HE has spent 36 years searching for buried treasure - now a metal detectorist has told how he made the discovery of a lifetime in a field near York.

Paul Ibbotson found a stunning medieval gold ring, engraved with flowers and set with ruby and emerald gemstones, lying six inches below the surface of the soil.

The 50-year-old said he knew straight away he had found something special when he saw first the delicate engraving and then the jewels, glinting in the sunshine, and he dropped to the ground in shock.

“I was shaking,” he said. “I was so shocked. I just looked up to the skies and said 'Oh my God, this is the find of a lifetime!' Then I rang my family to tell them. It was in perfect condition - I didn’t need to clean it.”

He was speaking after the ring was declared to be treasure at a York inquest, at which it emerged that York Museums Trust is interested in acquiring it to put it on display at the Yorkshire Museum. The inquest was told it was thought to date back to the 15th century.

Mr Ibbotson said he found the ring on December 29 last year after driving to York from his home in Lancashire, and was on his own with his metal detecting device in a field which was awaiting ploughing after growing potatoes.

“It was an extremely cold morning,” he said. “The ground was frozen so I followed the sun as it warmed up the ground.”

He said he had been a detectorist since 1981, when he was still at school and only a few years after the detectors became commonly available, and had been out for thousands of hours, often in the pouring rain and the wind.

He had been searching in the York area once or twice a month for the past 30 years, travelling such a long distance because the area had such a wealth of potential finds - in reflection of York’s wealth and prosperity in medieval times.

When his detector picked up something metal, it turned out nine times out of 10 to be worthless rubbish - for example a part of an agricultural implement. On other occasions, he had found items such as old coins, but never anything like the ring.

He believed it had belonged to the wife of a nobleman, possibly at the time of Henry VIII, and might have been dropped while she was out riding. Another possibility was that she was the victim of a robbery, during which the ring was dropped.

He said the ring would go off for official valuation but he thought, from speaking to an expert, that it might be considered to be worth about £20,000.

Natalie Buy, curator of archaeology at York Museums Trust, said it had expressed an interest in buying the ring and was currently waiting to hear the Treasure Valuation Committee’s recommendations (on the estimated value of the ring). She said: “If we are able to purchase it, we would then look forward to carrying out research and finding out much more about it.”