Saturday, 15 September 2012

Back in the Swing of Things

Once upon a time I was an inveterate detectorist. Out all hours, wind or shine, plying the fields, scumbling the stubble, marching the furlongs, making the finds. Back then, I had land to die for. Real detectorist's land — thousands upon thousands of golden acres providing a steady and reliable bounty I scarcely appreciated for what it was, until I stepped out on land that others considered their very best, but proved far from what I would consider even reasonable by comparison.

That was Essex, but this was Warwickshire and early this afternoon, I marched out on a field again for the first time in, perhaps, seven years... It was as if I'd never left them behind —the old style kicked in and the going was good. My trusty old machine began its familiar chatter as flecks of iron in the soil were passed over, and every few minutes a good signal was found and dug. All were the odds and ends of scrap metal you'd expect from most anywhere, but none were of any age or interest.

I expected at any moment to find something of real interest, even if that would be a fragment of buckle or a chunk of broken metal pot. When a lead palm guard turned up I thought the chain of events had begun, where such a find leads to another and another of similar period, and then, with a little luck, something more substantial would come.

But it didn't, and as I ventured further and further from the car, it became increasingly clear that it wouldn't. The iron chatter died away to the point where every now and then, I had to pass the spade across the top of the coil just to check the machine had not run out of battery power. It hadn't, but the field had.

Andy, my detecting partner for the day, and who'd kindly taken me out on these fields of his, had fared similarly, with just a few odds and ends from the last century or so, but nothing that would point to there being any point in staying on here for very much longer.

The soil was unkind to copper. Even scraps half a century in the ground had corroded powdery surfaces, an effect I associate with land not cultivated long, and that has seen little manuring. Most land like this I believe to have been forest until quite recently. In Essex, such land was never productive and would be last on my list and only ever visited twice if there was a very good reason to, or simply nowhere else to go.

Of course there might well be a few items worth finding in such land, but the time it takes to locate them is punishing, and the finds really do have to be of precious metal to survive in anything like worthwhile condition — the backbone of detecting, the copper based finds, are simply not worth the effort being in such a parlous state, that finding them is only ever a crushing disappointment, no matter how rare and desirable they might be.

We moved across to a new field. Right off the bat, I had the reassuring noise of iron chatter. Signals came and finds were dug. Once again, just scraps of foil and aluminium to start, but a few odd chunks of green coloured molten waste, that looked like bronze, but were far too light in weight to be that, so must have been nothing but spelter, and therefore very recent.

Once again the chatter died away as I moved down the field. In an hour I'd found very little so moved back to the top and began to concentrate fully on the first area searched. I was hard going for little reward though. The stubble was nowhere near as tough as some I've struggled with but high enough to seriously impede progress and reduce sensitivity to deeply buried items. Given such conditions, I tend to move quickly, there being little point in trying to achieve depth by moving slowly and deliberately, when by far the best course of action is to pluck as many obvious surface finds in the short time available.

Without having made a single decent find in nearly four hours and with just ten minutes to go, up came a button (and the only button of the day!) that I recognised immediately for what it was. A semi-hemispherical button with an open back can only be the one thing, and that's a valuable early military one. It was worn and its surface corroded somewhat, but it had detail that could be appreciated. Under reading glasses, I could see it was probably a guard's button, but couldn't make out which regiment. A shame though, that it's value had been reduced so very far by the acidic soil.

With five minutes left I made the only ancient find of the afternoon — a bronze pot leg of probably Medieval date. This was corroded, bitten, encrusted and lumpy, proving that the land was incapable of preserving ancient base metal objects in a good state, and was therefore unlikely to be worth a second visit unless that be a concentrated search along the area of interest at the top of the field, and under perfect search conditions, when there's always the outside chance of plucking a very few noble metal things out of unlikely prospects.

18th C. tunic button of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards & a crusty Medieval pot leg. 

Though we'd failed to bring up anything of real note, and nothing pointing to better prospects elsewhere, it had been good to get back in the swing of things and remind myself why I loved detecting so much in the first place, and why to my surprise, I still retain the passion, and that's because you never do know what the next dig brings.

When things are tough and unrewarding, you must keep on undaunted and not lose heart. This field may be no good, and the next might be just as bad, but keep on searching hard and long enough, and soon enough you'll step out on a new field and the returns it offers will be all the reward in the world for that earlier effort.

I have a motto for such times, and it serves me well...

'Dig Regardless!'


  1. Hello Jeff and welcome back.
    Thanks for the link to my blog.

    John Winter

    1. Forgot to say - I have added you to my blogroll.

  2. I saw it John, thanks very much.

    Now, how can we get others to do it too? Blogs can be the best read, and yours certainly is a sterling example of that!