An area which once harboured outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor is at the heart of a new gold rush, finds Sandra Dick.

Stung by debt and pursued by authorities, it was to the rolling hills between Killin and Kenmore that one of Scotland’s best-known outlaws, Rob Roy MacGregor, would retreat to hide and plot his next move.

But had the 18th-century cattle rustler come folk hero had the remotest inkling of the potential fortune that lay beneath his feet, history could have taken a rather different turn.

For the rolling hills to the south side of Loch Tay – land which once harboured the so-called ‘Highland Rogue’ and now popular among walkers tackling the Rob Roy Way – have now been identified as the nation’s latest gold hot spot.

Leading investor, Erris Resources, a European-focused mineral consulting and exploration company, has signed an option to buy 80% of a gold and associated base metals exploration project that will allow it to search a 91.5 sq miles site in the area between Kenmore and Killin in Perthshire, within what’s been called the Grampian Gold Belt.

The deal with GreenOre comes after a 10-gram gold nugget was found in the Glen Almond river within the exploration area by a team from University of Leeds, and the discovery of 77 fine grains of gold during a panning project further downstream.

The investment will see attention focus on the Glen Almond site south-east of the Coire Buidhe silver mine, a significant historic mine where up to 18 veins were once worked for high-grade silver, and at the village of Ardtalnaig, where lead-workings are said to have shown the rock has “good prospects” for gold, silver and zinc.

Overall, the area is said to have “excellent” gold potential.

The Loch Tay project is the latest area to become part of a ‘gold rush’ in the central belt hills. It is 25 miles from Scotgold’s site at Cononish near Tyndrum which is preparing to begin full-scale mining operations at what will be Scotland’s first commercial gold mine.

Earlier this year Scotgold also revealed soil samples from the hills of Glen Fyne close to the village of Cairndow had revealed “exciting, new and potentially significant” results, with gold showing signs of being three times better than anticipated, and the silver almost twice as good.

That area, which is said to be around two miles long, has been placed as a “high priority” for further sampling with a view to eventually extracting the gold and silver reserves.

The mine at Cononish produced gold for the first time in August 2016 following the launch of an ore processing trial. Scotgold Resources has plans to re-open an old mine shaft and extract more than half a million tonnes of mineral ore, along with up to 170,000 tonnes of rock.

Work will see a 300m tunnel dug as part of the initial exploration of the area expanded to stretch 1000 metres deep into the hillside. The mine will then spiral 160m back up towards the surface.

It’s expected the mine will produce around 200,000 ounces of gold throughout its lifetime which, at current gold prices of £1200 an ounce, would place its value at over £200 million. However, the actual value could be even higher once a premium is added for its rarity value.

News of gold-digging operations has inspired a mini ‘gold rush’ among individuals seeking glittering treasure in rivers and burns. Meanwhile earlier this month it emerged that a 22-carat doughnut-shaped nugget said to be worth £80,000 was found in a Scottish river in May.

The gold, which weighs a total of 121.3g, was found in an undisclosed river by a diver using a method known as “sniping”, using a snorkel and hand tools to scour the riverbed.

The find came a year after the discovery of an 87.5g nugget valued at £50,000. The exact locations of both finds have not been revealed.

The Loch Tay project area is said to cover “highly prospective ground” within the Grampian Gold Belt. The region of Dalradian rocks hosts several significant minerals and deposits of high-grade gold, base metals and baryte and stretches from Northern Ireland and across Scotland.

A search for gold is also underway at Curraghinalt gold mine in the Tyrone County of Northern Ireland.

Erris Resources will operate and manage the exploration programme. Erris Resources chief executive Anton Du Plessis said the Loch Tay sites were "highly prospective".

He said: "This gives us exposure to new gold targets that have not previously been tested, but which are located in the highly prospective Grampian gold belt that already hosts some important gold deposits, such as Curraghinalt, and Cononish, which is only 40 kms away and that aims to pour its first gold next year.

"Importantly, land access agreements have already been signed, which allow work to proceed on the priority targets with the aim of advancing exploration to drill target definition in 2020.”

Erris Resources has a portfolio of zinc and base metals projects in Ireland and gold projects in Scandinavia.

The investment in the Loch Tay area followed a review of 87 samples collected by GreenOre taken from the site to the southwest of Aberfeldy and close to the Loch Tay Fault.

The samples are said to have yielded ‘high-grade gold’.

A statement from Erris Resources added that the business “believes that the Loch Tay Project has significant potential for discovery of an economic gold resource”.