Bill Wyman has all the accoutrements of the English rock squillionaire - Tudor mansion set in rolling countryside, gold discs aplenty and a Californian spouse.

But that's where he and his fellow hotel-trashing rock legends part company.

While the likes of Mick Jagger can still be papped jumping into limos with the model of the day trailing in his wake, Wyman is, to quote the title of his autobiography, more of A Stone Alone.

He shuns champagne - " horrible stuff, gives you an instant headache" - and favours a gentle chat with farm-hands in neighbouring fields to a roll in the hay with a nubile beauty.

These days, one of Wyman's most fulsome pleasures is eking archeological nuggets from the corner of the world he's made his own, a 15th-century Suffolk home where he's just itching to get out into the fields and "do a bit of detecting".

He's also burning to tell people about what he's learned, so he's sacrificed the afternoon to promote his new book on the subject, Treasure Islands.

Wyman's journey of discovery started when builders came to his moated manor house, near Bury St Edmunds (so-called, he points out, because King Edmund was buried there in the 800s and later sainted. Hence the Bury and Saint Edmund).

Labourers unearthed a 16thcentury jug and, fascinated, Wyman thought he'd see what he could find. Among the hundreds of

It may not be very rock 'n' roll, but former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman likes it. Metal detecting is more interesting to him than a Stones record. He tells Emma Pinch why the historical gems he's found are a beautiful coin minted in 1360, two Roman sites and a Saxon one.

Lord of the Manor

Though he lives in London to be near his three young daughters who are at school in Suffolk, Wyman is part historian, part country squire.

"I know who lived here in 1150 and I know who married who and where they were christened," he says placidly.

"We look after things in the village. Like the church grounds. The local people look up to me and come to me to help them with things and to give a bit of advice, because I'm lord of the manor," he adds, without the hint of a swagger. "Since 1968, I've been someone they can get help from if they need it."

"Detecting" gets him out and about on his patch, but it's being able to add to history that seems to really capture his imagination.

He defends his hobby solidly from all charges of geekishness. At present 200,000 people are cardcarrying metal detectors. Jeff Beck - "one of the three greatest guitar players ever produced" - is also partial to a spot of detecting when he's over.

What about all the ring pulls and bits of rusty nails and other rubbish Wyman has to plough through first? He speedily corrects me.

"You don't have lots of rubbish in fields, do you? That's only in cities. Farmland is not abused like common land, like parks and hedgerows. There has been agriculture on these fields since the Middle Ages.

"What you get out of it is a bit of solitude for a change. In my life, I don't get it very often, like most people in this industry. Ronnie Woods does art and Eric Clapton goes fishing all day long. He's fishing mad.

"It's the same thing that inspires fishermen and big-game hunters. You never know what the next thing is going to be. You've been fishing a bloody lake for years and years and then you find a 3ft carp or a pike."

His finds are recorded and filed away, as is his massive Stones collection which is leather-bound, cross-referenced and stored in a vast barn. Not in the house.

"I don't display it. I never have. There is not one Rolling Stones piece in my home. In other musos' houses there are gold records and awards, but I think that's like a museum.

"I like my home as a home, it doesn't portray my fame and fortune or whatever."

Je suis un collectionneur

Wyman's passion for collecting started as an impoverished youngster. Born William Perks in 1936, he had to share a toothbrush with his five brothers and sisters.

"When I was a kid, during the war I was brought up by my grandmother. I went to school with bombing going on all over London. We used to run home from school at the lunch hour during an air

raid." He pauses. "It was bloody awful really."

"My grandmother showed me her books and taught me to collect things. Postage stamps, a few coins and ornaments - though ornaments didn't seem interesting to me.

"We had books of the Boer Wars, the Aztecs, Treasure Island and I got interested in early cultures like the Romans, the Aborigines."

He started frequenting museums and in those days other kids thought he was nutty.

"They were dark, dank, had a musty odour - not the place to go. Not like they are now, with so much for kids."

When he "reluctantly" went off to perform his National Service in the air force, he returned to find his mother had thrown away his prized collections of scrapbooks, diaries and cigarette cards.

"From that day, I continued to write diaries and collect things, I was so disappointed.

"That's the way I was able to do these books. People don't have these collections - they end up interviewing hundreds of people.

"And I followed it on and added to the history of early Suffolk," he adds composedly. Actually, all that guff about their 60s rock-god lifestyle is one myth Wyman wants to put straight.

"That life doesn't exist that everybody else envied. That's what people think the life is about. To be in a band and be world famous is f***ing hard work.

"There is constant travel and work, work, work. You are not lying by a swimming pool drinking champagne, being served Beluga caviar and with a host of girls around you. It's probably why all the bands of recent years don't happen. They go into that lifestyle, parties and stretch limousines.

"But it's not like that - you have to work your arse off like any other career. Like a swimmer swimming all day up an Olympic pool.

"Of course, you had good times. Going to Hawaii for two weeks and doing a couple of shows, you have leisure time, good beaches, socialising, but that comes after 20 years of working.

"People can't walk into this industry and expect everything to fall into their lap. It might happen for brief periods, but it doesn't last."