Whisky and Paracetamol – When the customer assists in a multi-sensor network installation

17th April 2023

There is no doubt that our best telemetric installations have been when the customer has been involved proactively and the recent network delivered to Vindolanda is no exception.

The brief was simple: Install 4 stations within the Vindolanda complex to monitor meteorological, soil moisture, conductivity and temperature in 3 archaeologically significant horizons, water level and last but not least pH and Redox at 2 different levels within a piezometer to deal with a known (water) stratification issue at these sites.

PICO 64 TDR Soil Moisture Sensor being prepared for installation at 240cm *

The team, which evolved naturally according to the different skills set, was made up of the youngsters; David van Walt supplying technical and physical input, Dr Andrew Birley, CEO of the Vindolanda Trust was the final arbiter of where the systems should go and the second source of brawn.  Dr Gillian Taylor has a year’s worth of analysis of similar data from the sister installation at Magna and so was able to assist with valuable input as to the precise depth placement of the sensors and Marta Alberti providing her high-spirited energy in spurts when her other duties permitted.

Marta Alberti

And there were the less young: Professor Brian Huntley who gave valuable assistance to David when wiring the spaghetti of electrical cores to the junction boxes. Dr Jacqui Huntley was the record keeper; logging the samples retrieved and making sure the sensor serial numbers matched the data-sets on the portal. I floated here and there as general factotum, trying to look important but no doubt often getting in the way.

Location “11” is almost complete *

Stitz window sampling set in action; Andy Birley and Gillian Taylor on the sampler extraction levers *

An installation of this complexity, providing 57 datasets each 15 minutes, often succeeds in frustrating schedules but come Thursday afternoon we were half a day ahead of schedule. Feeling slightly smug guarantees immediate punishment and indeed we were. Two sensors from the last location reported zero values and David and Brian were immediately accused of miswiring and despatched back to site. But they hadn’t. It was a faulty sensor and we had to wait a full day for the replacement to arrive and everything fell into place.

Junction box to house the sensor inputs



But the involvement of a customer extends beyond the technical and physical. It was fun to be part of this team, whether at the site or sharing a lasagna (as a connoisseur I can tell you that it was cooked beautifully by Barbara) or a steak at the Greenhead Hotel or indeed savouring Jacqui’s delightful blueberry muffins over a cup of tea.

We had a lovely time. On a previous occasion Andy called us a “can do” team and it was the same this time and I’m so very grateful and proud to have worked as a member of that team. Thank you everyone for the hard work and positive companionship.



The icons indicate the location of the 4 monitoring stations. Green means the units are reporting normally

So what is the relevance of the whisky and paracetamol? Both Jacqui and I need two pairs of new knees between us. Field work in a humid and cold climate is not the ideal therapy for dodgy limbs but we both confessed to the therapeutic benevolence of a double whisky and a gram of paracetamol taken before going to bed. On no account however should this recipe be seen as a recommendation.


Vincent van Walt

Haslemere 16th April 2023

vanwalt.com                                                                                                                                      vindolanda.com

  • Photos courtesy of Dr Jacqui Huntley

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