“This is the land of the Saxons. I want to discover where they buried their warriors and kings”Detectorists, Season 1, Episode 1
There are many who claim that we should look to the skies, to the future, in order to progress, to connect. But there’s a lot to be gained, and learned, by focusing on the ground. As an archaeologist, Romantic, and Landscape Punk, Mackenzie Crook’s, Detectorists resonates, deeply…
For myself, when I am out wandering within the world, I cannot think, I can only feel. I must give myself up entirely to the landscape in which I’m walking. To let it permeate through to the very bones of me. Whether it’s a positive or negative experience, I can’t hold back. I have to persist, to experience.
This Romantic sensibility can translate, I believe, to Andy and Lance, the two central characters of Detectorists. Some people believe that their ‘obsession’ is driven purely by the desire to uncover ‘treasure’, in particular gold. Others have suggested that “They are looking for something to ignite and improve the drudgery of life, believing that any day, ‘this could be their moment’” (1).
Personally, I don’t feel that this is the case. I believe that Lance and Andy’s obsession is fuelled by the need to connect, to be ‘Time Travellers’ (S3, Ep 6). Yes, to find the ship burial of Sexred, the king of the East Saxons, would be financially rewarding, but the greater prize for Andy and Lance, I would suggest, would come from being the first people in over a thousand years to gaze upon, and touch, those burial objects. To experience a true connection with the land, and with those who have come before.
“… what we’re hoping for is gold…something that’s been held by a Saxon or a Roman, or one of the other ancient people that once roamed this land before us…”Detectorists, Season 1, Episode 5
You may be asking yourselves, “How are Lance and Andy connecting with the landscape in the same way as you, Bec? They aren’t hurling themselves into the Sturm und Drang, relinquishing all restraint to the beauteous sublime? If we look at this from a literal perspective, then no, they’re not. However, I would argue that Andy and Lance do give themselves up completely to the landscape, allowing it to permeate their cores, just in a different way.
Throughout Detectorists, but especially in the first series, both are frequently chided, albeit gently, by friends and loved ones who believe that Andy and Lance are missing out on ‘life’ because they are always focused on the ground. Yet, as mentioned earlier, there’s a lot to be gained, and learned, by pondering upon the loam.
The metal detectors, which both cherish so deeply, sing the song of time. A song that Andy, Lance, and the other members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club, hear through the melodic signals seeping from the metal-based objects secreted within the landscapes that they traverse. Their headphones enable the Detectorists to connect with the terrain in such a way that time becomes, temporarily, meaningless. There is no past, nor future, there is just the experiential experience, the now. Feeling, not thinking; true connection through a perceived social isolation.
The story’s non-detectorist characters believe that these same headsets act as a social barrier. The auditory filtering cordoning off Lance and Andy from the ‘land of the living’. Their failure to register the Red Arrows aerial display team flying directly overhead in season one is such an example. Yet although the headphones of the metal detector may drown out one layer of interaction, they open up vast historical vistas to those who know how to read the signals. Technology can open doors upon the past, but more is required if a person is to step over the threshold…
Through focusing intently on the ground, Andy and Lance are connecting with life, with lives. By putting their ‘coils to the soil’ they deepen their connection with those who have wandered the land before them. Some many centuries before, others, relatively more recently,
“That’s been in the ground 150 years! Imagine who dropped that a century and a half ago…” (S1, Ep 1).
These interactions with the material past enrich the Detectorists’ lived experience, and, in turn, those who they share these experiences with.
There are many ways to ‘live’, to interact, and to engage with others. Connection can be achieved through introspection, through solitary meanderings and wanderings. Engagement with those who have passed, whether it be metaphysically, or materially, shouldn’t be considered lesser than our interactions with the living. Connection widening experience, personal and professional progression through regression.
For myself, being able to walk within the world, often alone, reaching out for those who have long since passed beyond living memory, led me to archaeology. My studies, and subsequent research practices, have broadened my professional and social horizons exponentially. I’m still not the most socially confident of people, but my love for the land, for the past, and for the objects that survive, within the ground, within the rivers, the ponds, and seas, has made it possible for me to engage with family, friends, and the general public, in a far more meaningful and comfortable way.
Through focusing on the ground, both Lance and Andy progress. By digging into the earth, they uncover confidence that was buried deep within themselves. Andy gains his archaeology degree and, with his wife and new-born son, heads to Botswana to work on an excavation. Lance finds the resolve to move on from the painful breakdown of his marriage, reconnects with his daughter, and finds romance.
Through wandering and pondering their corner of Essex, Andy and Lance have developed an inherent knowledge through a deeper connection with the land, and the peoples who have previously walked it, an understanding which remains dormant in most others. A learning that can’t be ‘taught’, it is nurtured through placing foot on land and in water, hand in soil, permitting the breeze to envelop you, to whisper its stories in your ear. Although technology opens doorways upon the past, it is Andy and Lance’s Romantic sensibilities that enables them to pass over the threshold and immerse themselves completely. When they walk within the landscape, Andy and Lance not only see the past peoples who have also traversed it, they truly connect with them, losing themselves to find the way…
“I felt the touch of the kings, and the breath of the wind,
I knew the call of the songbirds
They sang all the wrong words,
I’m waiting for you…”Johnny Flynn, Waiting For You
I dedicate this pondering to my dear friend, mentor, and the original Landscape Punk, David Southwell.
Sincere thanks to Cormac Pentecost, of Temporary Boundary Press, (@temp_boundary) who has kindly permitted me to upload this Pondering to the LymWyrlds website. The original piece was published in Waiting For You: A Detectorists Zine, published September 2021.
Young, B., 2020. www.tellyspotting.kera.org. [Online]
Available at: https://tellyspotting.kera.org/2020/12/27/looks-like-the-detectorists-band-may-get-back-together-for-one-final-reunion-dig/
[Accessed 30th May 2021].