Paul Coleman was in a Buckinghamshire field in 2014 when his metal detector began to beep.
“You can gauge the size of the buried metal by listening to the sound. This was a loud signal, and I could tell the object was quite large, but you can’t really know for sure until you dig.”
So Paul began took out his trowel. As he shifted more clay and silt, the anticipation mounted. “The signal seemed to indicate it was getting larger and larger. By the time I had gone to two feet, I could tell that whatever I was about to unearth was huge.”
Coin from the Lenborough hoard. Picture: Getty Images
At last, Paul struck metal: a humble lead container. He thought it was junk. But then he spotted the bright coins inside, stacked neatly.
Paul had found more than 5,252 silver coins, around 1,000 years old.
They bore the faces of their kings: Ethelred the Unready and Canute, who ruled between 978 and 1035.
The hoard was unusual partly because the first was an Anglo-Saxon king, the second a Viking; and coins from both are rarely mixed.
They were later valued at £1.35 million.
• 1,000 coins from the Lenbrorough hoard are on display at Buckinghamshire County Museum in Aylesbury. buckscountymuseum.org
The secret of treasure hunting
Paul’s success didn’t come overnight. “Forty years,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for that long.”
Unsurprisingly, he says that perseverance is the key to metal detecting. “If you put enough time in, you’ll get lucky – you’ll find something really interesting”
Detectorist Paul Coleman pictured at the unveiling of the hoard at the British Museum in 2015. Picture: Getty Images
The waiting, he reckons, enhances the joy of making a find. “Like angling, or cricket, very little happens for a long time and then you get the big reward. And the time between those moments increases the anticipation.”
Peter Welch runs the 1,000-strong Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club, and was at the scene with Paul when he found the hoard. “Lots of people try detectoring and get disappointed quite quickly when it turns out that it’s not a path to instant riches, that they have to put in the time walking up and down fields,” he says.
The real reward
Some detectorists argue, though, that the real treasure of detectoring is time spent in the countryside.
“People who have taken up and continued detecting tend to appreciate the value of just being outdoors,” says Steve Critchley, a member of the UK’s National Council for Metal Detecting.
Peter agrees: “Some of us are there really to relax, and swinging a metal detector provides a purpose for a walk in the country.”
For Lance and Andy, the main characters in Detectorists, the pleasure of each other’s company is also part of the attraction – although of course they would never say so.
But surely all that fruitless wondering gets a little… dull? Paul is adamant: “It’s never boring because, like fishing, it’s the quiet times that make that lucky catch worthwhile.”
Just as well, because there’s no guarantee of success, no matter how long you spend looking. “People think I’ve achieved something big,” says Pail, “but it’s just a stroke of luck, really.”
Comedy gold: Lance (Toby Jones) and Andy (Mackenzie Crook) appear in Detectorists, BBC4’s comedy about two Essex enthusiasts
Detectorists is on Wednesday nights on BBC4 until 13 December 2017. Catch up on BBC iPlayer, where episode 1 is available until 28 November. bbc.co.uk/iplayer