Luxury wedding venue estate launches totally unique 'treasure hunting' experience

The Georgian farmhouse on Butley Priory's estate

The Georgian farmhouse on Butley Priory's estate - Credit: Butley Priory

Venture out towards Woodbridge way, and just a stone’s throw away from the River Alde is where you will find Butley Priory. 

This 14th century, Grade I-listed priory is the former gatehouse to an Augustinian monastery that dates back to 1171. Rich with centuries’ worth of history, people travel from across the country to visit this stunning example of Suffolk heritage.  

It's therefore no surprise the land around Butley is steeped in ancient artefacts galore.  

Butley Priory

The church at Butley Priory - Credit: Archant

In fact, earlier this year, 10-year-old George Henderson was metal detecting in the area when he unearthed a medieval priory seal matrix dating back to the 13th century.  

Just picture it. You’re hovering your metal detector over the dirt, and you hear a beep. After digging up what you expect might be an old nail or button, you uncover something that’s hundreds of years old.  

There can’t be many things more thrilling than that.  

Edward Greenwell with the Butley seal

Edward Greenwell with the Butley seal - Credit: Butley Priory

For anyone who fancies a slice of the action themselves, the team over at Butley Priory are now offering the chance to stay over and give historical excavating a go this summer with their midweek metal detecting tours.  

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“Butley Priory used to be the gatehouse to a monastery founded in the 12th century, a larger complex that eventually fell into ruin over time – so the whole area is potentially very rich in finds,” explains Butley Priory assistant manager Libby Pearson.  

Built under William de Greystone, the priory originally comprised of a collection of buildings and covered an area of twenty acres enclosed by a stone wall.  

Excavations carried out on it in the early 20th century concluded that the stone used to build the priory was brought via barge from the Yonne valley in France, across the English Channel and up Butley Creek estuary. 

Butley Priory's sprawling grounds

Butley Priory's sprawling grounds - Credit: Andy Sampson

And over the years, it has played host to a number of monarchs and their families over the course of English history, including Henry III who visited in 1235, and Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor who was particularly fond of the Suffolk estate.  

Ownership of the priory has changed hands throughout the years, and is currently in the care of the Greenwell family. 

“They have decided to offer three-day, midweek metal detecting holidays on their farm in the surrounding area,” she says.  

Groups of up to 10 will be led by local metal detectorists and historical experts who have extensive knowledge of the area. Attendees will spend hours scouring this historic landscape before retiring back to the Georgian farmhouse in the evening where they will enjoy a series of talks from historians and archaeologists.  

After that, guests will be served a two-course meal accompanied with wine where they can discuss and pore over their finds in the dining room. 

Expertly prepared by the priory’s chefs, guests can tuck into a variety of dishes cooked using locally-sourced fare including slow-cooked Blythburgh pork, smoked haddock from Pinneys of Orford, and bread from Pump Street Bakery.  

“It really is a really lovely experience - who knows what people will find out in the field?” adds Libby. 

Andy Sampson in the field

Andy Sampson in the field - Credit: Andy Sampson

During the three days, a team of experts will be on hand to help avid detectorists learn all there is to know about the hobby, and how to correctly identify any finds as well as understand the history and importance of the priory and its surrounding grounds.  

“Detectorist Andy Sampson will be hosting the first groups, and he’s already found some amazing finds in the local area.” 

A local metal detecting expert with years’ worth of experience in the field, during his career Andy has unearthed finds from a number of historic periods including the Iron Age, Roman, Saxon, and the Second World War. 

Also joining Andy will be editor of Treasure Hunting Magazine Julian Evan Hart, historian and tour guide Shelia Harrison, Suffolk County Council’s woodland advisor Gary Battell, and retired archaeologist Edward Martin.  

“When you hold in your hand something that has not been touched by a human hand for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, a thrill runs up your spine. The Suffolk Sandlands hold innumerable such secrets, waiting to be discovered,” adds Butley Priory owner Edward Greenwell.

The metal detecting residential tours will take places throughout September between Monday 5 and Thursday 8, and Monday 12 and Thursday 15. Prices start from £1,350.  

To find out more, visit butleypriory.co.uk/suffolk-metal-detecting