Located on the northwest margin of the village of Wanlockhead, the Beam Engine was built in 1875. It is a fine example of a 19th century wooden water balance pump that was used to drain water from the Straitsteps Lead Mine nearby. Used until 1945, it was restored by Historic Scotland and now forms part of the Museum of Scottish Lead Mining, run by the Wanlockhead Museum Trust.
High in the Lowther Hills to the west of the M74 in Dumfries and Galloway, Wanlockhead is Scotland’s highest village at 467m (1531 ft). It owes its existence to the lead, gold and other minerals found under the surrounding countryside.
These mineral deposits were probably first exploited by the Romans and from the 1200s they were being worked again by groups of miners who gathered here each summer. The first permanent settlement appeared in about 1680, when the Duke of Buccleuch built a lead smelting plant and workers’ cottages that could be occupied all year round.
Although lead was for many centuries the mainstay of the village’s economy, it was not the only mineral found here. What became known as “God’s Treasure House” also produced zinc, copper, silver and gold. Some of the world’s purest gold, at 22.8 carats, was found locally and used in the Regalia of the Scottish Crown.
Today’s Wanlockhead depends primarily on tourism. The Southern Upland Way long distance footpath passes through the village, but the main attraction for the motoring tourist revolves around the village’s industrial past.
Information from Undiscovered Scotland.
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