According to recent treasure reports, Britain is enjoying a boom in treasure hunting, with more than 1,000 treasure finds recorded in 2014 and 2015, and Norfolk seeing the bulk of the bounty. One reason for this could be down to popular shows such as, BBC drama 'The Detectorists', starring Mackenzie Crook, encouraging people to hunt for their own treasure. Here you will find all you need to know about treasure hunting in Britain.
Famous treasure finds
1. Roman coins
In 2010 in a field in Frome, Somerset, hospital chef Dave Crisp and his metal detector came across a hoard of 52,000 Roman coins buried in a large pot under the ground. One of the most important aspects of the find is that it contains a large group of coins of Carausius, who ruled Britain independently from AD 286 to AD 293.
2. Gold and silver artefacts
Metal detector enthusiast Terry Herbert found more than 3,500 gold and silver artefacts in a field in Hammerwich in July 2009 in what became known as 'The Staffordshire hoard'. The vast majority of items in the hoard were martial gear, especially sword and helmet fittings. It is the largest hoard of gold from the period ever found.
3. 900 silver pennies
With the exact location withheld, over a six-year period amateur enthusiasts found over 900 silver pennies on an Anglesey beach. Dates of the pennies ranged from 1272-1307 and while most were English, there were also coins from Scotland, Ireland and some European countries.
4. A treasure chest
In 1840 workmen hauled a lead-lined chest from the bank of the River Ribble. Inside was over 8,500 pieces of silver consisting of coins, ingots, amulets, chains, rings, cut-up brooches and armlets. It is the largest Viking Age silver hoard found in northwestern Europe.
5. Gold dollar coins
In 2007, 80 gold dollar coins were found in the back garden of a Hackney property in London. All were $20 denominations known as ‘Double-Eagle’ minted in the US dating from 1854 – 1913. However, they were ruled not to be treasure as the previous owner’s son was eventually traced.
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Where to hunt for treasure in Britain
6. Prehistoric marine life
Whilst beachcombing between Highcliffe and Barton on Sea, the fossil rich Barton Clay provides the chance to discover a cache of prehistoric marine life dating back 40 million years. Throughout the year, extreme weather conditions and rough seas erode the soft clay, exposing countless fossils in the process.
7. Semi-precious stones
Runswick Bay, just north of Whitby is an excellent destination for any beachcomber. Nominated England’s best beach for beachcombing in 2007, the beach and its surrounding cliffs are constantly revealing ancient fossils, lost jewellery and semi-precious stones.
Westward Ho! on the North Devon Coast is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and turns up some great finds for beachcombers. When the tide goes out, two shipwrecks are visible in the sand.
9. Far-flung treasures
As a meeting point between the North Sea, The Thames Estuary and the English Channel, Kent makes an ideal location for beachcombing. With finds ranging from coins to silverware and even Baltic amber, Kent’s coastline is loaded with far-flung treasures.
10. Message in a bottle
Camber Beach in East Sussex is one of the UK’s best beaches for beachcombing. With finds being anything from semi-precious stones and shark egg casings, to jewellery and messages in bottles.
11. Pan for gold
For gold panners of all levels and experience, the Museum of Lead Mining in Dumfries & Galloway offers potential prospectors the chance to go panning for real gold that you can take away with you. Carry a pan into the Scottish hills and try your luck!
The Dolaucothi Gold Mines in Ceredigion, though no longer a working mine have been in use since Roman times. Set amid the hillsides of the Cothi Valley you can try your hand at gold panning in the sifting troughs here.
The Silver-lead mine in Llywernog was initially established around 1742 and by 1842 the mine was operating successfully. The mine gradually became less and less productive until it closed around the 1880’s. Today it is an independent museum where you can work the mine material for Silver-lead and keep what you find.
14. Precious metals
The Highlands of Scotland have long been known to be rich with precious metals. In fact the largest piece of gold ever found in Scotland came from this region. Perthshire’s Gold and Gem Panning Centre and nearby Loch Tay are no exception and offer excellent locations to hunt for gold and silver.
15. White quartz
Northern Ireland has been said to represent one of the most complex and varied areas of geology in the world and as the resulting gold from these geological processes occurs in veins of white quartz, panning is still the best method of finding it.
In Torrin, situated near Elgol on the picturesque Isle of Skye, marble is quarried from the limestone-rich terrain. Skye marble – a genuine marble - has a distinct appearance due to the particular geology of the area in which limestone and granite come in to contact with each other. Many other minerals and precious stones are found in this area.
17. Rare smoky quartz
With the exception of the famous Leadhills and Wanlockhead deposit, the mineralisation of Scotland’s Southern Uplands is small in scale but varied and includes a number of amethyst deposits found in granite intrusions. In 2009, small palm-sized plates were discovered in rare smoky quartz near the summit of Screel Hill.
Jasper can be found amid the volcanic hills of the Campsie Fells, just above the small village of Blanefield in Scotland. One of the more famous sites, specimens from here are generally blood red or yellow and prized by lapidaries for its fine grain.
19. Whitby jet
The ancient lias sea (nowadays the area encompassed by the North York Moors National Park) created the perfect conditions for the formation of jet. Nowadays it can be found exposed in the cliffs and shores near the town of Whitby in small, fractured and worn pieces. Whitby jet is said to be the best quality jet available.
20. Blue John
Blue John, also known as Derbyshire Spar or Derbyshire Blue John can only be found in the Castleton mines in Derbyshire. Mined during the 19th century for its ornamental value and shipped across the world, it is now considered scarce and only a few hundred kilograms are mined per year. The name derives from the French ‘bleu et jaune’ (blue and yellow), a reference to its colour.
Amber is often found in the shingle along the Suffolk coastline and the best time to do so is said to be after a storm, when new exposures can occur. The amber found in this area is known as ‘Hastings firestorm amber’ on account of the unique characteristic and colour produced by localised forest fires that took place during the Cretaceous period.
Near the village of Elie, in the county of Fife lies Ruby Bay. The name is a bit of a misnomer as the clear brownish-red gemstones found along its beach are actually pyrope garnets coloured by chromium. Embedded in the volcanic rock that forms the shoreline, the gemstones are displaced by the action of extreme weather and are best found after a storm or during the spring tides in the shingle.
Just north of Dundee, Angus on the east coast of Scotland is arguably the countries most famous agate location. Though the locality is now covered up, it was made famous by the Usan blue hole agates – typically brilliant inky blue and white coloured agates – that were discovered, in the 19th century.
The rarest of Scotland’s gemstones, sapphire can only be found on the protected Isle of Harris - the site is the subject of a protection order banning their removal. These dark blue gemstones are of a particularly high quality, as they need no heat treatment to bring out their rich colour, unlike sapphires found outside Scotland.
25. Smoky quartz crystal
Located in the central highlands of Scotland, Loch Tay and the surrounding region was a centre of glaciation during the last ice age and as a result it is rich in mineral wealth deriving from the granite-based landscape, including many varieties of quartz; notably Cairngorm quartz, a form of smokey quartz crystal usually a yellow-brown colour.
26. Sea glass
Brighton’s sand-free shingle beach is an ideal place to look for sea glass. Because of the beach’s popularity, glass will often be discarded on the beach by visitors, and so the chances of finding sea glass here are quite high.
The beaches of Lyme Regis offer an excellent source for finding sea glass. The coarse, stony beaches of Lyme Regis, in combination with the rough Atlantic swells that often reach the shore, have created ideal conditions for the creation of sea glass.
Iona, on the west coast of Scotland is another great place to find sea glass. Looking out over the Atlantic, and practically unsheltered from storms this area’s beaches turn out some fantastic specimens of sea glass.
Exposed to the fierce North Sea, Seaham on the Durham coast is a good place to look for sea glass. The beaches terrain and strong tidal sway help to create ideal conditions for sea glass production.
After stormy weather, the beaches around Pentewan, south Cornwall and in particular places with headlands which catch the currents, are good places to search for sea glass according to local beachcombers.
Dinosaur Coast, also known as the Fossil Coast stretches for around 35 miles along the east Yorkshire shoreline, some of the fossils found here are 120 million years old and you can even see dinosaur’s footprints still visible on the beach.
Located on the southernmost tip of East Sussex, the chalk headland of Beachy Head showcases 17 million years of sediment deposition and fossils recorded in the chalk cliffs and surrounding beach.
The 95-mile stretch of the East Devon and Dorset coastline (designated as England’s only natural World Heritage Site in December 2001) is a fantastic place to see some superbly preserved fossil remains ranging from the Triassic period, right through to the Cretaceous. Equally, the Isle of Wight has some brilliant locations such as Alum and Whitecliff Bay respectively.
Finding fossils can prove more difficult at Marloes Bay than at other locations. Consisting of four main geological groups - Skomer Volcanic, Coralliferous, Gray Sandstone and Old Red Sandstone - visitors pass through each group in turn (heading south) until reaching the end of the bay. The Coralliferous Group offers the best chance to view fossils including a wealth of marine organisms.
White Park Bay sits between two headlands on the North Antrim coast. Fossils, though not abundant, are common and if you know what to look for, the beach can reveal a trove of other archaeological evidence, including Neolithic tools.
36. More an amalgamation of smaller, more ancient mines, Botallack Mine in West Penwith, Cornwall sits atop the cliffs over looking the ocean. There is evidence of tin mining going back as far as the 17th century on this site and visitors can see the ghostly remains of the mine’s buildings still clinging to the Cliffside.
37. Two engine houses form part of the scattered remains of Wheal Trewavas Mine on the Cornish coast. Perched precariously atop the cliffs, the mine opened in 1834 and a plan of this time shows four copper lodes and one tin lode in operation. Exercise caution on the site and the paths leading to it, as the building are in a ruinous condition.
38. Unsurprisingly, the East Pool Mine is situated to the east of the village of Pool in Cornwall. Preserved in excellent condition as part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape it boasts one of the largest pumping engines in the world and an industrial heritage discovery centre where you can learn about the story of Cornish mining.
39. One of the most important Bronze Age copper mines ever discovered; the Great Orme Mines are now a fee-paying attraction where visitors can explore the impressive caverns and winding tunnels of the mine on a self-guided tour.
40. Located in Cumbria, the Nenthead Mines Heritage Centre testifies to the legacy of the mining industry that once dominated the landscape of the North Pennines. Visit Carr’s Mine to learn more about what was once one of the most productive mines in the country, producing lead and zinc over a period of three centuries.
41. The Royal Charter wrecked in Dulas Bay on Anglesey in 1859, taking with it 459 lives and a consignment of Australian gold. Many passengers were said to be weighed down by belts of gold. Treasures were rumoured to have washed up on Porth Alerth beach, making local families rich.
42. Just off Rhossili beach in the Gower Peninsula lies a shipwreck from the 1600’s, nicknamed the Dollar Wreck after Spanish silver dollar coins were recovered from the surrounding sand in 1834.
43. Legend has it, locals tricked a Spanish galleon into shallow waters near Stevenston in North Ayrshire in 1588, by tying lanterns to the tails of donkeys to give the impression of ships anchored in a deep bay. Looted Spanish ingots were then buried close to the town, only to be forgotten as time went by.
44. A caravan of King John’s treasure was famously lost to a rising sea in 1216, while he was attempting to cross The Wash between King’s Lynn and Long Sutton. The treasure supposedly includes crown jewels, jewellery and gold coins.
45. The Treasure of Loch Arkaig is rumoured to be still hidden in Lochaber. The five chests filled with Spanish gold were originally intended for the Jacobite uprising, but were captured by King George II supporters and hidden in the Loch.
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How to hunt for treasure in Britain?
What are the treasure hunting laws and permissions?
You need permission to pan for gold on private or environmentally protected land; for more details see britishgoldpanningassociation.co.uk. Remember to take care of tides and rock hazards when searching for fossils and agates, and research restrictions for each area. See the Treasure Act 1996 for a code of practice. Visit the National Council for Metal Detecting (NCMD) for metal detecting code of conduct.
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