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By Stuart Burgess Why Beach detecting? Well for a start sand is easier to dig than clods of earth, and the takehome pay is better.
The population of these islands have always had a fascination for the sea, many people to this day, aspire to live near the sea and be able to go down to the beach whenever the mood takes them. All the coins and artefacts that you find in the fields are also waiting to be found on the beaches. The coins and artefacts found on beaches are normally in remarkably good condition, considering that they have been submerged in salt water for many years, unlike some inland finds that I have seen, which had been contaminated by the use of chemicals and fertilizers on the fields. As with all detecting sites, you will have to do a bit of research depending on what you are hoping to find. Most beach detectorists, myself included, are happy to walk away at the end of a session with a pocket full of lose change plus a few items of jewellery, which, depending on quality, can be sold on to a pawnbroker. Older losses, although not prolific, are not uncommon finds to the beach hunter. Indeed, there have been many historically important finds made on our beaches. Once you have decided on what you would like to find, be it modern losses or older artefacts, you need to know where these losses would have occurred, so it is important to know a little bit of the coastal history, the following is a condensed history lesson just to stimulate your appetite. As you all know, we live on an Island and the coastline is our visible and physical boundary, in order to venture past this frontier, we have over the millennia become a maritime nation with a
proud history of exploration, other nations, envious of our cultural and economic wealth have attempted to invade and conquer, some successfully, others not so. The defence of our Island was paramount to our ancestors, who put an enormous amount of time, labour and materials into building up the coastal defences that we can still see to this day. There are many medieval castles dotted around our coastline, as are many older settlements, and fortifications. These sentinel outposts, having been established to defend our shores from invaders, expanded and grew into large villages and towns in just a few decades. These communities not only became reliant on the sea as an additional source of food, but also for trade routes to other communities. The road system at the time was almost none existent, and what roads they did have were very rough tracks at best, and susceptible to attack from roaming bands of robbers. The traders who took to the sea were also at risk from being attacked by pirates, or being driven ashore by storms.
Some of the vessels that came to grief around our coast during the last millennium can still be seen to this day, unfortunately, due to the natural erosion and corrosion of the sea, sand and wind, the remaining visible wrecks will eventually be reduced to mere memory.
The Romans 1st expedition here in 55 BC was a disaster for them as they were beaten back by the local tribes, Julius Caesar launched a 2nd expedition the following year in 54 BC, this was slightly more successful than the first but again they had to withdraw back into Europe. Claudius, learning from the shortcomings of the earlier expeditions gathered a vast flotilla and invaded in 43AD they opened up the country with a marvellous system of roads, the like of which had never been seen before, these roads encouraged the spread of trade and commerce amongst the indigenous tribes, however, the Romans used the roads primarily for troop
movements and to get their merchandise to the nearest port. There are many Roman forts around the coast with access to the sea; they circumnavigated the country to determine that it was indeed an Island. I have found no records of how many ships or men, nor where they departed from, but being a voyage of exploration they would have made frequent runs ashore for provisions and fresh water during their voyage, also to check out the most likely sites where they might position an outpost. They would have sought refuge from the storms in sheltered coves and bays. I am sure the local tribes would have objected to these intruders and attacked them as they came ashore. The Romans would also have collected sand from the beaches adjacent to their settlements, they did invent concrete, and sand is the main ingredient for the manufacture of glass. The Vikings raided the country frequently, and attempted a full scale invasion during September 1066 with a fleet of 300 ships, King Harold defeated this force at the battle of Stamford Bridge, he then marched his army 250 miles south to face another invader, just 3 weeks after defeating the Vikings he had to face the Normans. The Vikings on their excursions across the North Sea, favoured the tidal estuaries and sheltered coves where they could sneak in and practise their trade, also to beach their vessels to make repairs. They often left behind them Viking place names, so look for a coastal village with a Nordic name, they are most prolific along the east coast, although they also circumnavigated the country in their quest for plunder. The 100 Years War 1337-1453 saw many sorties back and fourth across the channel and around the Thames estuary, with many a skirmish on the beaches. Jump to the 16th century and we have the Spanish under the rule of Philip 2nd who made an attempt to invade with the Armada, but thanks to the endeavours of our own navy, they were routed and their fleet dispersed, the only way home was for them to sail around the north of Scotland, many of their ships came to grief on the rocks and shoals around our coast while trying to make it back to Spain, some of the wrecks have been documented so check out your library. During our altercations with the French, and the subsequent battles of Trafalgar 1805 and Waterloo June 1815, more commonly referred to as the Napoleonic wars, many of the French prisoners of war were put to work constructing our coastal defence system; there have been many French military buttons, badges, coins, and personal items belonging to the prisoners found adjacent to the defences they worked on, many of the fortifications they built can still be seen to this day. There are artefacts from the Romans, Vikings, Normans, Spanish and French , 1st and 2nd world wars, plus what the early tribes left on the beaches, either by way of casual lose or spiritual offerings to the deity of the sea, not to mention the many modern losses. I should warn you, before you decide to throw your gear in the car and charge off to the seaside. It is forbidden to detect on MOD property, there are many military firing and mining ranges around the coast, and some are still in use to this day, they will be well signposted, although some are open for walkers and for bathing, metal detecting is strictly forbidden, you will no
doubt find various bits of ordnance on any beach that you search, be it empty cartridge cases, spent bullets or shrapnel, The firing range may still have live artillery shells lying around, although they are periodically cleared away, more are washed ashore during storms, despite their advanced state of corrosion they are still capable of exploding. It is important that they should not be tampered with, should you find anything that looks suspicious, you should clearly mark the area and notify the police, who will in turn, contact bomb disposal.
Having found your beach, the next step is to visit the beach and get a mental picture of where any vessels would have come ashore, is there a settlement or fort nearby? Where would they have launched their ships? Get to know the beach, the wind and tides have an effect on the amount of sand you will encounter, you don't want to turn up and find that there is an extra three feet of sand covering the beach. Look for the end of the beach that is sheltered from the weather; avoid any rocky outcrops unless you know of a vessel that actually sank on them. You should be looking for a gentle sloping part of the beach that would offer an ideal place for a vessel "to put ashore" next step is to check out the tide tables for that part of the coast and try and plan a visit during the low spring tides. (With over two thousand years of coastal erosion, you want to be out as far as you can get) You will need to arrive an hour or so before low water and follow the tide out as it recedes, this will give you a bit of breathing space for when the tide starts to flood back in, you just nip back up the beach to where you started and work in the opposite direction. (There's nothing worse than digging a signal at the waters edge to have it suddenly swamped under an incoming wave) I should say at this point, I always work parallel to the sea, so as to alleviate the need to keep changing the sensitivity settings to compensate for the saturation level of salt water in the sand. It is a good idea to get some postcards of the beach if you can, they often show where the visitors congregate and bathe, which is where you need to be for the more modern losses. Most designated bathing beaches now have lifeguards/beach patrols during the summer months, they usually patrol an area between a pair of flags set out along the beach, bathers are encourage to stay within this area for safety reasons, it is a good place to start your search. A lot has been said about "Black sand", all of which is true, but not all beaches have a sub strata of black sand, some may have hard packed stone as the sub strata, while others may have black, grey, yellow or orange clay and some will have a solid rock shelf It is always prudent to look for areas where the top covering of sand has been temporarily eroded away; I once found a Bronze Age spearhead
that would have normally been covered with over a meter of sand, this is currently on display in Aberystwyth museum. Should you just want to do a bit of coin shooting on the dry sand, (I know some detectors don't like wet sand) look for the most likely places that visitors will flock to, again, check out the postcards. It has to be in direct sunlight, nobody sunbathes in the shadows, so under a cliff is out, so are any areas shaded from the sun by either buildings, breakwaters, trees, or harbour walls. Large rocks, boulders and groynes are good places to search, sunbathers use these as wind breaks and clothes hangers, look to see which way the ebb tide runs along the beach, items will be swept along in this direction and come to rest against any obstructions such as groynes or rocks, also look for patches of small stones and shells that have come together and been left by the tidal action, invariably you will find a like sized coin or ring has come to rest in the same area. Look for anything unusual on the beach, where a stream meets the sea, look to see how it has eroded its way down to the sea, it will give a good hint of what the sub-strata is like beneath the sand, look for the remains of stakes and piles that may indicate a landing stage or dock, a stone and shingle bank that juts out at right angles to the beach, all are good indications that the area may have been used for the loading and unloading of cargo. When up on the dry sand, look for the remains of beach parties, barbeques, sandcastles, where the ice cream van parked, where the Donkey rides are, hot dog stands, anywhere people would have reached into their pockets for money, they are all good indications of where you will find the spoils, again in the sand dunes, look for where the picnics have taken place, also where the courting couples have been romping around in gay abandonment. Check out under the pier if there is one, most were built by the Victorians and some very nice finds can be made under them, one word of warning, beware of fishing hooks, broken glass and junkies needles, I have been finding more and more of these items recently so don't dig in the sand with your bare hands. Talk to the beach attendants, bait diggers and fishermen that you meet on the beach, they often have some interesting local information regarding the beach, like what wind direction will stir up the sea and sand to expose the lower levels, or an interesting story to tell about their Grandfather who witnessed a shipwreck as a boy, and the bait diggers might tell you where they have seen broken pottery. I personally think that the smaller the beach, the better the find rate. But having said that, a really big beach that stretches for miles along a popular coastline can be very profitably as well, a few years ago I searched the beach from Southbourne in Dorset, past Boscombe and Bournemouth to Sandbanks at the entrance to Poole harbour, (a distance of seven miles) I picked up the princely sum of £118:67 plus a mobile phone that had £22 credit on the SIM card, assorted items of jewellery, and enough die cast model toys to open a shop. I don't do that very often, I was periodically plagued by hoards of children all taking the micky, and it was a long walk back to the car with a very heavy finds pouch and pockets stuffed to capacity, all in danger of splitting at the seams. I tend to favour the small beach because the finds are more concentrated, I can arrive at first light
and get most of the beach searched before the first visitors arrive. I normally start on the dry sand before any sunbathers spread their towels out, then work my way down to the sea, unless it's a low spring tide, then I start at the waters edge and follow the tide out. Its always a difficult choice to make, wet sand or dry, I always try and keep a mental note of what the beach looks like after a good storm has stripped the sand away, if I think that too much sand has built up on the beach, I content myself by just searching the dry sand, however, after a good storm you will always find me down at the waters edge. During the height of the summer season, I can expect to take home at least £20 in cash plus some assorted jewellery and other bits and bobs. On the other hand, if I have the misfortune to pick a beach that has been searched the day before by another detectorist, I end up with diddlysquat. That happened quite frequently during the foot and mouth outbreak when there was a ban on detecting over most of the countryside. Fortunately most of the detectorist who migrated to the beaches during the ban have now returned to their farmland again. I often get asked if I can help find someone's car keys or other such items they have lost on the beach, I normally oblige and have a quick search of the general area that they think the items may be in, I don't ask for a reward, but neither do I refuse one should it be offered, we all have to cover our running costs. I am probably more fortunate than most, as I live within a two hour drive of 42 good beaches here in South West Wales. I am semi retired which means I can "get out" three or four times a week during the summer months. I shouldn't think that anyone in the country lives more than a three-hour drive from a beach; they make an interesting diversion from digging in dirt and pasture. One final word of warning, don't get yourself "cut off" by the incoming tide, it is so easy to lose track of time, and on some beaches the tide floods in at a phenomenal rate. Should you opt for a beach where the tide ebbs a great distance from the shore, it would be prudent to take your mobile phone with you, better to be safe than sorry.
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