Metal Detecting in England: Bucket list item or Addiction?
by Ron Guinazzo
I have been running Chicago Ron’s England Barn Hunt trips for 6 weeks per year for almost 12 years now. That is over 60 weeks of 10+ hour days of swinging in England. Over the years I’ve encountered hunters spanning the range of knowledge, skill, passion, and equipment. Some hunters have gone just once, while others have gone for 2 weeks every year for the last 10 years. It seems to me that hunters who are open to taking advice, tips, and working as a team seem to do better and really have more fun in the long run.
I ask all hunters to arrive in London the night before the hunt. It makes sure that everyone can get some sleep, and that everyone is there for the 9:30am pick up at the hotel, for the drive to Colchester. If you are like me, and can’t sleep on planes, you will be happy you did this. It also gives everyone a chance to meet and talk over breakfast at the hotel.
During the 2 hour ride from London I go over the plan for the week. I discuss:
- details for Breakfast, lunch, and dinner (some at local pubs),
- good fields and which are currently available,
- how to recover targets quickly, filling holes, removing all trash targets,
- emphasis to dig every repeatable target above iron,
- Never throw anything away unless you know it is modern junk,
- use of walkie talkies,
- tips on improving your hunt and sharing treasure tales.
It is a bit of a drive and I always try to answer any questions.
When we arrive at our home for the next week, a converted Barn built 1720, everyone quickly unpacks their machines, changes clothes and readies themselves for our first afternoon hunt. We usually get about 5 hours in the field that first afternoon.
Most hunters making their first journey to England expect a hammered silver coin to be a high tone just like a US silver coin. For most hammered silver coins this is not true! To make sure everyone has their machines tuned properly I set up some sample targets in the front yard of the barn. My samples include a hammered silver penny, cut half penny, cut quarter penny, and a hammered silver farthing (which is about half the size of my pinky fingernail). Everyone gets to hear what these sound like, and their number ID’s. For some of the small targets you can only get a repeatable signal at 3 inches or less, so you must be on your game!
A few hammered silver pieces compared to our modern dime…
Once everyone is geared up we head to one of the 25 – 30 farms we have permission to hunt. Some of the farms are small, with only 5 or 6 fields. Several farms are quite big, the largest with over 50 fields, totaling over 2,000 acres. That’s about 500 fields in total! Most of the fields are plowed, planted and rolled every year. It is a crap shoot as to which fields are ready when we go. Weather, crop rotation and other factors all affect land availability.
The next 6 days are spent in pretty much the same way. I wake everyone at 6am for breakfast and coffee. We pack the truck with detectors and gear, then head to a farm, either picked by the team the night before or by me if no one wants to commit. All the sites are between 5 and 45 minutes from where we stay, so we arrive on site between 7:15 and 8am.
I review the available fields and boundaries with everyone. Hunters can go to any available field on that farm for the morning session. I supply everyone with a walkie talkie, and ask them to announce any good find. The reason I have hunters do this… 10 hours is a long time to be walking around swinging if you are not finding many targets. If a hunter in an area of the field that has more targets, we share the news so we can get all we can from that plowing. This is a team hunt and we want to see good finds made whether they are yours or mine.
Finally we agree on a lunch time, usually 12:30, and everyone heads out.
At lunch everyone decides if they want to stay on that farm or try another.
The tools of the trade catch a break during lunch…
Lunch most days will be a deli meat and cheese sandwich, with chips (prawn cocktail is great), soda, water, fruit, candy bars and healthier snack bars. I try to offer a hot lunch at least one day per week. To do this, I head back to the barn and heat Pasties, which are like steak and potato hot pockets.
The fun part of lunch is seeing what everyone has found. Hopefully the radio was busy with reports of hammered silver coins, milled silver, and artifacts. Mostly hunters end up handing me stuff asking what it is. I had one hunter who dug what he thought was a tractor part, because, as he said, it was John Deer Green. It turned out to be a 2nd century Roman fibula brooch! Again never throw anything away!
For the after-lunch session we hunt until dusk, which is usually around 6pm, then head back to the barn. If it is a stay-in night, everyone will kick back, and start to clean and sort their finds in the designated “finds” area. In this case the laundry room. While everyone is cleaning finds and showing the best of the day I start dinner, or pick it up. It’s tradition on our first night to have fish and chips from the local chippy. Other stay-in nights we have ale pies from the local butcher, and I make a big pot of chili (which is a big hit).
For the remaining 4 nights we relax from the long day of hunting with a few pints and dinner at one of the local pubs or our favorite Italian restaurant, (Lucca) which has a brick pizza oven and outstanding food. These pub nights are also when the hunters who have found gold must pay up! I started buying a round when I found gold over 10 years ago. Everyone seemed to like the idea, and it was nice for everyone to celebrate with the lucky finder. It has become a tradition and everyone looks forward to their free round, although most would rather be buying.
A bunch of happy hoikers enjoying dinner at Lucca…
On the last night of the hunt, hunters put all their finds in a zip-top bag with their contact info written on the outside. All finds over 50 years old must have an export license to take them out of the country. We do everything by the book. Our host Chris will identify and photograph all finds, and work with the coroner (not dead people) and the museum. Once the paperwork is completed Chris will apply for your export.
Be aware the export process can take 4 to 6 months.
Almost all finds are returned to the finder, the exceptions are a treasure or a hoard. The guidelines are:
- A treasure is defined as any non-coin item more than 300 years old, with more than 10% silver or gold.
- The hoard rule applies to 2 or more coins of silver or gold, 10 or more for base metals.
- The museum has first option to buy any declared treasure or hoard. If the museum decides to acquire the treasure or hoard, the payment is split between the finder and land owner.
- If the item is disclaimed it is returned to the finder. (As a courtesy we pay the land owner half of the appraised value, then are allowed to keep the item)
- Treasures and hoards can take years to complete the process
In 12 years I have found, or been a part of about a dozen treasures or hoards. One gold coin was purchased as part of a hoard, and is now on display at the Colchester Museum. Also the museum wanted to acquire a particular hoard, of which I had 2 Roman silver and a bronze coin. I donated the coins, and they were very grateful.
I made my first journey to England in 2005 with 7 friends from the Chicago Detecting club. That trip is the model for the hunts I now lead. I try to achieve the same comradery, passion for detecting, team hunting atmosphere, sharing tips and tricks, and happiness for others’ successes. I’m happy to say I have many of regulars who do embrace these ideals. They also like to joke and have fun, which makes for a really great time. There can be a lot of good natured ribbing usually at my expense. We do have a lot of fun, make loads of great finds and learn about the history England.
If you want to be a part of these hunts, please check my website Chicago Ron.com for dates. You may have to sign up for a wait list. As I write this, trips are sold out for next 18 months. Once I do confirm your spot you will need to send in a deposit to secure it. This may be a good time to start looking into your flight to London’s Heathrow Airport.
After receiving your deposit, I will email a link to the Colchester Treasure Hunting website, with a log-on for the Members-only forum. Your forum log-on will be “Country/State/City – First Name”. When you log in, you will be amazed at the sheer volume and variety of finds from Stone Age to present. I recommend you study the finds. It will help you identify the stuff you pull from the ground after its 200 – 2000 year rest.
In 2015 Stan Flack, a happy hoiker from Florida, offered up the following…
Well I just returned from the detecting trip of a life time with Chicago Ron and 5 other diehard detectorists in Colchester, England and feel compelled to share the experience. I have been asked dozens of time “what was it like” and have come up with the following analogy: The experience is a bit like a week of Christmas mornings…
Picture yourself on 10 football fields. On those fields are 200 Christmas presents addressed to you. It could be a coin, piece of old copper or lead, something cool, old or rare. Could be what I have dubbed the “pull tab of England”, the notorious flat button (there are plenty of those to go around) and lets of course not forget GOLD! You just never know (well maybe have some idea if you’ve learned your machine) what the roll of the dirt will reveal.
My first find was an odd small metal “T” shaped thing that was John Deer Green. A broken part to a tractor I thought, but keeping mindful of what I was told, “toss EVERYTHING into your pouch”. I did so and moved on later to find out it was a 2nd century Roman Fibular Broch. Great, now I’m the “tractor part” guy. No worries all that was taken in stride with plenty of good natured ribbing and I quickly discovered that it was all about the hunt and sharing that adventure and fellowship with my barn mates and not who was the most knowledgeable. If you’re a fan of one liner movie quotes like I am, you’re in for a treat as they are woven into the lexicon of daily conversations.
The detecting was just as billed. Grueling, exhausting, intense FUN! Up at 6 a.m. in the van by 7 and on a field by 7:30 – 8:00 depending on where we went, stopping at dark. Wake up next morning and repeat. Now that’s a groundhogs day I can live with. Ron and the returning members were very knowledgeable and eager to help point out important information on the fields and offer advice on machine settings etc. and genuinely interested in everyone having a great experience with the most chance for success. I relished having a most hammered coin competition to get the competitive juices flowing.
We hunted around some of the most beautiful English countryside with incredible centuries old churches as our back drop. Great adventure, great group of guys and an overall experience I soon won’t forget. Already plotting my return for more tractor parts!