We step into Heartwood Tea rooms in Sandridge, a small Tudor building with low ceilings, sash windows and exposed brickwork with contemporary lighting.

Before we order our afternoon teas, we go for a wander to have a look around the tearooms, then settle at our table beside an old Inglenook fireplace stacked high with logs; sunlight pours in through the open conservatory and the white walls look freshly painted; behind the counter are two high shelves, one with teapots of every shape and size, the other filled with jars of elegant blends of loose tea from Vintage Vanilla Chai to Lemon Rooibos.

Hidden away at the back of the tearooms is a small patio garden with round tables and chairs surrounded by roses in full bloom, neat bushes of hydrangeas, and pots brimming with colourful pansies.

The friendly waitress arrives and proudly presents two bone china cake stands layered with dainty cucumber, egg and cress, and smoked salmon and cream cheese finger sandwiches on the lowest tier, freshly baked scones with small pots of cream and jam on the second, and a generous selection of tiny macaroons and brownies on the top tier.

It’s a delight to share these delicacies with my daughter and her friend this afternoon and show them the art of taking tea. I meditatively stir my tea, and listen attentively as they recount the trials and tribulations of their GCSE exams. I try to cheer them up with light-hearted conversation, reminding them that it’s nearly all over and enthusing about their looming summer holidays.

I take my first few sips of Earl Grey from a china teacup with bold flower patterns splashed across it in this authentic tearoom; fresh cut carnations arranged in shabby chic vintage teapots decorate the window sill.

It was Anna Maria, the duchess of Bedford who introduced the concept of ‘afternoon tea’ to England in the 1840’s. As the evening meal was becoming fashionably later, the duchess began inviting her friends over to Woburn Abbey for a light refreshment; she sent out invitations asking her friends to join her for “tea and a walk in the parks.”  It soon caught on and became a la mode among the social hostesses of the upper classes.

Even though I’m living in the 21st century, the age of fast cars and social media, I have to agree with Henry James that, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” It’s a secret pleasure of mine to occasionally hide away and indulge on a weekday afternoon where I can step out of my routine, sit back to enjoy a culinary ritual while catching up with my favourite people.

At Waddesdon Manor we take the stairs to the first floor bedrooms, the dark wooden paneling, arrangement of furniture and embroidered textiles give a sense of luxury and comfort. Throughout the house there are many intricately designed clocks from tall pedestal rococo style, to the dainty clock with gilt bronze branches and porcelain flowers that I’m now admiring in the State bedroom.

The green boudoir has a certain charm and feels private, intimate. Louis XV chests of drawers and console tables are adorned with vases in bold blues and trimmed in gilded patterns.

The first floor is partly dedicated to the Rothschild collections on display ranging from 18th century antiquarian books, illustrated prints and albums filled with textiles. A chunky gold necklace embellished with baguette cut emeralds and diamonds is lit up in a glass cabinet; I smile and stare as it sparkles and shimmers in all of its beauty.

Although restoration, conservation and exhibitions are ongoing, Waddesdon Manor doesn’t feel like a storehouse for relics, but a vibrant living place packed with enthusiastic visitors from all over the world. As I walk back downstairs tapestries and grand oil paintings of Venice cover entire walls, and there is never a moment when we are not spoilt with some artwork or design.

A small crowd has gathered around an extraordinary piece of decorative clockwork in the form of a musical elephant automaton. It dates from 1774, was made in London by a French clockmaker and plays four tunes. It’s eyes roll, ears flap, trunk lifts and scenes with gilded figures and flowers encrusted with diamonds revolve at its glittering base; such abundant detailing and workmanship leaves us all mesmerised.

I sigh with relief as I step out onto the gravel path take in the fresh air and look out at the simplicity of the English Landscape. I feel small and slight as I walk along the path surrounded by spacious lawns on either side. The vast garden is outstretched before us and we escape into the warmth of a summer’s day.

We wander passed the manicured parterre and such beautiful planting with stunning bold colour schemes. The tranquility of the gardens is a comfort. I pause to smell the fresh greenery; the hedges hide the Manor and for a moment I could be lost in any garden in France or Italy. I can hear a cascading fountain in the distance, look up at the statue of a beautiful female Roman citizen and pass by various mythological sculptures.

We turn a corner and arrive at an ornate Aviary inspired by 18th century pavilions and to this day filled with exotic birds. We discover that this was an adored place of Ferdinand De Rothschild. The shrubbery is dense but we manage to get a glimpse of red tipped feathers and can hear all sorts of cawing and birdsong.

We say goodbye to Waddesdon for now, but hope to return later in the year, as I hear that the manor is full of festive sparkle and is beautifully illuminated during the dark winter months.

We step out of the shuttle bus and there before us in the distance is the magnificent Waddesdon Manor. An extravagant French Renaissance Chateau built on a huge scale complete with round towers, columns, turrets and pinnacles.

Ferdinand de Rothschild purchased Waddesdon Manor farming estate in 1874 from the Duke of Marlborough. It is still fully furnished and Ferdinand spent over twenty years maintaining and embellishing it with objets d’art; today it houses one of the finest private art and furniture collections in England.

We step over the arched threshold and passed the hallways on either side of the entrance vestibule; before us is a sumptuous dining room where we begin our tour.

Inspired by Louis XIV’s state apartments in Versailles, this experience can only be described as an assault on the senses. Sparkling crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling and each wall is rich with gilded mirrors, Dutch paintings and Beauvais tapestries. The dim lighting adds to the effect and is apparently important in preserving the collection. I find myself needing to stand still on the Savonnerie carpet and simply pause to take in its aesthetic richness.

As we leave this room, we are greeted by a white marble statue of Orpheus playing the lute then step through the conservatory into the Baron’s room. Panelled wall to wall, it is furnished to 18th century Parisian taste. The central chandelier steals the show and its diameter is as wide as the table. The furniture and porcelain is an eclectic mix and I spot some classical mythological statues beside Ferdinand’s favourite armchair.

The guide shows me a grand ornately decorated roll top desk with gold classical statues at it legs. Made in the 1770’s, the guide explains that it is one of Waddesdon Manor’s greatest treasures upon which the writer Beaumarchais wrote The Marriage of Figaro and the Barber of Seville. The marquetry on the desk panels is painstakingly detailed in imagery.

We turn into the Grey Drawing room, a typical 18th century boudoir where guests would relax, play cards or listen to music.  A Reynolds portrait of the Duchess of Cumberland catches my eye. She has a certain beauty and Horatio Walpole once described her eyes as “enchanting.”

I spot three vases beneath the painting and step closer. The guide notices my eye for detail as I marvel at the pink vases trimmed in gold and decorated with miniature scenes; he tells me about the technical challenges in combining the Rose Pompadour colour with the gold paint.

Every single wall and piece of furniture is richly decorated and packed with visual imagery, colour, textures and lines. I am immersed in an environment of dense aesthetics and artifice. I try to see passed the roped barriers and visitors filing through each room and get a sense of what it must have felt to live in such opulent surroundings.

I climb the spiral staircase treading the soft red carpet under my feet as I look out through the tall windows onto the huge lawns and rolling countryside.

I’m a regular at Oasis, our local Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurant; it’s very popular in the neighbourhood, and it makes a nice change to the usual Indian or Chinese.

 It looks pretty low key from outside with a couple of round tables and small olive trees but as soon as you step passed the threshold, you immediately feel as if you’ve set foot into a different culture and that it’s time to try something unusual on the menu.

 The décor is bright and solar with murals of desert scapes, palm trees, camels and mud brick buildings and you instantly feel warmer as you walk in and the loud Moroccan music plays. Inlaid Marquetry is a traditional craft in Morocco and a decorative wooden panel feature is set in the floor in front of the bar; all of the chairs have palm trees cut into them.

 The bar is finished in colourful ceramics and smaller mosaic tiles in geometric patterns. A tall water feature made up of small rocks and earthenware emerging from a huge pot at the centre reaches up to the ceiling and feels very middle-eastern and rustic.

 We sit at an Octagonal glass top wooden table and my daughter sips a colorful mocktail filled with cranberry, apple and mango juices, while I pour mint infusion from a decorative silver teapot into a patterned tea glass. The food is always fresh, and for our starter we order falafels, houmous garnished with sticks of cucumber and warm flat bread.

 I watch dish after dish emerge from the kitchen. There’s a huge choice of vegetarian and meat dishes served in rustic tagine pots in all shapes and sizes. I enjoy having a look at what others have ordered. Although these tagine dishes full of vegetables and goodness are traditionally served with couscous or rice, I’m amused by the way many people order chips on the side instead; a quintessentially British addition that apparently goes with anything!

 There’s a feeling that meals have been thrown together with flair and creativity and different flavours are to be explored; I never manage to finish such substantial portion sizes. The waiter tells us about how particular the chef is when sourcing and cooking the food. You get a sense that customers count; it feels like they care about their reputation and take pride in what they do.

 We end our meal with some baklava, a delightfully sweet delicacy – layers of pastry covered in honey, walnuts and pistachios sweeten paying the bill. I love watching my daughter biting into the layers and savouring the flavours; I have to keep an eye that she doesn’t polish it all off! We feel nicely full, say our goodbyes and cut through the park on the way home.

We walk across the parkland of Hatfield House estate and head towards a circle of marquees corralled around a field. I’ve enjoyed many craft fairs since moving to St Albans. As I never came to events like this while growing up in London, I find them fun to explore as they represent a slice of country life, a place where the community can share its gifts and talents.

 It’s a bright and breezy day, I take in the festival atmosphere and breathe in the scent of freshly cut grass. There is a wide variety of merchandise from handmade teddy bears and leather-ware to ceramics and knitwear.

 We enter the first tent. The sound of a wooden flute catches my attention and I’m drawn to a small crowd listening to music reminiscent of Native America. I think of an old school friend who reached Grade V for her flute playing at school and how she’d love to play this beautifully crafted piranha pine flute; I take the designer’s card.

 It’s wonderful to have so many designers all in one space. A Chinese artist showcases his fine art prints of calligraphy, I admire the pretty strokes and swirls of the decorative ancient characters.

 While trying on a selection of fascinators I am approached by the milliner who explains which style she thinks would suit me. The bold flamboyant Philip Treacy styles don’t work that well and we try on a variety of the smaller hats with feathers and netting. I find the perfect look for a wedding I’m going to in June.

 The specialist food and drink stalls are a delight and I taste as many things as I can. The pork and leek sausages are amazing but so are the tomato and chilli ones. I let my husband decide, being a northerner he knows his sausages!

 I’m drawn to the chocolate peanut butter. A guy next to me is all smiles as we dip into the butters with our crackers and have a taste; we end up chatting about which is our favourite. I’ve never tasted anything so delicious and whip out my purse and buy a jar.

 We hear loud folkloric music and step outside to see lots of children dancing around a maypole, holding ribbons weaving in and out of each other as a pretty woven pattern forms around the pole. The sun has come out and we feel uplifted as we witness this rural celebration of the arrival of the Spring.

 It’s been a relaxing afternoon. My husband has wandered off and is in deep conversation about marquetry so I step outside. I notice a sign “Throw a pot for £5.” I put on my apron introduce myself and the next thing I know I’m sitting at the potter’s wheel my hands covered in clay. It’s such fun and within minutes I have produced a perfect little pot. I look forward to decorating it with some bright red acrylic paint.

I’d heard that Carpenters garden centre in Sandridge had been renovated recently and wanted to go and see for myself. It’s quiet and peaceful before the weekend rush and that time of year when nature bursts back into life.

The warm steady sunlight shines on the clusters of mauve and pink hydrangeas. The scent of lavender and slow buzz of bees leads me to the Mount Fuji cherry tree, rich with light pink blossom. Blackcurrant and raspberry plants are perfectly cut back and ready to bear fruit. The peachy shades of roses are named Lady Marmalade and the luminous yellow, Golden wishes.

The exquisitely tall and slender Lupin Charlelaine goes straight into my trolley. It’s exotic purple and white colours and small seashell petals tapered into a peak draw me in. It has a beanstalk quality to it and contrasts with the stout thick shiny leaves of the camellia plant in front of it.

I stop at the herb garden. The scent of the dark basil leaves holds childhood memories of watching my mother cooking, snapping off several leaves from one of the fresh plants by the window sill, rinsing then tossing them into a large pot of ragu sauce.

I walk inside to a beautiful central display of indoor plants surrounded by useful things like garden tools compost and charcoaI. I spot an entire wall covered with old family photos and linger; so many memories seem tied in with the business giving customers its spirit and ethos; my favourite is of several children larking about and climbing over a huge tractor.

The farm shop has been refurbished, is more spacious and has a gluten-free section. The produce is freshly picked and not prepackaged or shipped from overseas. Buying produce from local growers is clearly better for the environment and gives shoppers a sense of belonging and community spirit.

I am drawn to the fresh and wholesome breads. Then there are the large slabs of ginger, lemon and orange sponge cakes on offer at 3 for £8, I am seduced and pop them in my basket along with a jar of tomato and chilli chutney and marmite popcorn.

As a city-dweller, looking at some of these organic vegetables in their raw state I frankly wouldn’t even know how to prepare them, like marrow, chard and celeriac!

The assistant tells me that Carpenters was established in 1923 and that over ten acres of land is dedicated to growing vegetables and flowers. He also mentions the ‘tips and recipes’ link on their website, offering advice from how to grow dahlias to listing a choice of healthy and delicious recipes like spicy cauliflower and almond soup.

My next visit will involve a full English breakfast in the brand new restaurant The Potting Shed. I’m told it’s very popular and that I’ll need to book!

We’ve driven 20 minutes from St Albans for a guided tour of Waltham Abbey Church. As we turn a corner this huge Norman Church looks quite imposing and almost feels out of proportion in the middle of the town with small buildings dotted around it. The clock face catches my eye and is uniquely designed with a dark diamond shape framing it.

 As we’re a little early we explore the surrounding area. The Saturday market is in full swing; locals are chatting and selling everything from handbags to cat food. My husband has slowed down and is mesmerized by a stall selling tools and everything you could possibly need for fixing things, while I linger to look at some colorful summer tops. We stop for lunch and as the sun is shining we eat outside.

 We walk back towards the church and have a look at the gardens and surrounding cloister ruins; butterflies float amidst sunlit cherry blossom trees; birdsong fills the deserted rose garden, perfectly symmetrical in design and full with buds about to burst into colour in the next few weeks.

 We enter the church, our guide awaits and we join the group. It is an attractive interior with high Romanesque columns towering up to form rounded arches all along the nave; I look up to the West End, mesmerized by the beautiful stained glass Rose window depicting the Creation story. Each petal depicts one of the seven days; the light from the vibrant ocean blues, strong apple reds and soft greens of the trees shines into the church. Christ is depicted at its centre holding the sun with a rainbow in the distance.

 I look up and marvel at the dizzying heights of the ornately decorated ceiling forming part of the Victorian restoration. It is covered with paintings of the signs of the zodiac framed in blue patterned diamond shapes all along the nave ceiling; a somewhat strange addition to a church.  

 The guide explains that we’re standing on a site where Christians have been worshipping for over a thousand years; the first church on this site dates back to the seventh century. In 1540, Waltham Abbey was the last Abbey to be dissolved in the Dissolution and all that remains is the nave.

 To end the tour we approach the Lady Chapel, colorful streams of light pour through the stained glass. We’re invited to have a look at a rare 15th Century wall painting covering the entire East wall and depicting the Day of Judgment.

 We leave the church and go and have a tea. As we approach the market square there are few passers by and it has gone very quiet. We sit outside. The atmosphere of the square has totally shifted from a bustling town crowded with shoppers to a deserted space with a single road-sweeper silhouetted in the distance clearing litter.

Sunlight gently filters into the woodland. We walk deeper into Nomansland on this cool Spring morning. We breathe in the clean air and tread the soft earth amidst hundreds of trees, blending and running into each other, each one growing towards the light, their branches tangled and trunks twisted into their own unique shapes.

Situated close to Harpenden between Wheathampsted and Sandridge, Nomansland common is over fifty hectares of woodland and rolling grassland; a popular open space for dog walking, horse riding and model aircraft flying. Wheathampsted cricket club is close by and cricket has been played on the common since the mid 1800s.

As the common lies between two parishes, during the 15th century the monasteries of St Albans and Westminster both contested ownership, so it became known as No Man’s Land and for this reason was never developed. The land is currently owned by the Althorpe estate and Wheathampsted Parish council.

It’s hard to believe that we’re only two miles away from St Albans as nature here feels undisturbed. There is always an enchanting quality when I’m in the presence of trees and I feel as if I become part of the landscape. Some Oak and Birch trees are close to a hundred years old, their fallen branches providing the perfect habitat for all sorts of wildlife.

Springtime is here, the choir of birdsong overrides any traffic noise in the distance. The tree branches are budding and the only sign of colour is yellow clusters of flowers on the heather. I enjoy walking along the woodland path with my husband, he grew up surrounded by the countryside and seems totally at peace in his natural habitat.

We stop for a picnic. I’ve made some ham and cheese sandwiches and it feels good to eat in the open air. The occasional puppy dashes over and raids our space, wagging their tails curious to sniff out what we are doing and eat our food.

As we turn towards the road and onto the common, our mood shifts. Walking in woodland feels meditative and quietens my thoughts. As we walk across the grass, it feels expansive and open, the sky feels low and we stride out onto the sloping green, dogs running in the distance.

We end our walk with a pint and a half of ale at the Wicked Lady, just where I want to be; relaxing in a huge armchair, and this time wearing my wellies covered in mud!

It is a cool misty afternoon in April. Tall pine trees swish in the breeze as we drive to The Wicked Lady passing by hundreds of bright yellow daffodils.

This contemporary pub and restaurant is located opposite No-man’s land, near Wheathampstead. The plan was to go for a walk across the historic common but we had to shelve that when we got out of the car and noticed that, instead of wellies, I was still wearing my heels! My husband is greatly amused that the city girl in me is still so out of her depth in the countryside.

I love the cream coloured sign with the black silhouette of a 3 cornered highwayman hat pretty dark eyes and long lashes of a seductive lady, and can imagine her in her breeches, mask and riding cloak leaping out in front of a carriage from the darkness and yelling “Stand and deliver!”

The pub is named after Katherine Ferrers, a 17th Century French gentlewoman and property heiress; an aristocratic lady by day and a highway woman by night. Sole heir to her father’s fortune, Katherine became as notorious as her male peers, many also bereft of their fortunes, and came into highway robbery in order to redress her fast-dwindling inheritance taken from her by her husband once her father had died.

On a dark night, this route to and from London presented a great opportunity for highway robbery. Various films and books have been made retelling Ferrers’ life story. Local legend says that she haunts the common and her ghost can still be seen on occasion galloping wildly on a black horse.

After a long country walk, The Wicked Lady is the ideal place to come and relax into the comfy velvet armchairs under the low Tudor ceiling. It is refurbished to the hilt, and is the perfect venue to impress guests with a stylish evening dinner or just some tasty pub food. With its luxury interior and sophisticated ambience, it almost feels as if I could be in the heart of Mayfair and I must admit, maybe feels a bit urban for a traditional pub in the middle of the Hertfordshire countryside.

There is a huge selection of wines and ales; my husband tries the Pravha while I go for a fresh pineapple juice. We order our food. I choose a melted cheese and red pepper baguette and my husband opts for a grilled steak-sandwich with all the trimmings served with a little pot of chips and served on a wooden board.

Next time, I imagine having a nice Sunday roast here, relaxing with a beer in my hand and my wellies covered in mud after a long woodland walk (that is if I remember to bring them)!

We enter a spacious brightly lit gym surrounded with wall-to-wall windows looking out onto the green. A mirrored far wall reflects back the chrome equipment so that we can see ourselves working out.

 I joined this gym recently, given that I’m in my forties, I’m feeling the need to stay lean and trim. Most of this equipment is new to me. My favourite weight machine tones my upper arms. The rowing machine leaves me underwhelmed and I find simple sit-ups give me a tougher work out as they isolate each muscle.

 It feels good to put my work down and come here. I enjoy working within my own limits, staying relatively toned and building up some cardiovascular stamina to burn some extra calories.

 I’ve decided to bring my daughter today to help her get rid of the mental stress brought on by her looming GCSE’s. As we arrive the music is playing loudly, just how I like it and we step onto the treadmill. I walk at an upbeat pace, pressing the uphill button to give my thigh muscles an extra workout as I’m used to walking along the sloping streets of St Albans.

 A middle-aged woman wearing a pink vest and black leggings steps onto the treadmill next to me and has a little glance over; I get the feeling that she wants to show me how she can race faster beside me. As I’m naturally not a competitive person, I keep to my own pace and smile to myself, wondering why I didn’t bring a Blue Peter badge with me to reward her as she works up a sweat!

 Then it’s off to the “Testosterone zone” where I show my daughter the dumb bells. Here you can see mainly men puffing and breaking out into a sweat; as they endure the weights with pained expressions on their faces testing their limits. I demonstrate three methods of using the dumb bells, and she repeats the action with ease.

 I go to the far corner and reach for the red boxing gloves and smile sweetly. I hand them to her and go and call the personal trainer. He shows my daughter some boxing combinations and the punch bag takes several hits. I step back as she works alongside him for about ten minutes, before she is left to her own devices. I watch with delight as she jabs and crosses, releasing her pent up stress induced by her teachers expecting no less than A’s from her in June.

 We end the session with a few Pilates postures and slowly feel our bodies cooling down. I look up at her as she lets out some deep breaths, at this moment in time her GCSE’s are far from her mind and I feel that I have achieved my goal.