I THINK I may have come up with a new hobby to while away the hours of retirement.

With my ostling duties currently experiencing the usual summer lull, as my charges charge around in the open air rather than stables, time is weighing heavily on my hands yet again.

So I am thinking of persuading Mrs Hextol to buy me a metal detector for my birthday, so I can spend every waking hour sweeping the North Tyne and Redesdale for long lost valuables and hidden treasures.

It stands to reason that the twin valleys must be riddled with loot, after centuries of strife with Romans, Vikings, Border Reivers and rapacious Scots. Valuables were forever being nicked and carried off both ways over the Border, and I would be amazed if the odd gold chalice or sack of groats did not slide unseen from the back of a pony trotting along in the gloaming.

The Romans too appear to have been staggeringly lax in matters of home security, as the daily finds at Vindolanda not so far away bear eloquent testimony, and with Dere Street – the Roman equivalent of the A1 – heading straight through the middle of Redewater into ancient Caledonia, the odd jewelled dagger is bound to have slipped out of its scabbard and disappeared into the peat.

In my mind’s eye, I can see my eager spade striking something solid, which turns out to be a strongbox bursting with gold and silver and jewels the size of pigeons’ eggs.

I know that you cannot just start digging prospecting holes round the Roman Wall or other known Roman sites, on pain of being hung, drawn and quartered by the Guardians of Hadrian’s Hordes, or at least fined many thousands of pounds, but surely there are areas close by positively bristling with booty.

I have been inspired to take up treasure hunting by my brother, who came up for a visit the other week, and brought with him his ancient metal detector. He was an avid detectorist several decades ago, when he spent many hours combing the foetid open spaces round his home in Greater Manchester, and unearthed innumerable Coca Cola can ring pulls, yards of silver paper, and the occasional tin can.

But among the dross, he also discovered several coins bearing the heads of Germanic kings and long-haired Stuarts, which made it all worthwhile.

He used to do a bit of beachcombing on the shifting sands of Blackpool and Morecambe, and on one occasion, the device bleeped incessantly as he sifted some 20p in two pence coins from the beach.

Then he glanced up, and spotted a posse of urchins, sniggering gleefully as they scattered the coppers in the sand a few paces ahead of him. He gave chase, but they were way too quick for him and he deduced that tormenting treasure hunters was seen as capital sport by adolescents along the Fylde Coast.

He brought the device up to our house in the late 1970s and I joined him in a search in the Redesmouth area, in the hope of finding valuable trinkets lost by careless Border Reivers or even Wannie line revellers.

He swung his device diligently, but it maintained a stony silence, and after an hour or so, I began to wish I had brought my fishing rod.

But then there was a hearty squeal, and the detector seemed to quiver like the arrow fired by Robin Hood at the start of the children’s 1950s TV series.

“It’s at least a couple of feet down, so it must have been there a long time,” he quavered, and we set to with flying spades, careful to sift through every spadeful in the hope of finding Reivers gold.

The hole was almost three feet deep when we spied the gleam of silver – and moments later, we were gazing dumbstruck at a 50p piece which had somehow worked its way into the bowels of the earth.

His latest detecting trip North was even less productive as, after scouring likely sites diligently, all he unearthed was an assortment of nuts, bolts and prongs from bits of antediluvian farm machinery!

I refuse to be discouraged though, and like Del Boy, am convinced that by this time next year, I will be a millionaire ...