Country life · Farm find of the day · Metal detecting · Norfolk

Metal detecting in Norfolk…

At the end of last year a friend emailed me.

He said, ‘I think I’ve asked you before about Detectorists: I’ve watched every episode over the past few weeks, and I love it. It’s filmed in your neck of the woods, innit?’

I replied the next day and said, ‘I’ve never seen Detectorists before, whizzed through the episodes last night, starting season two tonight.’

I was hooked, the fictional series follows two metal detectorists in Suffolk who spend their spare time scanning for treasure in the picturesque fields of East Anglia.

In reality, they largely unearth a range of ring pulls, corgi cars and BOATS – bits off a tractor – before sharing their experiences with their local detecting club who regularly meet in their local village hall and retire to discuss their finds further in the local pub.

The rhythm of the show is slow, the humour is gentle and the views across the countryside are utterly breathtaking.

I raced through every episode to ensure I was up to speed ahead of the Christmas Special which was set to air on Boxing Day.

As the special came to an end I was wistfully dreaming of finding a Roman hoard here in my beloved Norfolk.

And, it’s not completely a pipe dream, Norfolk boasts more treasure finds each year than any other county.

Whilst Detectorists really did inspire me to want to detect, the idea had been lodged in my mind for a year or two – but, as is the case, time had got away from me.

I put out a Facebook post asking friends if anyone had a metal detector I could borrow – I needed to give it a go to see if it really was as wonderful and I thought it might be.

How better a way to spend a day than slowly taking in the landscapes of Norfolk – admiring the wildlife and plant life – taking time away from everyday life alongside a rucksack full of cheese and pickle sandwiches and a flask of coffee, bliss!

A few weeks later I found myself a few miles from home picking up a metal detector, I was thrilled. Just holding it in my hands seemed to open up a whole new world of possibilities.

What worlds and past lives would I find beneath my feet.

I raced home and then a cold snap appeared, it lasted a week and meant heading outside to dig in the dirt was an impossible exercise.

In the following days I rattled through The Accidental Detectorist by Nigel Richardson. The book was better than any beginners guide to metal detecting. Nigel, who took up the hobby in the first lockdown, gave an animated and compelling guide to his new-found passion. His enthusiasm was infectious.

I even found myself, in the spirit of The Detectorists, attending a Wednesday night talk in my local village hall by a chap who had been similarly inspired and had been detectoring for five years.

The following Sunday I found myself on a sunny morning standing in the middle of a field, raring to go.

I was armed with detector, trowel and a rucksack (filled with the aforementioned sandwiches and a flask). I was enthusiastically embodying a stereotype and I knew it.

Now, the big challenge with metal detecting is securing permissions to detect on land – any land.

You need the landowners permission and any finds are shared 50/50 between detectorist and landowner.

Living on a farm I decided I would start at home – which negated the need for any tricky permissions.

What had excited me further was that through a truly brilliant online resource I had discovered that the land on which I was to search had once thrown up Roman pot shards. I was buoyant with optimism.

Anyway, back to my monumental first day detecting…

I turned on the machine and decided to opt for the ‘all metals’ setting. The detector I was using is about 20 years old and I haven’t got the manual, so my theory was to start with locating everything – which may be a rookie error.

As it turned out I made many rookie errors…

I’d read that the swing of the machine is important, keep it low to the ground and parallel with the earth. So, off I strolled and about ten steps in a beep, an actual beep!

I was on my knees as quick as a flash, digging diligently.

Every time my garden trowel hit something I had visions of unearthed worldly treasures lying beneath it, but I was hitting stone after stone.

I persevered, following the signal with the detector (I didn’t have a pin pointer which is essentially a probe shaped metal detector you stick in the hole and wave around to locate the signal) and out I pulled a very heavy steel plate – a long lost piece of agricultural machinery.

And, in essence, that is how the day continued (after a celebratory stop for a cup of coffee).

I unearthed two sections of harrow chain, a hefty nut and another part off a harrow.

I wasn’t deflated but more excited about what adventures lay ahead once I’d tuned my brain into the different pitch of sound that different metals initiate.

I headed home with freezing cold fingers and a poachers pocket full of steel.

As I headed into the garden after lunch I pondered on my morning. On reflection I felt a little disappointed as I’d found only steel but I am, at best, impatient.

I had, however, learnt a lot:

  • When digging a hole once a signal has been found, don’t leave your metal trowel near the hole!
  • At this time of year, wear lots of clothes, it’s a slow activity and you can quickly get cold – gloves would have been a blessing.
  • Wear waterproof trousers, I arrived home with wet knees!
  • Be prepared to dig, a lot.
  • Carry a spare battery with you – I had to traipse back to the house and rifle through the back of drawers until I found a 9V.
  • Apply lashings of hand cream afterwards, my skin was like sandpaper.

Will I be back in the fields, of course I will.

Will I be buying my own detector, I think so.


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