Trials & Tribulations of a Rookie Detectorist

6th July 2019 — 24 Comments

In the days when I was a fully functioning detectorist, but not a ‘hot-shot’ like GH, I learnt and gained a few wrinkles – often in the hard way, though never forgotten. I reckon the wrinkles on my face were caused by my habit of cursing and grimacing every time I dug up more crap. Hence the appellation, ‘miserable old git’.

When starting detecting, you are bound to make mistakes and silly errors; I certainly did and there is still a touch of embarrassment when I talk about them. Here are a small selection of the real gaffes I made … in no particular order.


My first piece of advice is don’t be too hasty in discarding items you think are rubbish. Always have them checked out first. I dug up what I thought was crap, but Mrs John knew different  . . . and it proved to be a severely corroded saucer brooch of the early Anglo-Saxon period. She spent ages cleaning it with a fine brush and toothpick and a design, albeit hardly discernible, magically appeared. I was mortified, but pleased.

Anglo-Saxon Saucer Brooch © LW

At the centre, six outline triangular segments are arranged in a circle around a pellet. Beyond the segments, there is a series of concentric rings and grooves, but the fine detail is lost. Most of the upturned rim, from which the brooch’s name derives, is also missing. The back of the brooch has the stumps of two lugs, originally the hinge and catch-plate for the (missing) pin. UKDFD


You’ve received a new detector for Christmas or your birthday . . . and try it out in the garden. That’s what we did! Not knowing that we would take to the hobby, Mrs. John and I bought a diddy little machine from the Viking stable. We were excited and, in a cavalier fashion, dug craters in the pristine lawn. Things were going well, and we took turn swinging and digging. I was pleased to find a toy ambulance. I eventually gave it to Brian Ridley of the Northern Relics forum who was adept at resurrecting toy cars. In 2012 it was mentioned in one of my Medley columns in The Searcher magazine.

© JW Click to Enlarge

What I didn’t say in that report was that I knocked Mrs. John out and she had to seek medical attention. I screamed, “There it is!” She looked in the hole just as I, rather energetically, raised the machine . . . and the coil collided with her forehead. After a long wait and short stay at Stoke Mandeville Hospital she was mended, discharged and continued swinging. What a trooper!

© Lynda Winter


I reckon this next incident was instrumental in turning me into a ‘fair-weather’ detectorist. Mrs. John and I attended our first organised dig in the wilds of Oxfordshire. We had previously asked on a friendly forum for some of the essentials we should take. I remember that even a 40 Ib Everest quality back-pack wouldn’t have carried all the stuff. There were sticking plasters, mobile phone, GPS, camera, ointment for stinging critters, bait, water, toilet roll . . . and so on. I wonder if the latter was for the inevitable bout of faecal incontinence you were bound to get when uncovering that hoard of gold coins.

No one knows the precise source of the 17th century expression ‘raining cats and dogs’, but we can be sure that it didn’t originate because animals fell from the sky.

After traversing several bumpy tracks on the way to the site, we switched on our detector which seemed to be the lone ranger amongst the Minelabs, Whites and other high-end machines. I had a feeling of inadequacy. And, about ten minutes later, it happened! Climate change. The heavens opened and it rained cats and dogs.

We raced for the car and waited for the rain to stop. It didn’t so we devoured the sandwiches, supped the water and sampled the cool Pinot. The incessant rain put a damper on things and after a quick discussion we voted to return home.

With the Saabmobile slipping and sliding like a novice ice skater we made our way to the exit. The Marshall on duty asked why we were leaving so soon. Mrs. John explained that we didn’t have the right gear and were soaking wet. His reply: “Yer skin’s waterproof innit.”

I have remembered that phrase and the disdainful look. Soon after this incident we purchased suitable clothing and kept it in the vehicle with the other ‘essentials’ . . . and the toilet rolls.


Vision but little Sound

When you have two people detecting as a team, mistakes can easily happen. One time we arrived at a dig and discovered that the detectors – we now had one each – were missing. They hadn’t been loaded. I prefer not to dwell on what happened that day. Heated words were exchanged and, subsequently, I had vision but no sound for the rest of the week.

Don’t forget the Batteries

Ironically, we carried spare batteries for both machines in the car. I presume you do the same. If not, you should. However, I never carry them in my pocket since my mate Dave advised caution. He said that a coin, or other metal object in your pocket can easily short across the battery terminals, causing them to overheat. Not only does this drain the batteries, but the potential for explosion, leakage, or at the very least, a nasty burn is very real. Place a small strip of electrical tape over the battery terminals and avoid this danger. Sounds like good advice. Or keep them in the car like I used to do.

Clever Clogs here knew all about NOT wearing steel toe-capped boots, but I was still caught out by ‘ghost’ signals. This quote from a forum made me smile:

“Wonder if anyone else has done this or am I the only ding dong out there. I spent about 30 minutes digging up ghost signals only to find out i was chasing my feet. Then i realised it was my steel toe boots that was the ghost signal. I started to laugh and thought ‘what a day’ but i had fun.”   Jay

I was caught out by a metal button on the sleeve of my jacket. Every time I held a clump of soil in my hand and scanned with the pinpointer, it went bananas. Lesson learned; button ripped from cuff.


I’d like to end on a positive note and share some of my tips finding sites on which to detect. First and foremost was my mouth! I talked about and promoted the hobby with almost everyone I came in contact. I bent the ears of friends, hairdresser, the farmer standing next to me in the pub, at work, weddings and wherever anyone would listen.


What a bore I must have been to some, but you get the idea. Once I had their attention and they seemed interested, I talked about the hobby. This has worked for me on more than one occasion, and often the result was that I gained permission for land on which to detect. I noticed that the success rate was better when I was accompanied by my wife. And that’s why you should take a pretty female when you go knocking on doors!

Lastly, always have a positive attitude. Don’t ever let refusals get you down. I always showed/shared my finds with the tenant farmer or landowner even if they told me I could keep everything found. Make a point of building up good relationships.





Posts Twitter

The copyright owner of content on this blog is John Winter, unless noted otherwise. Every effort has been made to assure no material was used without permission. If you are the owner and find that your material was inadvertently used without permission then please contact me. Your material will be removed immediately or your copyright message will be added, whatever you prefer.

24 responses to Trials & Tribulations of a Rookie Detectorist

  1. still got the ambulance john

  2. Loved it John!!! LOL.. what a great series of anecdotes on the perils and joys of first starting out in this hobby/addiction. And i am amazed that the Mrs. did not reply in kind when you were out the next time.. maybe a shovel would be her instrument of choice,

    And like you, I too eventually discovered that skin is indeed waterproof.

    Thank you my friend.. A great way to start my farm chores is with a chuckle.


  3. John, at least your significant other goes out with you! Mine laughs at the fact I will spend most of the day digging in the dirt for an old coin yet I won’t stoop and pick up a penny off the road. Although some of us are long in the tooth detectorists, I still think of my self as a rookie…mistakes happen!

    • Correction, Phil. Unfortunately we don’t (can’t) get out anymore, but we are still a team. Lynda cares for me and I care for her.

  4. I see you also have discovered a nice Pinot can being sunshine into a rainy day.

  5. John
    Great appreciation of what it is all about starting out in this great hobby and great to see you pushing the pen and giving me the odd chuckle.
    Keep at it my friend.

  6. Ray Swinnerton 6th July 2019 at 9:52 PM

    Your stories remind me of those i read in The Searcher by Andrew C. I think he referred to himself as a virgin detectorist.
    We have a few club members that leave equipment out in the bush, never to be seen again.
    ( the equipment that is)

  7. That did make me laugh…. I think we have all been through some of those incidents …. mind you I have never knocked anybody out! ..Yet.. Blow the batteries in the car I am going to start having the Pinot in the car … Thank you John for another entertaining read

    • Thank you Nettie. Cheers.

      I haven’t forgotten about your Golden Girl story – coming soon to a computer, tablet or phone near you. 🙂

  8. “I have remembered that phrase and the disdainful look. Soon after this incident we purchased suitable clothing and kept it in the vehicle with the other ‘essentials’ . . . and the toilet rolls.”

    In camo I hope!

    Loved this John….thanks.

  9. great laugh! thanks for the anecdotes John. in my early days I almost threw an Atrebatic bronze stater away but decided to take it home and wash it. Mr Seaby identified it when he visited Warwick museum

  10. Great reading John, a lot of empathy there from myself and others involved in our hobby!

  11. The marshall on duty wasn’t called Allan, was he?

  12. Thank you John, it brought back memories of my first day detecting and like your day it started to pour with rain. After twenty minutes I thought “What am I doing here?” I straightened up, looked around at the other club members who were oblivious of the deluge and quite happy to wander around like penguins in a mud bath. I didn’t want to appear as a a wimp and I wasn’t going to be the first to “chuck in the towel” not on my first outing, so I continued until the very end. The wetter I got the less I cared and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the rain was running down my neck and I was getting soaked from the inside to out. The satisfaction of hosing down clothing, equipment and myself afterwards was quite rewarding. Nevertheless now I am much older I am off long before it begins to soak in!

  13. john mate ..i couldnt help laughing when i read u knocked out mrs john ..i bet there was a few choice words said glad the coil came out of it ok …lol

  14. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 15th August 2019 at 5:18 AM

    The question to be answered John, is how long did you study the ambulance before attending to Mrs. John?? LOL….

    Sorry for the late reply, but I loved this post!

    Send my love to Mrs. John please.

Would you like to leave a response?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.