I take in a breath of clean country air and look up at the abundant wisteria dressing the red brick arch. Before we enter the courtyard, on our right is a boutique packed with luxury home accessories. I enter the shop and have to look twice at the lush hydrangeas and deep pink roses to make sure they’re actually artificial! The retail assistant smiles as I tell her about the dreadful ones my aunt used to have in the middle of her dining table in the late seventies! I buy a few stems of silk pink peonies before leaving.

We walk along the avenue leading to the stable yard; the Tudor buildings feature mullioned windows and red tiled roofs. In the middle is a running fountain with a stone Obelisk towering at its centre and at the very top is a golden pineapple, historically a symbol of wealth and hospitality in architecture.

I stand by the fountain with some tourists. To my left are wooden gates leading to the house and gardens, and in front of me is the Hatfield House Gift Shop. To my immediate right is The Coach House restaurant with an entirely glass façade. As it’s gone three o’clock, we pop in for a pot of Earl Grey and a huge slice of Victoria sponge.

We sip tea and it’s a pleasure to linger and take in the view. Although we’re sitting in a contemporary glass structure, it somehow works with the Tudor surroundings; we feel as if we’re still outside in the spacious courtyard as the light floods in.

Afterwards, we walk passed an old cart brimming with freshly watered flowers to the gift shop. The place is bursting with merchandise! I walk down the narrow path between chests and shelves brimming with colourful stock like soaps, scented candles, packets of fudge and wooden puzzles. At the far end, is a tall cabinet displaying a sizeable collection of tin soldiers from various eras. Their shiny uniforms painted and varnished with care.

It’s my husband’s turn next, and I find myself in a country gentleman’s outfitters. Inside, glass cabinets are filled with binoculars, torches and telescopes. I feel as though I’ve entered Bear Grylls’s territory! Being an urban girl, I’m fascinated by all of this country attire like flat caps, checked waistcoats, socks and garters; they even sell a colorful feather for your cap! I imagine Prince Charles shopping here with his valet before setting off for Balmoral! I make my husband try on a tweed jacket and a cap. He agrees that he looks hilarious! Even the shop assistant can’t suppress a smile!

We head back towards the archway and leave this tranquil yard. We’ve had fun and look forward to coming back later in the year to do some Christmas shopping and eat more cake!

I walk up to Shaw’s Corner, stepping passed the green gates and onto the curved gravel path. The climbing hydrangeas completely cover the front façade in white blossom. The front door has a swirling Arts and Crafts design set in glass and the brass knocker is of Shaw’s head wearing a hat. I pause to have a closer look, almost expecting the disgruntled ghost of Jacob Marley to jump out at me!

I’m greeted by a guide who explains that this Edwardian villa was home to the Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw for over forty years. It is now owned by the National Trust, and is set up much as he left it.

I enter the study, and am standing on a worn out Indian rug. Everything feels as if it is in its right place. The Underwood typewriter takes centre stage on the wooden desk. The room is furnished with old filing cabinets, wall-to-wall shelves packed with books and papers, an antique sofa and some old leather suitcases. On the walls are some interesting prints by Aubrey Beardsley and a portrait of William Morris.

The mantelpiece in the dining room is a central feature and is filled with curios including a sketched portrait of Mahatma Gandhi and a black and white photo of the house where Shaw was born in Dublin; copies of Science of Life magazines are piled on the dining table.

As I climb the stairs to this spacious house, it feels perfectly proportioned; its tall windows letting in ample light. On entering the museum room I see Shaw’s Nobel prize for Literature beside a copy of Pygmalion and some black and white photos from the 1938 film. Wow! Then I see an Oscar statuette in a glass cabinet. Some of its gold coating has worn off. I’m impressed, although apparently Shaw used it as a doorstop!

I go back downstairs, walk through the kitchen and step out onto the huge garden. The tranquil grounds are vast and feel private. I walk across the lawn, my only distraction, the occasional ripple of a butterfly wing. I’m fascinated that the revolving hut could face any direction Shaw wanted and can’t wait to see it.

As soon as I peer into the window, I observe how Shaw arranged his creative space. It is Spartan with nothing but a bunk, a desk and a typewriter with a pair of spectacles resting beside it. I imagine him making the walk at the beginning of each day and realize that it is here within this small space that he would bring the wealth of his imagination to life with every deliberate tap of his typewriter.

I look back at the house in the distance, pine cones are strewn across the ground at my feet. It is here that that Shaw was able to write in peace; behind these towering tree trunks, perfectly secluded and hidden from his fame.

I drive past the wrought iron gates and into the Childwickbury estate. Along the way, mannequins dressed up in frilly frocks, colorful hats and scarves, direct us to the arts fair, their macabre faces theatrically made up. The fair is held within the courtyard and stables connected to this huge manor house. I look forward to this twice a year and am always astounded by the richness of talent and craftsmanship.

Two colourful banners flank the central arch welcoming visitors and quite a few people are milling about in the courtyard; an artist is drawing in a small crowd as she knits, surrounded by colorful woollen blankets and pretty quilted pillows. We wander into each stable filled with artists at work. Our first conversation is with a glass artist. The shelves are filled with neat displays of colourful glass ornaments; she shows us a soldering technique apparently invented by Tiffany, as she places copper foil around the edge of each glass piece that she’s working on.

Our next stop is a theatrical hat shop filled with hundreds of imaginative designs. There are hats that are almost as big as me like a Pegasus top hat fit for a carnival, and bright fascinators for formal occasions. I embarrass my daughter with my enthusiasm and the designer lets us try some on; he tells us that good millinery skills are crucial in bringing his imaginations to life.

We meander along and see many works of art from Still life to portraits. I start a conversation with an artist selling iconic pop art prints. A fluorescent print of the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra catches my eye; the artist has enhanced her headdress with silver and gold beading and I’ve got to have it!

We encounter printmakers and silversmiths as we walk on and see how they’ve set up their compact workshops. Artists’ trolleys are brimming with paintbrushes, oil paints and half finished canvases. My daughter points of how there is a slower pace here, a sense of calm. It feels good to take her out of her school routine and show her artists at work.

On our way out we see an artist ‘doing a Rembrandt,’ peering into a mirror and painting his self-portrait. I quite like the painting but I can’t help telling him that he is more handsome in real life! He laughs and I step away relieved that he has seen the funny side.

The Manor belongs to the family of the late film director Stanley Kubrick and there is a marquee dedicated to the wonderful artwork of the host Christiane Kubrick; she is happy to chat with her visitors and we’re lucky enough to get a copy of her book signed. Being a teenager, I’m not sure my daughter is familiar with that name, so all the way home I do not draw breath as I rave about the genius of Stanley Kubrick’s filmmaking.

It’s a gloriously sunny morning in June. I enter the churchyard and feel as if I‘ve discovered a hidden treasure. There is nobody around and I walk up the winding path, around the Church to the arched entrance. St. Michael’s Church is a late 10th early 11th century Anglo Saxon building. Based on the writings of Matthew Parris, Abbot Ulsinus built it along with the churches of St. Peter and St. Stephen at the entrances of the town in the year 948 to serve pilgrims coming to venerate the Abbey’s shrine of Saint Alban.

 The first thing I see as I enter is a 15th century baptismal font, I walk down the nave. The place is soundless and has a dream-like quality. I step towards the altar and to my left is an elaborately carved Elizabethan pulpit. Beside it, two lit candles are flickering on a stand along with a book of prayer requests. I stand in the stillness. The stained glass from the north transept casts pink light into the space. I feel lucky to have the place to myself and sit in quiet contemplation.

 I take in the beauty of this small church, seemingly simple, yet subtly complex with many architectural features characteristic of the period such as lancet stained glass windows, medieval paintings and a tympanum. In the Chancel is a seventeenth century marble statue of Sir Francis Bacon.

 I walk back down the nave and have a closer look at the windows in the north aisle. I’m always fascinated by how rays of light are depicted, the image of the annunciation catches my eye, luminous rays of the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove, pour onto Mary. The sheer artistic skill of this effect within such a quiet hidden church is as impressive as anything you might see in a grand European Cathedral.

 At the back is a stunning stained glass window installed in 1860. This features three of the Archangels, with Michael at its centre and Gabriel and Raphael on either side of him. Michael clutches his sword firmly poised in victory, having defeated the demon under his feet, indicating his role as a spiritual warrior; he also holds up the scales weighing up our souls at the hour of death.

 I emerge into the sunlight and walk along the path out in the Churchyard; huge cedar trees cast a protective canopy over the grounds. I sit on an old bench and think about Lord Grimthorpe’s insensitive restorations to this and other ancient buildings. He once commented: “The only architect I have never quarreled with is myself.” I take a sip of my water and smile; now there’s an historical figure that I would never dream of inviting to one of my dinner parties!