As the winter afternoon darkens, the Christmas street decorations light up the entire length of St Peter’s Street. This year the tree branches are wrapped in bright garlands of red gold, blue and green lights and it all looks so festive.

My Christmas shopping is almost done so I’m out with an old school friend and we’re spoiling ourselves with a few little extras. I love that feeling when all that’s left are a few bits and bobs like the odd box of crackers, there’s nothing like it and that’s when I really begin to feel the Christmas spirit.

I love bookshops, especially during the Christmas season and we linger in Waterstones. I buy The Guinness Book of World Records 2018, it’s absolutely packed with amazingly incredulous human feats; the sort of colourful classic hardback that all of the family, young and old, wouldn’t mind a flick through in that restful week after Christmas.

The booksellers have thoughtfully created a display table filled with the best-seller non-fiction books of 2016/7 and its buy one get one half price. I buy myself a book that came out last year that I never got to read, Wohlleben’s book on The Hidden Life of Trees; it explores why solitary trees have shorter life spans than large tree groups; it appeals to my geeky side and nobody would ever think of buying me it.

We go upstairs to the café for a couple of mega spicy hot chocolates; I bite into a festive mince pie and relax into the red sofa. My friend brings a couple of humorous seventies Ladybird books The New You and The Meeting over and they have us in hysterics.

I’m feeling excited that Christmas is just around the corner as I drive home listening to Christmas choral music mixed in with some Elvis and yes I admit, some Dolly Parton.

I start thinking about my food list for next week. That’s the weirdest shopping experience of the year, when the M&S food hall becomes an urban jungle and only the most determined mums will secure the last few jars of cranberry sauce and brandy butter into their trolleys!

We drive through the gates into the Luton Hoo estate and after a few twists and turns, see a grand neo-classical country mansion in the distance. Grade I listed, it is it is situated on the crest of a hill overlooking acres of beautiful gardens and was built for the 3rd Earl of Bute, then prime minister, who bought the estate in 1763.

We stop outside to look up; I can see why Dr. Samuel Johnson referred to its “magnificence” when he visited in 1781. As we step past the imposing columns we are all smiles as we have come to celebrate my mother-in law’s birthday.

The lounge is huge and the dark green mantelpiece is the tallest and widest I’ve ever seen! The crackling log fire, gives an immediate sense of warmth and homeliness. On the other side of the room is a bounteous flower arrangement filled with vibrant tropical flowers.

At one o’clock, we’re shown into the opulent salon that is the Wernher restaurant. We’re given the seasonal menu for our Sunday lunch. We order some wine. I sit there fascinated to see every wall panelled in marble. The crystal chandeliers cast a shimmering light onto the Beauvais tapestries. I look out of the windows and see miles of rolling parkland as far as the eye can see.

The food arrives. I begin with Parma ham with fresh figs mozzarella and wild rocket followed by a lamb roast. The dessert trolley is filled to the brim with cheesecakes, fruit tarts and chocolate delicacies.

After lunch we take a stroll into the gardens. I take in the frosty December air and smell the evergreen. We walk towards the side of the hotel and stand at the top of the steps overlooking the grand fountain; we pause to face the formal gardens and see a perfectly symmetrical harmony, with a lawn on each side, topiary trees and domed stone garden houses.

As we walk down the stone steps onto the gravel path and draw closer to the fountain, I’m fascinated to see mermen carved in stone, their muscular torsos and fish tails resting against the central column; strange choice of mythic creature, I think to myself.

I look forward to exploring the rock garden and the rest of this thousand-acre parkland next time, maybe I’ll visit the spa and who knows even stay overnight and enjoy some eggs royale in the morning!

It’s a bright Sunday morning and life-size painted figures of gilded angels on wood provide the perfect backdrop to the Childwickbury Christmas fair. In the middle of the courtyard, a huge Christmas tree illuminated with coloured bulbs and decorated with red and gold glittery baubles towers above us; Christmas music jingles in the background and each stable is filled with shoppers.

An old Citroen van is parked further along, covered with poinsettias and roses. Behind it is a stall with hyacinth bulbs planted in neat rows of Victorian teacups on saucers. What I love about this fair is its rustic charm; being here is such a wonderful contrast to shopping on the high street and I stop to admire the twig woodbine angels blowing trumpets.

There’s a stallholder selling handmade log reindeers with friendly faces and big red noses and rather than wanting to buy one I feel as if I’d like to make one; his little Yorkshire terrier is the cutest thing ever, strutting around in a bright red tartan body warmer!

Inside the stables, an abundance of creativity is on display and the merchandise is of a high standard, from watercolours to handmade knitwear.  We chat with a trendy jewellery designer. I admire a pair of black and white asymmetrical leather earrings from her latest collection entitled Morphology; they’re pretty avant-garde and I buy them for my sister, hoping they’ll appeal to her unusual taste.

Whenever I come here, I always visit the milliner and check out his latest display of spectacular hats; he’s hugely talented and also works in many West End theatre productions; he shows me a miniature lion mask that he’s still working on, I love it and he lets me have it at a reduced price.

Just before we leave my daughter runs ahead towards the food barn. I buy a bag of cinnamon sticks to grate into cake-mixes and onto my cappuccino, but it’s the bakery stall that she has her eye on. There are carrot cup cakes and “Boozy Baileys chocolate cakes” with red macarons perched sideways on top! I bite into the best brownie ever, decorated with edible bronze beads and waves of caramel icing; it’s utterly delicious. We leave content, licking our chocolatey lips!