Thursday, June 1, 2023

Why I . . . go metal detecting

Beth Chapman talks to Kathy Oxtoby about why searching for hidden treasure as a metal detectorist brings her “bursts of joy”

Slowly and carefully, consultant psychiatrist Beth Chapman walks through the fields thinking about the people who have walked the paths before her and wondering about their lives.

Suddenly she hears the tell-tale beep of her metal detector and feels the familiar rush that comes from knowing there is a chance she’s struck gold.

Instead, the earth reveals an old naval button. Chapman stores it at home in a special set of drawers along with other buttons, buckles, and coins. She treasures her finds, no matter how small. “It gives me a little burst of joy to hold an old coin, look at it under a magnifying glass, and wonder who held it before me,” she says.

Chapman, who works at Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, is quick to dispel any stereotypes about her favourite pastime. “Metal detecting might appear to be nerdy and boring, but actually it’s brilliant,” she says. “It gets you outside in the fresh air when the weather is too bad to do much else,” Chapman adds. “There’s something mindful about it. I struggle to be mindful at other times but it’s peaceful, and I find digging holes therapeutic.”

Eight years ago Chapman bought a metal detector online for £200, as well as a pin pointer to probe the earth. It felt inevitable, she says. “I’m interested in history and the environment, and I also love digging in the garden.”

She goes detecting on fields and beaches and the garden of “anyone who doesn’t mind.” There is a National Council for Metal Detecting code of conduct that all metal detectorists must follow—this means she must have the landowner’s permission to search on their land.

When she’s detecting Chapman is in her own world. “I walk slowly, focusing on the ground in front of me,” she says. “When I find something—say a button or a buckle—I imagine the person who dropped it all those years ago.”

She encourages other clinicians to become detectorists too. “It’s peaceful, it allows you to focus on something just for yourself, and, if you join a club, it can connect you with like-minded people.”

“And there’s always the chance you’ll find something really exciting,” she adds. “Every time I go out, I think I’m going to find treasure. Although 99% of the time you’re digging up ring pulls and sweet wrappers.

“But it doesn’t matter. There are still those times when there’s that lovely surprise as you wash off the dirt to find part of a glittering brooch. There’s always something to take away, even if you don’t find gold.”

How to make the change

  • Metal detectors can be purchased from specialist shops, in store and online. Prices vary but you can buy one second hand

  • Aside from detecting equipment you don’t need much—just clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, a spade, a bag to carry your finds or rubbish, and a notebook or phone to document them

  • Join a metal detecting club to meet like-minded detectorists and go on digs. Clubs may also have equipment you can borrow for a nominal fee

  • Become a member of the National Council of Metal Detecting:

  • Follow the council’s code of conduct, which requires you always to fill holes you make, take away any rubbish, recognise when you need to tell someone what you have found, and not to search on any protected or historical sites

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