A disappointing rally, but I have balls

A spur of the moment decision last night saw me heading this morning to the UK Detecting Rallies open rally at Carlton, near Olney, in Northants.

The site was billed as around 120 acres of ploughed, rolled and seeded arable land. ARCHI showed the area to be rich, especially in Roman material. The weather was reasonable (cloudy, around 16C and dry except for light rain mid morning). It all looked very promising, even for an open rally.

My plan was to concentrate on one field in the morning and another in the afternoon. The morning’s field had reportedly produced a William I penny the last time the site had been detected, though apparently on that occasion most diggers spent the day on another field which had produced a couple of Anglo-Saxon pennies and a few later medieval hammies.

Unfortunately it was a dead loss. By the time I left at around 1.30pm, after 3 hours detecting and an hour for lunch and talking to other diggers, the sole reported decent find was of a hammy of some sort from one field.

I didn’t bother with any of the other fields as I left straight after lunch, but it’s obviously possible that other decent finds were unearthed in the afternoon.

My impression, and that of others I spoke to, was that the fields had been more or less detected to death; if they hadn’t, why was nobody finding anything today, notwithstanding any finds on earlier visits? It was an expensive half day out, factoring in the cost of a 160 mile round trip and £15 for the dig fee. The lack of finds was obviously disappointing, but at least I met and chatted to other detectorists.

So what did I find? Nothing indeed to call a “find”, certainly, but the scrap included:

  • 2 golf balls (both surface finds)
  • Several pieces of lead
  • Around a dozen pieces of thinnish, foil-like metal
  • Half a horse shoe
  • The head of a sledgehammer
  • A bolt
  • The bases of half a dozen very small bullets or cartridges, possibly from a rook rifle

As mentioned in an earlier post I have been trying out Tect O Trak which plots your route around a field and shows the positions of any finds against the route. When I reviewed my wanderings around the field, Tect O Trak seemed to have summed the day up pretty well:


It was, nevertheless, a joy to detect with a pin-pointer that sounds off only when it should do.

Bronze Age treasure found in Lydney

A gold, Bronze Age, children’s broach (sic) has been found during a weekend metal detecting rally in the Forest of Dean.

The significant find was the highlight of a successful maiden event organised by the Forest of Dean metal detecting club.

Dave Warren, of the club, said: “The weekend went really well.

“The finds were amazing overall for the whole weekend and not just the Bronze Age treasure find.

“Over the weekend people found a silver hammer (sic) coin, Bronze Age axe head and a Roman broach (sic again) and Roman coins.

“The big find was the Bronze Age golden child’s bracelet which is a very significant find for this area.

“I have been metal detecting for about 11 years and never found anything like this before.

“It must be about 2,000 years old and I would imagine it belonged to a very wealthy person and to find it here in the Forest of Dean which has never been known as a rich area, is a brilliant find.”

Bronze Age treasure found in Lydney

Feeling a bit “sic” after reading this. And obviously anything Bronze Age is going to be around 3,000 to 4,000 years old rather than the 2,000 years mentioned. And a bracelet is not a brooch. Provincial journalism, eh?

Metal detecting clubs and restricted membership

One of the regular topics on UK metal detecting forums is the complaint by a relatively new detectorist about all his local clubs being closed to new members. How, he (invariably he) asks, is he or any other new detectorist to get a chance to dig, meet other detectorists and learn the ropes? Closed memberships, he claims, are discriminatory (against newbies) or simply unfair. What this amounts to is effectively an expectation that metal detecting clubs are open to as many people as want to join – especially the complainer.

Now as a fairly new detectorist myself I can understand the disappointment. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to join a new club which was just setting up and was able to dig with them for about 8 months, but only after I too had been told by another well established local club that their membership was closed for at least 6 months but would be reviewed in the following spring. However there are very good reasons why any detecting club should set a membership ceiling and then stick to it.

  1. Dig organisers have to allow a reasonable amount of land for those who will be attending. For a day’s detecting, this should be a minimum of half an acre per person and preferably one acre per person. This is necessary for two reasons:
    1. Those attending don’t want to be going over ground that someone else detected an hour earlier, especially if whatever was there has already been dug up; and
    2. There needs to be enough land for people to spread out so as to avoid any power lines or other detectorists in order to avoid electromagnetic interference.
  2. Having to seek large areas of land to accommodate large numbers of diggers may mean that smaller but more interesting pieces of land either have to be rejected or clubs will have to tell some members that they cannot attend particular digs.
  3. Farmers may refuse to permit more than a certain number of people to attend – again, clubs will have to tell some members that they cannot attend particular digs.
  4. In some cases, there are legal restrictions on how many detectorists can be permitted on certain land, especially if the land is in some form of stewardship.
  5. There may be parking issues, for example there may be a limit to how many cars can be parked in the farmyard or which can be readily got onto and off fields.
  6. The more people attending, the greater the degree of organisation required, the greater the difficulties in keeping an eye on new members, and the greater the risk that one or more attendees will leave holes unfilled or fail to remove scrap, go outside the permitted detecting area, not show their finds (especially significant or valuable ones) etc.

One of the things which has struck me about detecting clubs is just how small many, perhaps most, of them actually are. Typically they seem to comprise 12 – 24 active members and very few seem to have more than 40. That said, it’s clear from my relatively limited experience that many established detectorists are members of 3 or 4 clubs, cherry picking which meetings to attend or digs to sign up for. This seems somewhat selfish to me, because it does reduce the opportunities for new detectorists to get a foot in the door anywhere. If you belong to one club which puts on fortnightly digs and have one or two personal permissions, you have sufficient opportunities to detect to keep you occupied most of the time.

So what are the options open to the new detectorist who is unable to join a club immediately as a digging member?

  1. Go along to the monthly meetings of any clubs in your area, just to meet people and get your face known.
  2. Put your name on the waiting list for any and every club in your area and join the first one where there is an opening. If it turns out to be not to your liking in due course, accept the next vacancy that comes up in another club and give that a try.
  3. Go along to a few open rallies if you can. Some have a poor reputation for worked-out land, seeded low-quality “finds”, poor organisation, or the location of the finds hotspots being revealed only to the organiser’s mates and so on, but others are well regarded and people attend them year after year. Read the various forums to discover which events people are recommending or otherwise. You should treat open rallies generally as a social event and consider yourself fortunate if you find anything interesting, but even a few finds will give you something to show at the next meeting you attend.
  4. Try to get a personal permission. You can write, phone or just go and knock on doors. Farmers don’t bite, don’t set the dogs on you and don’t brandish shotguns. If you are polite and presentable the worst you will get is a simple “no”, but if you persevere you will almost certainly get a “yes” eventually. You may have to knock on 20 or 30 doors but you only need one “yes” to get you started. And when you get your “yes”, seize it with enthusiasm, even if others have detected the land before you and even if you suspect it may be at the heart of a historical desert. Remember that farmers know each other, and your reputation will go before you. Piss off one and the rest will hear about it. Fill your holes, shut gates and show your farmer what you’ve found and his neighbours will hear about that, too.

As I have said before I am still a fairly new detectorist, having bought my first metal detector in October 2011. Since then I have been a member of one club and been heavily involved in the setting up of another but currently am a member of none. For one thing, I’m not a natural “joiner”, in fact I’m cranky and eccentric and mostly prefer my own company. For another, metal detecting clubs seem to be intensely political with people falling out more often than teenage girls and it’s bloody difficult keeping up to date with who’s still not talking to whom and what the falling out was about. That’s the beauty and benefit of having personal permissions – you can go and detect when you feel like it and you are beholden to none but the landowner.