It’s my stop on the blog tour for The Accidental Detectorist: Uncovering an Underground Obsession by Nigel Richardson.
I was intrigued when I read the blurb for this book. I love the English countryside, and nothing gives me more thrill than the turquoise flash of a kingfisher or the discovery of a spotted woodpecker feather. So I completely understand the attraction of metal detecting and the hit of dopamine they must get as they find something interesting. Yet, like many others, I have always considered metal detectorists a bit comical. Nigel says of the first wave of amateur metal detectorists in the 1980s, “The occasional sighting of them (it was always blokes), stuttering about haplessly in a field or on a beach, triggered in onlookers feelings of hilarity and pity.”
The book has given me a glimpse into their world, and there is far more to it than I ever thought. Each detectorist find provides a link between the field or shore they stand on and the people who have lived or travelled there in years gone past. I enjoyed the historical facts and stories woven into the book and the leaps of faith Nigel made with some of the objects he found – to create plausible stories linking them back to his house and the people who once lived there.
This all piqued my own interest in my local area in North Essex. I went onto the finds.org.uk database and typed in Layer Marney, the name of the village where I live. My house is less than a mile from Layer Marney Tower, England’s tallest Tudor gatehouse, so surely there is treasure in these parts? The database has five finds listed, including this beautiful hammered coin. In the local parish of Messing cum Inworth where I grew up, there are finds from Iron Age, Roman, Medieval and Post Medieval times. We are but a stone’s throw from Colchester or Camulodunum to call it by its Roman name as it is the UK’s oldest recorded city. Boudicca and her armies once razed it to the ground. On the database are many Roman coins in the area, perhaps borne by those fleeing her persecution. I shall walk the local footpaths with a new fascination for what may lie under my feet and the people who walked these fields in years gone by. It’s particularly poignant this week. Today Charles the third will be proclaimed King, as we pass from the Elizabethan age into the Carolean age. History in the making.
Back to the book and it was his observation of people I most enjoyed. Nigel met several detectorists on his travels around the UK and took time to understand their motivations. The next time I see one trudging across a field with headphones on, I will pay them much more respect. As Nigel informs us, these days this merry band of men (and a few women) is responsible for finding the vast majority of the 1.5 million objects recorded on finds.org.uk, a voluntary recording programme run by the British Museum.
Nigel is humble and self-deprecating and, as you would expect from a professional travel writer, presents us with a book which is extremely well structured, engaging, witty and charming. In the first few chapters, I could feel his palpable sense of being the new boy in the world of metal detecting, like a pupil on their first day at school. It’s a fascinating read for anyone who is interesting in local history, the countryside or who fancies learning a bit more about those strange blokes who sweep their toys back and forth in our fields.
I was gifted a copy of the book by Hachette, in return for an honest review.
Hannah is the author of The Cactus Surgeon: Using Nature to Fix A Faulty Brain. It’s a memoir which charts her experience of reconnecting with nature after suffering burnout and being diagnosed with a functional neurological disorder. With no information available to help her, she found her own way to get better.