The Cruise of the Dondevoy


I now fear I shall not get to Stanground Sluice today, as I might have done had I been able to work the lock. Feeling beaten, I walked back along to the cottage, where the farmer "didn't know nothing about no lock handle", but would lend me a spanner. I showed him my lock handle, and he agreed to come and have a look. We drove off in his Land Rover, to the strains of Mantovani's Orchestra playing "Stranger on the Shore" coming out of his pig sties; this, he explained, was to "keep 'em quiet and stop 'em biting each other's tails off". We got to the lock, his son arriving soon after in his own car, and the combined efforts of both of them, accompanied by much grunting and banging, succeeded in opening one of the paddles, and breaking the hand piece off my lock handle. When the lock was full, and the boat inside, they closed the paddle, and said "You're in the pen now, and if we can't get you out you're stuck. Ha, ha!" They were just contemplating the effort required to get me out, when I suddenly realised that the water level was dropping fast, and they confirmed that the bottom gates were leaking badly, so I was soon out again.[1] After thanking them and seeing them off, a car drove up, and three people got out to take photographs of the lock. It was a mother and her two sons, presumably on a day out from a Public School. They were very interested in canals, and were horrified at my story of the delay at Denver, as it would "wreck their time schedule on a holiday". I could not chat for any longer, as they had to leave. "We're on a very tight time schedule, you see", they called out, and drove off. Thank goodness that I have got all the time I need.

A visit to Ramsey was now out of the question, so I decided to try and make Whittlesey at Ashline Lock, on the fuel I had. Immediately after Horseways Lock, there is a very pretty section, but very narrow; there was hardly enough room for my boat between the weeds, let alone anyone coming the other way. Nobody did, however, and the day was spent without incident. I followed the recommended route, going from the Forty Foot Drain into the Old River Nene, which was very windy, with one very tight hairpin bend near the beginning. The route through the village of Benwell was very pretty, and from then on it was a matter of following the signposts. I arrived at Ashline Lock at half past seven, with less than half a tankful of petrol left.

Whittlesey Church. Picture from the "Cambridgeshire Churches" website at

At the Bricklayers Arms in the evening, I enquired about the bells in Whittlesey church, and was told that they were "The finest in the country". I am sure that it was hereabouts that Dorothy L. Sayer set her book The Nine Tailors, for everything fits, from the description of the church to the layout of the land.

[1]A good description of a navigation of Horseways Lock in 2001 (with pictures) is available at

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