One morning recently I decided to head out to one of my favourite detecting spots in Cheshire. The air was fresh and invigorating, carrying the earthy scent of damp grass and fallen leaves. I’d been granted permission to detect on this particular pasture field a while back, and it had already yielded a few interesting finds – mostly post-medieval coins and the odd bit of Georgian copper. But today, I had a feeling that something special might be waiting for me beneath the soil.

As I trudged across the field, my detector swinging in a steady rhythm, I couldn’t help but reflect on the rich history of this area. Cheshire has been a significant region since Roman times, and the landscape is dotted with remnants of its medieval past. The field I was detecting in was no exception – it lay not far from the ruins of an old manor house, and I’d often wondered what secrets it might hold.

The first hour or so of detecting yielded the usual suspects – a handful of modern coins, a few buttons, and a rather bent Georgian halfpenny that had clearly seen better days. But I wasn’t discouraged. Experience had taught me that patience is key in this hobby, and sometimes the best finds come when you least expect them.

As I made my way across a slightly elevated part of the field, my detector suddenly emitted a clear, strong signal. It wasn’t the kind of high-pitched tone you’d get from silver, but rather a lower, more mellow sound that often indicates the presence of bronze or copper alloy. Intrigued, I decided to investigate further.

I carefully cut a neat plug of grass, making sure to keep the roots intact so I could replace it properly later. As I flipped the plug over, I checked the hole with my detector to see if the signal was still there. It was, and it seemed to be coming from just below the surface. Excitement began to build as I realised this could be something interesting.

Using my handheld pinpointer, I located the exact spot where the object lay. With gentle precision, I began to tease apart the soil, being careful not to use any sharp tools that might damage whatever was hidden there. As I worked, I could feel my heart racing with anticipation. This was the moment every detectorist lives for – the reveal of a potentially significant find.

Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of something metallic among the dark earth. Gently brushing away the remaining soil, I found myself looking at an object that was clearly very old. It was a small, almost spoon-like item, green with age but still retaining some intricate details. Even covered in dirt, I could tell this was no ordinary find.

With trembling hands, I lifted the object from its resting place. It was heavier than I expected, and as I turned it over in my palm, I could see that it was some sort of fitting or hook. The craftsmanship was exquisite, with delicate patterns etched into the surface. This was no mass-produced item – it had been carefully made by a skilled artisan.

At first glance, I thought it might be Roman. The quality of the workmanship certainly suggested that period. But something about the style didn’t quite fit with what I knew of Roman artefacts. Could it be Saxon? Or perhaps early medieval? My mind was racing with possibilities as I carefully placed the find in my storage container.

I spent the next couple of hours methodically searching the surrounding area, hoping to find associated objects that might give more context to my discovery. While I didn’t find anything directly related, I did unearth a few more interesting items – a hammered silver penny that looked to be from the reign of Edward I, and a small bronze buckle that could have been medieval.

As the afternoon wore on and the light began to fade, I decided it was time to call it a day. My find pouch felt satisfyingly heavy as I made my way back to my car, but it was the mysterious hook-like object that occupied my thoughts. I couldn’t wait to get home and take a closer look.

Once back in my study, I carefully began the process of cleaning the object. Using nothing more than a soft brush and some distilled water, I gently removed the encrusted dirt, revealing more of the intricate decoration beneath. The more I cleaned, the more excited I became. This was unlike anything I’d found before.

The object appeared to be a type of strap fitting or hook. It had a hollow socket at one end, presumably for attachment to a leather strap or belt. It seemed to be decorated with an animal head – possibly a dog or a wolf.

Eager to learn more, I began researching similar objects online and in my reference books. After several hours of investigation, I came to the tentative conclusion that what I had found was an early medieval strap fitting or ‘socketed hook’, likely dating to somewhere between AD 1000-1100.

This period, straddling the late Saxon and early Norman eras, was a time of great change in England. The Norman Conquest of 1066 had brought about significant shifts in society, culture, and art. The style of my find seemed to reflect this transitional period, blending elements of late Saxon zoomorphic decoration with the more geometric patterns favoured by Norman craftsmen.

The purpose of such an object was intriguing to consider. It could have been part of a horse’s harness, perhaps used to attach decorative pendants or to secure straps. Alternatively, it might have been used on a belt or strap worn by a person, possibly as part of military equipment or high-status clothing.

The next day, I contacted our local Finds Liaison Officer to report the discovery. She was excited by my description and arranged to meet me to examine the object in person. When we met, her eyes lit up as soon as she saw the strap fitting.

“This is a fantastic find,” she told me, carefully turning the object over in her gloved hands. “It’s in remarkable condition for its age, and the craftsmanship is exquisite. The combination of the animal head terminal and the interlace decoration is particularly interesting. It’s definitely of the early medieval period, likely dating to the 11th century.”

She went on to explain that objects like this were relatively rare finds, especially in such good condition. The fact that I had found it in a field near the site of an old manor house added an intriguing possibility – could it have belonged to the lord of the manor or one of his retainers?

As we discussed the find, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe at the history I was holding in my hands. This small object had last been touched by someone over 900 years ago. Who were they? What was their life like? How did they lose this valuable item? The questions were endless, and while many would remain unanswered, the thrill of connecting so tangibly with the past was undeniable.

The Finds Liaison Officer took detailed photographs and measurements of the strap fitting, recording all the information for the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. She explained that this would allow researchers and historians to study the object and compare it with similar finds across the country, potentially shedding new light on the material culture of early medieval England.

In the weeks that followed, I found myself returning to that field several times, hoping to uncover more clues about the origins of the strap fitting. While I didn’t find any directly related objects, each trip added to my understanding of the area’s history. A scattering of 11th and 12th-century coins, along with various bits of medieval metalwork, suggested that the site had seen significant activity during the period when my strap fitting was in use.

As I write this account, the strap fitting sits in a place of honour among my detecting finds. It serves as a constant reminder of why I love this hobby so much. It’s not just about the thrill of finding precious metals or rare coins – although those are certainly exciting. It’s about connecting with history in a tangible way, about being the first person in centuries to touch an object that was once a part of someone’s daily life.

Every time I look at that beautifully crafted piece of early medieval metalwork, I’m transported back to that moment of discovery. The excitement, the wonder, the sense of connection with the past – these are the things that keep me returning to the fields, no matter the weather or the long hours of searching that often yield nothing more exciting than a modern bottle cap.

For me, metal detecting is about more than just finding objects. It’s about uncovering stories, piecing together the puzzle of the past one find at a time. That early medieval strap fitting, with its intricate decoration and traces of long-lost gilding, is more than just a beautiful object. It’s a window into a world long gone, a tangible link to the people who walked these same fields nearly a millennium ago. And who knows what other stories are still waiting to be uncovered, hidden just beneath our feet?