It is a warm sunny afternoon in May and as soon as we step passed the gateway into the Kingsbury water mill and waffle house, I can smell a concoction of sweet and savoury flavours. The friendly staff welcome us in and we sit by an old fireplace. The low ceiling is lined with Tudor beams, we feel the warmth coming from the busy kitchen and can see out of the sash window along the length of Fishpool street. An antiquated pendulum clock hangs on the wall above us alongside framed black and white photos of the mill, faded newspaper clippings and old menus.

We take a look at the menu and there are many combinations to choose from. Within minutes my daughter looks up at me enthusiastically and we both agree, that it’s got to be Chili con carne on our waffles. Wow! It turns out to be the perfect choice; the meat and vegetables are generously topped with sour cream, grated cheese and tortilla chips and the flavours blend wonderfully together. As for dessert, it’s a no-brainer, and we share a banoffi waffle; the warm toffee sauce and banana slices merge perfectly and are topped with chocolate shavings and icing sugar.

Afterwards we go and look at the mill museum. We peer through a glass wall at the millwheel and machinery and imagine how noisy it must have been when the huge cogs were in motion. The building is Tudor with a later Georgian brick façade, and before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the original building belonged to the Abbot in the parish of St Michael’s. We discover that milling for flour continued until the mid 20th century and that it was turned into a working museum and waffle house in 1978.

We decide to have our coffee outside; it’s such a tranquil setting, we take in the sun and spot an abundance of little fishes in the water. Amazing to think that this river has been flowing through its valley since the last Ice Age! It sustains a great variety of plants and flowers; kingfishers and butterflies can be spotted further along the river together with grebes and herons. Later we cross the road and head into Verulamium park, ready for a leisurely stroll around the lake; a perfect opportunity to take in the fresh air and work off those calories.

It’s almost eleven on a Sunday morning, the sun is shining and we’re off to the Farmer’s market. We haven’t been for a while and wonder what its like these days. There are many more people around than there used to be, and the stall traders are busy chatting with customers and telling the story of their products

The wonderful smells and colourful foods are a delight for the senses. The first thing that catches my eye is a guy stirring paella packed with prawns, mussels, chorizo and vegetables in a steaming pan over a metre in diameter; next door to him is a chap wearing a smart shirt, tie and stripy waistcoat selling huge slabs of flavoured fudge from a glass cabinet.

There are plenty of cheeses, meats and chocolates to taste, herbs to smell and cider to drink. The cratefuls of organic white cabbage, swede, bunched carrots and many types of potato are all neatly displayed and lined up on the pavement; such perfect ingredients for a homemade casserole. The herb stall is lush with greenery, each plant is carefully labelled: Tangerine Sage, Strawberry mint, Angelica and countless others that I haven’t even heard of.

I point out some unusual chutneys, such as pear with royal jelly, to my husband, only to discover that I am talking to myself. I turn around and can see that he’s engrossed in conversation with a stallholder carving Serrano ham off the bone for him to try. Typical! He’s gone straight for the meat and is all smiles!

Meanwhile, a stallholder has noticed me ogling the cinnamon swirls; he happens to be married to a Russian woman and tells me that their recipe involves triple the amount of cinnamon than we use! Well it would be impolite not to try one…mmmm…its delicious and so utterly saturated in cinnamon!

We delight in stopping at quite a few more stalls and tasting more earthly delights such as Shropshire Blue cheese, salted caramel chocolate and dark ale. The produce is all locally grown, made or reared, and brimming with so many fresh flavours. Eventually we head home, our bag filled with cheeses, meats, some veg and a big bottle of ale. We’re looking forward to trying out more next time like the pork pies and piroskis.

It is the first day of the new season and visitors are beginning to pour into Hatfield House after the winter months. The rainbow portrait of Queen

Elizabeth I faces the entrance to the Marble hall, where lavish banquets were once held. It is panelled wall-to-wall in dark wood with a black and white chequered marble floor. This leads onto the Grand Staircase. As I climb the wooden stairs I admire the tapestries that line the walls, and the huge crystal chandelier suspended from the gilded ceiling, its antique crystals dimmed with age.

Jacobean carvings of cherubs playing musical instruments and lions holding heraldic shields are surmounted on posts along the bannister. On reaching the top of the stairs, all I can make out are their silhouettes as the daylight casts shadows across them. I turn around for a moment and feel an eerie sense of days gone by as I imagine all the guests that have treaded these stairs and feel like a speck in history.

I wander in and out of more rooms that lead to the long gallery and into the library. The walls are filled with antiquarian books and the chairs are crimson leather. I step a little closer and notice books by authors from Darwin to Shakespeare, but also a large collection of French literature. The guide tells me that there are over 10,000 books in this room. Amazing! There is a balcony decorated with Parisian cast-iron rails and I naturally want to climb the steps to look at the library from a different angle. I linger, absorbing the atmosphere, wishing I could have the place to myself for an evening or two and dip into any book I choose.

I descend another staircase and step into a small peaceful chapel, consecrated in 1611 and still in use. The stained glass window takes centre stage and an incandescent light diffuses the sacred space. It is rich in imagery and colour depicting scenes from the Old Testament and flanked by two angels, beautifully sculpted in marble.

My feelings of serenity are short-lived as I approach the basement and the end of the tour. There before me lies a series of spacious basement kitchen rooms with slate work tops, cast iron ovens and shelves filled with copperware, set up to prepare Elizabethan recipes. I imagine all the clattering about and chaos in preparation for a banquet. I stand still for a moment and there in my mind’s eye appears Mrs Bridges from Upstairs Downstairs, stressed out as always, up to her neck in flour and butter, preparing an apple pie fit for a Queen!

It is a warm Spring afternoon. The clouds slowly wander across the sky as I walk the narrow pathway between two topiary hedges, and take my first few steps into this lush royal garden. The Elizabethan patterns of hedges and floral architecture are a feast for my senses. The lawn is immaculate, under my feet. The tulips, robust and sturdy, are symmetrically grouped in colour schemes of scarlet red, yellow, mauve and sugar pink, while the ivory peonies exude a luminous vitality.

There are not many people around, and for several moments I have the scented garden all to myself and continue meandering between the geometric compartments. I look up and take in the magnificent views of Hatfield House,

perfectly proportioned and symmetrical. Many of its red bricks were taken from the Old Royal Palace of Hatfield dating back to 1497. Its classical architecture and renaissance influences exude order and harmony; features so loved during the Jacobean era.

I lower my gaze as the trickling sounds from the gently cascading fountain draw my attention; a gilded cherub balanced upon a central winged column is blowing a trumpet and glistening in the sunlight. The flowers are majestic in their height and glory. I take in their natural beauty and scent, totally unaware of the names of many of the species, yet absorbing their healing power.

I feel peacefully subdued by the aesthetics of this historic garden, so carefully crafted, as I breathe in the clean air and feel the warmth of the sun on my face. I step away into the woodland, but look back one last time and imagine what it must have been like for the little princess, Elizabeth I, playing in her private garden, under the sun, amidst the blossom, the weight of her ruffled gown brushing along the grass.

I head down to George Street, an historic road built on a hill in the very heart of St Albans leading to the Cathedral and St Michaels. The sixteenth century Tudor buildings, crooked and overhanging, have survived the centuries and are well maintained, painted white with their original beams exposed.

 The small shops are perfectly proportioned and welcoming, and you feel as if you want to take your time and pop into every single one. There are several jewellers with sparkling shop windows displaying unique designs, and pretty fashion boutiques if you’re looking for something unique. I stop to look at the beautifully dressed mannequin in the bridal shop, modelling a striking ivory silk wedding gown, perfectly finished with beading and lace.

 Other small independent boutiques fill the street, from luxury home furnishings, to a gentleman’s grooming shop to a nail bar; but my favourite of all is L. A James, a little shop in the middle of the street that has been selling antiques for over 60 years, and still in its original state. The colourful window displays are jam-packed with fossils, unusually shaped crystals, framed Victorian mirrors, art deco table lamps and silver ornaments.

 The Victorian bell above the door chimes as soon as I cross the threshold. I feel as if I’ve stepped into a bygone era and am immediately drawn towards a glass cabinet filled with miniature figurines. The interior feels abundant with curiosities that make me want to explore. On the left wall are some unusual soft toys including a flamingo and a chihuahua, and along the right is a mahogany console table with an arrangement of curiosities like colourful glass vases, framed 19th century etchings and china tea sets.

 I leave the shop feeling satisfied, and as if I know all about antiques, then again, maybe not! As I head home back up the hill, the Cathedral bells are ringing. I need no further reminder that I am no longer living a big city life and smile to myself.