Rolling Stones rocker Bill Wyman has swapped his guitar for a metal detector and the peace and quiet of the countryside, he tells STEVE PRATT. And he's found it an experience to treasure

DO NOT, warns the press person on the way to the interview, ask Bill Wyman about the Rolling Stones as this makes him "very, very mad".

This makes as much sense of talking to Richard without mentioning Judy.

In the event, the Penge-born former Rolling Stones bass guitarist does mention the stones not those of the Rolling kind but the ones piled up on burial mounds in olden times.

Wyman has swapped his bass guitar for a metal detector. No more sex, drugs and rock n' roll lifestyle for him. Now, he enjoys the peace and quiet of the open countryside as he digs up the past.

Metal detecting is about as un rock n' roll as you can get. It's like Eminen announcing he's a planespotter or Cher owning up to collecting train numbers.

But Wyman takes his hobby seriously. He's even written a book about it - Bill Wyman's Treasure Islands which tells the who, what, when, where, why and how of historical treasures found in Great Britain and Ireland.

His stage is no longer a rock venue but a bookshop, such as Borders in York, where he signs books and talks to people about metal detecting.

He dislikes the fact the media is reluctant to let entertainers do something other than what they're famous for.

"The media don't like that," he tells his audience. "They didn't like John McEnroe having a rock n' roll band. I know because they asked me to teach them to play bass. The same applies.

"People in the music world, we all want to do something else as a sideline. It's very important to us. Everyone here has an interest or hobby.

But the media doesn't like it and it's very difficult to get over that."

Wyman appears to be succeeding. He could talk for Britain on the subject of metal detecting and historical finds. To an outsider, his interest seems to border on obsession.

Since leaving the Stones in 1993, after 30 years in the band, Wyman has indulged in his hobby in between returning to music with his band, The Rhythm Kings, as well as marrying, having three daughters and developing his Sticky Fingers restaurant chain.

"Archaeology is what I like to do but it's very time consuming," he explains.

"The only time I could do it before was in the backyard of my house in Suffolk, using a metal detector, as most amateur archaeologists do. They very often lead archaeologists to sites. Most big treasures have been found like that. Nowadays there's a good unity between detectorists and archaeologists."

As a child, Wyman was always interested in history and cultures. While other youngsters were reading Melody Maker, he was browsing through Scientific American.

The solitude is a major part of the appeal. "A lot of musicians go fishing. Eric (Clapton) does.

So does Gary Brooker. It's a way of getting away for some peace and quiet. You get away from people, get some fresh air and exercise," he says.

Until most detectorists, he doesn't use earphones to listen for signs of historical life in the soil. Metal detecting, he says, has a real rhythm to it as you swing the rod over the ground. Richard Havers, co-writer of the Treasure Islands book, reckons watching Wyman with a metal detector is much like seeing him play bass with the Stones.

"It's an interesting hobby because you are learning stuff all the time.

"You have to identify things and try to date them. You send them to the local museum and they'll send you a report."

Once he starts on the topic of his finds, there's no stopping him. He's responsible for locating two previously-unknown Roman sites.

He talks of finding 300 Roman coins and 20 bronze brooches in one field.

"I proved there was a homestead there. You feel you've added a bit of extra information to local history. I'm fairly convinced there's something in that field I haven't found, down too deep, because metal detectors only go down a couple of inches," he says.

Wyman began his searching in his own backyard which, as befits a former Rolling Stone, is not your average two up, two down but an ancient manor house in Suffolk. The oldest part dates back to 1480, although a previous house on the site is recorded in the Domesday Book. He even mentions a moat, where he found Tudor bricks.

He's been lord of the manor since 1968. "If there are any problems in the village, they come and ask me. I look after the church grounds. The church goes back to Norman times," he says (hopefully not noticing my astonishment at news of a Rolling Stone involved in church maintenance).

Wyman warns that "you can go across a field and only find a few buttons" but hopes the book encourages others to have a go at metal detecting.

"You don't have to be a professional, it's a way into history for everybody. A lot of young kids do it," he says.

They include his eldest daughter, who's 10 and goes fossil hunting. "I've not pushed her into it," he adds.

"She came back with a fossil, a sea urchin from 65 million years ago. She was thrilled and took it to school."

His "very modest" metal detector cost him £240 but he points out second hand ones can be bought for £60. "If you want to be a guitarist, you don't have to buy the most expensive model to learn on," he says.

"I've relearnt my English history over the past 15 years."

Wyman, who went to school in Beckenham, says: "Although I liked it, I found history difficult at school because it was all dates. Then, there was very little visual stuff to learn from. It's more interesting for kids now. Museums in those days were musty places. I used to go there and draw things in notebooks."

Explaining his interest in the past isn't easy. He suggests perhaps, it's something to do with his age and looking back as you get older.

Being a museum curator had an appeal, he says then adds, "but I wouldn't have minded playing football for England either".

Bill Wyman's Treasure Islands (Sutton Books, £25)