Dressed in woolly hats and duffle coats, their handmade skis built from barrel staves and with leather strap bindings, daring young things raced to the bottom of the Lowther Hills and introduced skiing to Scotland.

It was the early 1930s and the children of Wanlockhead, whose fathers had already made their corner of Dumfries and Galloway a prime spot for curling, were unsuspecting sporting pioneers. 

For the next 40 years skiing in the area thrived: reports from the mid-60s tell of up to 400 cars filled with skiers packing the icy roads leading to ski tows and ambitious plans – not quite realised - for a bustling winter resort with chalets and lively apres-ski.

Of course, attention eventually shifted north to Aviemore, Glenshee, Glencoe and Fort William. And Wanlockhead, Scotland’s highest village, with its lead mining industry finished and the tractor-powered ski tow dismantled, went back to being just a place for travellers to stretch their legs on the road between Glasgow and Carlisle. 

Now, though, ambitious new plans have emerged which could see the Leadhills village and the area around it make a stunning return to winter sports, and enter a new age as a mountain resort with gold-panning, glamping, cycling, wildlife tourism and festivals attracting a new generation of visitors. 

Hopes are high that a community buyout deal can be struck within months between Wanlockhead’s villagers and one of Scotland’s largest landowners, the Duke of Buccleuch. 

The move will see 3,863 acres of his sprawling Queensberry Estate, including the village of Wanlockhead itself and stretching to the traditional ski area of the Lowther Hills, handed over to locals. 

Lincoln Richford, chair of the Wanlockhead Community Trust, said the buyout move – unlike any previously attempted in the south of Scotland - has the potential to breathe fresh life into countryside often bypassed by visitors. 

“There was a time when 1000 people lived in Wanlockhead,” he said. “The lead miners were the curling champions of Scotland, there were more curling sites in Wanlockhead than anywhere else in Scotland.

“In the past, Wanlockhead Mining Museum had 30,000 visitors a year. Go back further and thousands of people were skiing here in the 1960s. 

“We think there’s huge potential here to create a place for people to visit.”

A new 60-page feasibility study and business plan just released by the Wanlockhead Community Trust reveal the group’s ambitions for land which includes former heavily managed grouse moors transformed into a haven for eco-tourism and outdoor recreation.

Alongside new campsites with ‘glamping pods’ to attract campers who prefer a more ‘home from home’ experience, would be a raft of tree planting and moves to tap into the thriving nature tourism sector, with bird hides where twitchers can watch for red kite, hen harriers, peregrine falcon, lapwing and curlew.

The plan also suggests exploiting the area’s reputation for gold panning, a feature of the Leadhills since gold was discovered in the area during the reign of James IV.

The gold was so pure, that the area became known as “God’s Treasure House in Scotland”.

Under the plan, gold panning passes for river beds in the Mennock West and East areas of the site could help boost income and raise awareness of the area’s rich mineral and mining history. 

The vision also suggests the village of Wanlockhead could be reborn as a thriving destination, building on the popularity of current events such as the three-day Wildfire Music Festival held at Scotland’s highest pub, the Wanlockhead Inn, with new festivals and events aimed at celebrating the area’s cultural and environmental heritage. 

Potential attractions could include music, arts and nature-themed festivals, while road cyclists could be drawn to the area’s steep routes such as the road ascent from Mennock to the top of Lowther Hill, described as a “spectacular” route offering 15km of climbing, longer than Alpe d’Heuz, one of cycling’s most feted climbs. 

New paths systems for walkers, nature-based tours and the development of a reservoir for fishing are also suggested along with opportunities for ‘voluntourism’ which would see visitors spend the time actively involved in environmental projects.

However, the biggest attraction for many could be the development of a new ski area which would see existing facilities at Lowther Hills currently leased from the neighbouring Hopetoun Estate, spill over into the new community-owned site. 

That could lead to new runs stretching into areas of recently planted trees, providing skiers with a Norwegian-style experience unlike any currently available in Scotland.

Mr Richford added that old curling ponds, some of them possibly used by the area’s curling club which was formed in 1777, could be brought back into use, with modern materials used to create year-round outdoor curling. 

The community buyout has taken a leap forward after an original request to take over 14,000 acres of land from the Buccleuch Estate was turned down. An agreement for a smaller area was struck following talks involving the Scottish Land Commission and Scottish Land and Estates, which represents the owners. 

Once a value for the land is reached, the community will be able up access up to 95% of funds from the Scottish Land Fund to enable the transaction to go ahead.

Community buyouts have been a roaring success in some areas of Scotland such as the island of Ulva, which was sold to the community for £4.4million in 2018, and Eigg, bought in 1997. 

While it has taken longer for other areas to take advantage of land reform legislation, there is currently a spate of applications from communities across the central belt and south of Scotland, including Langholm Moor Community Trust which is also looking to buy 25,000 acres of land from the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate. 

Mr Richford added: “We are looking at what has happened in other places where the community achievements are phenomenal.

“Our projects are not hugely expensive but we want to get going and provide an income first, and look at larger ideas further down the road.

“Our aim is to be as self-sustaining as possible.”