Two new small pasture permissions

This afternoon I went out prospecting for a few hours.

My first port of call was at a mixed farm (cattle, sheep and horses) that I had originally called at a few weeks ago. On that occasion I had spoken to the stable girl who told me there had been people detecting on the land in the past so I left my card with her to pass on to the owners. Despite several other visits it wasn’t until today that I caught up with one of them. It seems my card and the fact of my first visit had not been passed on, so I left another card with the chap who wanted to discuss it with his wife. I’m not sure whether this will come good in the end but if it does it looks like a good 100+ acres.

Next port of call was a bit out of the way. The farmer told me he did a bit of detecting on his land himself so didn’t want anyone else to go on it. Fair enough. We had a long chat, during which he brought out a Garrett Ace 150 (?) which it seems someone had given him. He asked me about the sort of things I had found, asked me how his detector works and took on board my suggestion that he buy some headphones so he could hear faint signals better. Then he suggested that I try X at Y. Good lead.

On the way to Y, I called in at another place I passed on the off-chance and spoke to the landowner. Bingo! The land is currently rented out to a tenant who is vacating it in about 5 or 6 weeks and after that I can have a go. The landowner has owned it for at least 45 years and bought it from a family friend. It has never been detected.

Land: 32 acres

Called in at Y and spoke to X. Apparently someone has detected at least part of this farm but this was some years ago and he has since died. X seemed uncertain as to how long ago it had been detected. There are about 100 acres under arable and 50 under grass. The grass is three fields of which only the smallest is old pasture, the others having previously been arable under plough and only put down to grass in the past couple of years. So not only is the land available all year, but finds won’t have had chance to sink below detector range. Best of all, I can start this week.

Land: 50 acres

Celebrated with coffee and cake at a nearby garden centre.

The Port Run

Let’s face it – without the kindness of landowners detectorists would be stuck in their own gardens. Even the beaches are owned by someone and permission  is needed to detect on them. So let’s hear it for landowners, eh?

I went out this morning to deliver bottles of port to the landowners of the two personal permissions on which I’ve been doing my solo detecting this year. As well as the port, I enclosed print-outs for each of the finds from their land which has been recorded with the PAS this year. I also took the opportunity to return Farmer No 2’s Roman grot which the FLO had been unable to identify beyond “probably 2nd century”.

Unfortunately neither farmer was around when I visited. Farmer No 1 was out hedging but I left his carrier bag by the kitchen door under an old tiled cart shed. Farmer No 2 was nowhere to be seen either so I left his carrier by the back wheel of his 4×4 under the car port by the side door. Not wanting to risk leaving the coin out in case someone nicked the carrier bag, I posted it through the letterbox so that it was safe. Once I got home I left a message on Farmer 2’s answerphone telling him where the coin was.

I phoned Farmer No 2 again this evening to check he’d found the coin and retrieved the carrier bag (yes to both) and we had a chat about his land, its history and the surrounding area. He mentioned again the “graveyard” supposed to be on the land according to the testimony of a 90-year-old villager when he himself was a lad of about 10. This would date the testimony, as oral history, to sometime about 1880. The area indicated is where the tenant tends to keep his cattle and is accordingly badly churned up, so I’m not sure when would be best to give it a go. The farmer also mentioned again the claimed connections with a local religious house, though he did not have any details. Clearly in the New Year I am going to have to take another trip to Warwickshire county archives.

New permission, partly fronting a Roman Road

I finalised a new permission this morning on a mixed farm. This is one of a handful of farms I had prospected earlier in the year where the farmer had asked me to get back in touch once the wheat or barley was off. In fact I think I’ve left it later than I should have done as some fields have already been ploughed and reseeded, but I reckon I can get up to a dozen sessions in before it’s all out of bounds again.

I’m particularly excited about a couple of fields which run alongside one of the region’s minor Roman roads.  I’m not sure what sort of traffic, or how much, a fairly minor Roman road would have carried but it would probably have remained in use for a couple of centuries after the Roman departure, so somebody must have dropped something alongside it in that time. These fields are currently lying to stubble so should be accessible for a while.

Time to do some reading up on Roman roads.

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.

New permission – 60 acres of pasture

I now have a new permission comprising 60 acres of pasture which has only been detected by a couple of chaps for one day earlier this year. I spoke to the landowner again this morning and although he had not been able to speak to his tenant he confirms I can detect as he does not believe the tenant will raise any objections at all. Indeed, the tenant has shown considerable interest in the history of the land in the past and should I meet him I’m just to explain the situation to him.

Online research does not identify any particularly interesting features on the land, nor any significant archaeological finds for several miles around. On the other hand the land lies on the edge of a settlement which is smaller than a village but larger than a hamlet, with a stream running through the middle and a footpath crossing it from one side to the other. The footpath shows up on the satellite images as a definite but shallow hollow way so it seems likely that it has been in use for at least several centuries.

As the forecast for the weekend is warm and dry I plan to put in a couple of sessions to see what turns up. It can’t possibly be less than I’m finding on my existing permission.

Prospecting for permissions

Went out this afternoon prospecting for new permissions over towards Stratford upon Avon.

And I tried something new. Previously I’ve spent hours researching likely farms online using various websites, noting them down in a book with their postcodes and then going round them in turn. But it’s not that simple in practice, is it? The most promising looking places invariably have big “sod-off” gates at the bottom of the access road, or the land has been sold off to an agri-conglomorate based in an obscure Caribbean tax haven and the farmhouse has barely a 1/4 acre garden to its name, or I simply cannot find them even with the satnav. Unfortunately many farms don’t have any signage at the roadside to let you know that you have reached Pig’s Bottom Farm. Probably to deter metal detectorists.  Taken all together, I have spent hours in the past driving round and getting absolutely nowhere.

Today I just set off with a notebook and the OS map for the area, picked out a few villages and just drove round the lanes stopping at any farm I could get access to. And it may have worked.

The first place I stopped at has had a tame detectorist for about 6 years and doesn’t need another one (fair enough) but at the second I had a long chat with the landowner. He has around 60 acres in a very promising situation though he no longer farms the land himself. A couple of chaps had a go earlier this year for a day and by the sounds of it had some nice finds but they’ve not been back and not been in contact with him since. Both he and his tenant are interested in the history of the land and he in particular is very interested in having someone detect his acres. So long as his tenant agrees, which does seem likely, I’m in. I should know by the end of next week, so fingers crossed and child sacrifices to the duty deity, whoever that is.

I had another couple of possibles during the afternoon but will say nothing more about them for the time being.

It’s time to face reality

After more than 18 months spent on various fields with virtually nothing to show for the effort, I must conclude that there simply is nothing to find. When I first spoke to the farmer in October 2011 and he said I could detect on the farm, he warned me that a number of other detectorists had tried it in the past but given up when they found nothing. But it’s always worth a try, isn’t it? Especially when it’s your first personal permission.

I suspect I know what the problem is:

  • It’s a small but strangely shaped parish
  • There is no village or other population centre in it
  • It supported no services such as a pub or school, merely a small and rather poor parish church
  • The labourers serving the farms in the parish probably lived in the substantial village in the next parish, less than a mile away
  • Other than that village there is no other settlement for several miles in any direction
  • The censuses from 1841 onwards show a population of no more than 120, gradually declining as the 19th century progressed

In other words, there were very few people in the parish to be dropping or throwing away the sort of things that detectorists tend to find.

I’m obviously going to have to bring more, and better, permissions on line. While I don’t now expect to detect on this particular farm in future with any regularity there’s no point in burning bridges with the farmer. If nothing else, I know I can always go back there if there’s nowhere else to detect.