to me how sniping can be easier than traditional panning because the river’s flow washes everything you clear away as you shift it, leaving any gold left behind more readily exposed. Which is all very well, but you

still have to spot it and that takes an experienced eye because the amounts you’re likely to find are far from the monster nuggets seen in the movies. “Gold panning is absolutely not a way

of getting rich,” says one of Kirk’s fellow panners, Alan Souter. “I used to joke it doesn’t pay for the beers,” he adds laughing, before ducking back beneath the water’s surface and returning to work. Years ago, when the Turret River

supplied the Glenturret distillery directly with mashing water, flakes of gold may well have found their way into the mash, along with plenty of other impurities all of which would


The perfect pair – Leon Kirk with a dram of Scotland’s liquid gold and a sample of real gold

have altered the finished product. “You may have had various bugs in

the fermentation,” says Glenturret’s production manager Neil Cameron, “and these would have been competing for the sugars so the alcohol content would be reduced and you may have had flavours in there you don’t really want.” Now, the mashing water

is piped directly from the Turret loch at the head of glen, securing a clean, clear, fast and reliable supply for the distillery – essential if it is to keep producing the volumes it does, both for its own single malt and for the Famous Grouse blends it is also a part of. But the cooling water is still plucked

right out of the river. So do Cameron and his production team ever find gold clogging the distillery filters? “Sadly not,” he assures me, because it turns out the pipe bringing the water in is kept off the riverbed to avoid drawing sediment into the distillery’s pipes. “If we’ve got gold coming in, I’d better fit a new filter,” laughs Cameron. So the only gold at Glenturret for the

foreseeable future is in the liquid form they fill their bottles with and which the likes of you and I later drain contentedly. Back in the river itself though, it’s quite a different story as the

panners have literally struck gold. “This is difficult terrain,” Kirk tells me

from inside the river. “There’s not a lot of gold, but it’s here,” and with that he shows me two small phials of water, now safely sealed and both containing small fragments of gold. It’s rough, it’s dulled, and it’s not much to show for several hours hard manual labour, but there is no doubting it is absolutely the real deal. “This isn’t the best

gold-bearing river in Scotland,” says Kirk, “but then that’s

part of the challenge – finding the best spots. It’s just nice to find it in a

river that’s also making whisky.” I couldn’t agree more and, having

made an earlier trip to the distillery, I have a surprise up my sleeve in the handy form of a box-fresh bottle of Glenturret 10 year old and some glasses. Zipping my drysuit back up, I drop back into the river with this alternative golden stash and hand it to Kirk who does the pouring honours. Floating in the Turret, deep in the Turret glen, and toasting the team’s minor panning success with a drop of Glenturret’s finest makes the perfect end to a fascinating day.


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