The next morning we awoke at an angle. When you’re on a boat, and wake up to find that you either can’t get out of, or can’t stay in, bed, that your breakfast orange won’t stay on the table, and you’re sure you’re not drunk enough for the floor to be at that angle, it can mean different things – none particularly good, but some distinctly worse than others. For example, it can mean that your bilges are filling up with water, or, if you are on a tidal river, that the tide’s gone out and you’re hanging by the ropes you tied too tight. But if you’re on a canal, it’s most likely the least worst – but nonetheless ‘oh my god what a way to start the day’ eventuality: somehow or other, the water in the canal has disappeared overnight and your boat has nestled gently on the bottom. Most canals are saucer-like in profile, rather than being square troughs, and next to the bank will slope inwards, at an angle which is really quite gentle, but nonetheless inconvenient for a floor.
This tends to happen when you are tied up in a short pound. A pound is the stretch of canal between locks; it can be as short as two boats, or miles long; it’s still a pound (the same thing on a river is a reach, although river locks serve an almost entirely different function). On later canals, like the Grand Union, locks tend to be built in flights: many in quick succession with short pound in between, sometimes just long enough for two boats to pass. The biggest flight on the Grand Union is Hatton, near Warwick, with 21 locks stretching visibly and intimidatingly to the heavens, raising the canal there by 148 feet. There are also smaller flights either side of the Braunston Tunnel – why keep going up over the hill if you get to a point where you can go through it – seven locks at Buckby on the south side, and six at Braunston on the other.