I love the feel of this old country house; far enough from London to feel like you’ve escaped the big metropolis for an afternoon. As I enter the lobby, there she is, my dear friend seated on a chesterfield sofa by the grand fireplace, a beautiful arrangement of roses, orchids and dahlias decorating the side table beside her. We greet each other with a hug and a smile, and make our way to the lounge. The waiter welcomes us in and before we know it we’re sitting at our circular table draped in a crisp white tablecloth, sipping champagne and reclining in our comfy armchairs.

 The place is busy and the hotel guests and tourists are gathered round their tables, chatting away and enjoying their afternoon teas; each table is spaciously laid out, exuding its own ambience and sense of privacy. The décor feels Georgian, the lounge is painted a muted shade of oyster grey and the wall cabinet to our left is furnished with antiquarian books. I look out through the tall sash windows onto the perfectly kept lawn and elegant trees.

 As always with old friends, we chat away, sharing our news as if we’d only seen each other yesterday. The table lamps illuminate the space in a soft peach light, creating a calming ambience. The waiter approaches and sets up the silverware along with two china teapots onto our table. I opt for a pot of vanilla tea, and it’s a Jasmine tea for my friend. We watch him pour as we sip champagne. The cake stand promptly arrives, crammed with finger sandwiches, scones and sweet delicacies, not forgetting the clotted cream and preserves.

 We leave feeling relaxed and refreshed; outside, the sun is setting and peonies are still in full bloom. We’ve had a wonderful afternoon and look forward to coming back for a Spa day, or maybe even an exercise class, actually scrap that, we both agree that we need to make time in our lives for the important stuff like more bubbly and cake!

Walking in the sunlight past the gates of Carpenters garden centre, I feel as if I’ve discovered one of St Albans best kept secrets. The small scale makes it feel private and a pleasure to explore. There’s an inherent sense of order; rows upon rows of shrubbery, bedding plants, perennials, rose bushes, and mini olive trees frame the outer perimeter. Each section is neatly labelled and displayed.

 I continue along the path and look up at the hanging baskets arranged along the bungalow shop at the perfect height for customers to have a good look. They’re packed with pansies in full bloom, bathed in the warm light of this mid-summer afternoon and awash with rich colours.

 At the centre is a working greenhouse. Customers aren’t allowed in so I peer curiously into the murky window. Inside, it is in disarray filled with upturned pots, trowels, watering cans and little plants all over the place. I like that, it feels real and makes you want to go in and get your hands dirty.

 I make my way towards the vegetable section and marvel at the at the huge aubergine plants; it’s amazing to see how things grow and I linger to look at the dark veins running through their leaves. Beside them are some chilli plants, each bright red chilli is still small and has it’s own unique shape.

 Curious to see more, I step inside the shop; the shelves are tidy and carefully displayed; there are umbrellas, doormats, garden gloves and wellies. Further in are organic vegetable soaps, hand creams and aromatherapy candles, I love the minimal packaging and close my eyes as I take in their natural scent.

 It feels like a family business, old fashioned and spacious and the shelves aren’t crammed with products to maximise sales; there are barely any sales assistants around and as a customer, I feel free to explore my surroundings.

Over to the side is a mini grocery store divided into two areas. Huge ripe organic vegetables are stacked and displayed neatly. It feels as if the dark colours have been amplified in their freshness and vitality. The fruit is displayed with precision, just looking at the bright oranges, lemons and limes feels energizing.  Supermarket fruit and veg seem drab and lack-lustre by comparison. I buy a thick bundle of greens crisp and deep in colour, along with some organic beef tomatoes and a bunch of dark orange carrots, then head home to make a magnificent vegetable soup!

We enter the Natural History Museum at Tring housing one of the finest collections of stuffed mammals, aquatic creatures, birds, reptiles and insects. Once the private museum of Lord Rothschild, established in 1889 and donated to our nation in 1937.

The museum is divided into six galleries. We take the stairs to galleries three and four, and walk along the balcony of the central atrium. We open a collection of wooden cabinets filled with specimens. The sheer biodiversity is astounding! Never mind Natural History, some of these creatures look supernatural! The first cabinet I open houses a huge millipede and some weird and wonderful moths and butterflies, their iridescent wings patterned with shots of vibrant green and red.

Hundreds of rare bird species such as hummingbirds, sunbeams and comets native to New Guinea and multi-coloured Quetzal birds native to South America are presented in a Victorian hexagonal cabinet. I’m amazed by how tiny some of them are and I love their peculiar names, such as the purple-throated sun angel. Next we see some gigantic fish from a ferocious barracuda, to a sleek silver-blue swordfish, and a crab with legs so endlessly long that they span the entire cabinet.

We take the stairs and find ourselves stepping into a dark corridor furnished with wall-to-wall cabinets filled with hundreds of mammals. There’s an extensive collection including extinct animals such as the Dodo and the Moa. I seem to have turned into a teenager as the unusual ones have us in hysterics. My daughter and I are giggling at an extinct elephant-bird’s foot, at a giant Emu staring menacingly at us, at a saiga with weird bloated nostrils, and at a chubby walrus with huge tusks looking up at us. The dim lights, crowds and length of the corridor are quite disorientating and we both feel as if we’ve entered into a David Lynch film.

Downstairs is a central atrium with more cabinets filled with altogether more recognisable mammals. I pause and stare into the intelligent eyes of a chimp and at the luminous blue and red stripes across a mandrills’ elongated face; just a sheet of glass between my face and theirs. It’s pretty noisy in here, as its the school holidays. The space is packed with children filling in their worksheets on clipboards and yelling with enthusiasm as they’re presented with angry gorillas and ferocious tigers.

Later, we have the Rothschild room to ourselves. At its centre is a life-size replica of a giant tortoise, but I’m more fascinated with old black and white photos revealing Lord Rothschild in all of his glory riding on the back of a tortoise, and riding in a zebra drawn carriage. I pop into the shop to end our tour and buy his biography, curious to find out more about this eccentric aristocrat and his remarkable menagerie.

I walk along St. Peter’s street, gradually leaving the hustle and bustle behind. I approach the church, walking by a row of listed cottages, and step passed the open gateway. The ancient churchyard feels spacious and is dotted with headstones and old oak and yew trees.

 St Peter’s Church, originally an Anglo Saxon wooden structure, is one of the three churches built along with St. Michael’s and St. Stephen’s over a thousand years ago, and stands on one of the three main roads leading into St Albans.

 Its central tower dates from 1254 offering striking views of St Albans and the surrounding countryside; you can even go on a tower tour if you can manage the narrow spiral staircase and steep ladder.

 Inside, the church is deserted, silent. I walk down the nave bordered by elegant arches. The hexagonal pulpit dates back to 1863, is richly decorated with carvings of the Evangelists and adorned with vines and grapes. I notice the subtle intricacy of the stained glass windows in the north aisle dating from the 13th century and recognize the medieval craftsmanship of the heraldic shields. An exquisitely designed pelican set in a medallion has captured my attention in its small scale and vibrancy of colour. Apparently the pelican is an old medieval Christ symbol given the sacrificial act of wounding her breast in order to feed her young.

 Over to my right, the stained glass is Victorian featuring iconic saints and scenes from the parables. The church was partly rebuilt in the mid 1700s, then later remodelled by Lord Grimthorpe in the late 1800s. Many changes have been made to the building and, although it doesn’t give me that ancient sense, it is still beautiful.

 As I step outside into the churchyard, tall pine trees with low branches dim the daylight and it feels cool. Burials here include soldiers killed in the War of the Roses battles. There is a sense of Gothic wildness to it, as some trees have been hit by lightening and others’ roots have burst from the ground, splitting headstones into several pieces.

 I walk further and approach the garden of hope, set aside for the burial of ashes; I sit on a bench and take in the summer sun. The tree of life memorial sculpture, sparkles in the dappled sunlight. It’s a wonderful spherical structure, designed to hold stainless steel glass leaves with names and dates to commemorate the departed. I feel at peace as if I’m a million miles away from anywhere as I take in the view; strange how within two minutes I’ll find myself walking through the hectic marketplace.

We drive past the ‘Pick your own fruit ‘sign, park and walk up to the hut; we select three empty punnets and read the whiteboard with a map of the different fruit areas. The first fruits I see as I walk into the field are hundreds of squat red currant bushes. We walk on and to our right, as far as the eye can see, are rows upon rows of raspberry plants over a metre high. I’ve never seen anything like it! The sun is shining and nourishing the leaves, highlighting the dense foliage.

I’m amazed by the organization of this operation. Each raspberry plant has been placed in a pot that rests on bricks for clear drainage, with three horizontal wires holding up the vines; lower down I see a hose running along each row as a built in irrigation system. Presented with such an abundant harvest, my husband has a good look then gets to work; as I’ve never really done this before, he reminds me to make sure I pick the darkest raspberries that come off the stem easily.

Soon its time to move on and in front of us are many rows of raised strawberry beds; the fruit is mostly ripe, abundant and spilling over the edges of the bed; a delicious bounty. I draw closer, breathing in their scent, in awe of how Nature provides. There are lots of little white flowers. Some of the hanging strawberries are still a light green-creamy colour; others are perfectly ripened, a brilliant red, vibrant and ready to be picked.

I stop to look around. It’s great to see my husband relaxing in Nature, away from his computer. He’s in the zone and has even started humming! A few families are fruit picking and I can hear the sound of buzzing bees and childen’s laughter in the distance. I spot an assertive toddler running amidst the shrubbery clutching the handle of her half-filled punnet, occasionally stopping to gather more redcurrants. Her blonde locks bouncing as she runs on; her mother hardly able to keep up. I can see there is a magical freedom to growing up in the countryside.

Further along are the blackberries, transforming from light pink into deeper and deeper shades of burgundy and ripening in the full sun; their texture is much softer than the strawberries and I pick them with care.

Soon our punnets are filled. I’m proud of my pickings and swing the punnets contentedly by their handles. My husband takes a photo of me, as he can see my childlike wonder at what I’ve picked with my own hands. Later that afternoon I make a crumble. The sweet aroma of apples and blackberries simmering in the pan fills the kitchen. After dinner, I serve it up for dessert with some custard and within minutes, it’s gone!