As we listened on the BBC World Service to news of further serious flooding in the south west of England, our weather also took a turn for the worse, with the barometer falling through the floor and steady rain in prospect. However, by virtue of our CMAP MAX charts we could look forward to bridge heights of at least 5.5m, meaning we could cruise with the canopy up, despite the Navicarte's pessimistic prediction of only 3.5m air draught. These are two important metres for us, which are the difference between only getting soaking wet for locks and bridges, instead of getting soaking wet for the whole cruise.

  • The sun briefly shines again on the halte at Cumires
  • Champagne at every turn
  • Mots grapes grow on the hill above Cumiers

Our cruising guide described Cumières, just a few kilometres short of Epernay, as an 'almost obligatory' stop. We were therefore pleasantly surprised to find a space on its well equipped Halte Plaisance, next to the village map provided by the Vignerons of the village. What we overlooked was that Cumières is firmly shut on Mondays, with the window blinds pulled down at the single epicerie and the highly recommended Restaurant Le Caveau 'fermé Dimanche, Lundi, et Mardi'

Its 18 champagne houses are mainly small family concerns, and their cellar tours involve knocking on the door and asking to be shown round. Below the house, the cellars are cut into the hillside, and outside the back door, the vines stretch off up the hill. Those growers too small to support their own facilities can take their vines along to the champagne cooperative and throw their lot in with the communal brew.

A steep mile takes you to the hilltop village of Hautvillers, credited as the birthplace of champagne, and home of the abbey of Dom Pérignon, whose idea of blending the wines and using a cork stopper led to the champagne we know and love today, although the sparkle, we read in one guide book, was added by mistake by the English. The abbey, now the property of Moët and Chandon, is not open to visitors, but many of the neighbouring caves and vignerons are as, we were pleased to find on a Monday, was the boulangerie.

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