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Planning Retirement Online

Out of the box - Metal detecting

                         February 2010

This is our regular OUT OF THE BOX feature where we give suggestions on different things to try.      

Each month we try something that is not on the normal agenda for our age group. We all know keeping fit is important as we get older, but for most of us this means walking, playing a sport, gardening, cycling or swimming. But have you ever considered training with weights?


This month we look at ……


metal detectingFinding artefacts and coins that have been hidden beneath the ground for centuries has to be a wonderful experience. Knowing you are holding an object that was last touched by a human being perhaps 500 or even 1000 years ago must be a unique sensation.

In the past, this experience was only available to a lucky group of archaeologists and historians, but with the introduction of the metal detector, all this has changed dramatically. Today a wide range of people up and down the country have come across extraordinary treasures from the past, and you don’t need a degree in history or engineering to join in.

The first metal detectors appeared around 40 years ago, comprising basically a simple transistor radio attached to a stick with a small coil on the end. They were totally unreliable and many people wasted a lot of time in fruitless digging due to faulty equipment.

A decade later and things had improved dramatically. Sophisticated machines started to appear on the market and some real finds such as the Water Newton and the Thetford hoard of treasure trove suddenly put metal detectors in the spotlight.

Over the years the equipment has improved still further, and modern metal detectors, some with highly sophisticated computer controls, are affordable, easy to handle and very reliable. Today there are even specialised machines designed for specific purposes, such as looking for treasures hidden very deep down, or below wet sand or even under water.

The hobby has a large and increasing following in Britain because of the potential to find serious “treasure” under our countryside. There are still millions of acres of farmland that have never been scanned by metal detectors. Who knows what is hidden beneath?

There have been a few hiccups. At one point it was feared that with so many people taking up metal detecting, there could be a threat to Britain’s heritage, and there were some campaigns launched to impose severe restrictions on the hobby. However, it was decided that the rights of the general public to explore the countryside with metal detectors should be upheld; but the ancient laws of treasure trove and codes of conduct were emphasized to ensure valuable treasure is official reported.

There are so many areas where you can use your metal detector, from your own garden to nearby parks and commons, woods and farmland. On private property, of course you must obtain the owner’s permission before you enter with your metal detector; there are also some areas where you cannot search, including ancient monuments and ruins and sites of special scientific interest. You can check with your local library and also the archaeological department of your local County Council if you want specific information.

The good thing about metal detecting is that it opens so many doors. You will suddenly become far more interested in landscapes and history, finding an old Celtic coin can’t help but foster a real interest in what it had been used for and who might have dropped it there.

Surprisingly, there is also a good social life involved in metal detecting. The National Council for Metal Detecting ( has a list of clubs across the country and you may find local members who are planning some group activities in specially selected areas. There is also a Treasure Hunting magazine with a wealth of information for people interested in metal detecting. There are even specially organised tours and holidays for enthusiasts (

You may not unearth the dramatic and priceless treasures that Terry Herbert found on farmland last September – his find of Anglo-Saxon treasure was unparalleled in size and worth a “seven figure” sum – but for a healthy and interesting hobby, metal detecting ticks a lot of boxes.



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