33 degrees, cloudless skies, the hottest day of the year. Before the rest of the summer descends into a wave of motorway driving and weddings and bridal bouquets, we decide to spend this particular day getting out the city. There's nothing like summer mornings packing the car with sunhats and Ambre Solaire and fruit and getting out. We pile into Ben's old 'Lady Di' Range Rover and set off early on the three hour trip to Suffolk.
I love the Lady Di; it's like travelling in a boat. A wide, dogged motorboat carving through the air with every 1987 mod con going, plump beige upholstered armchairs like a lounge suite, wood veneer, the works. You need the Top Gun soundtrack to accompany it, preferably on a cassette tape, and a couple of fat Labradors behind the grill in the back, some striped red and white beach towels, a retro cool box with chilled wine and little picky food on sticks, a few ancient magazines knocking around in the footwells.
Anyway, on we plough, savouring the rare occurrence of having all the windows down, wind whipping our hair around our faces, bare feet, wearing our tea dresses tied loose to let the breeze run through them. Various pit stops for more water and more strawberries, the juice running down over our chins and wrists. Passing harvesting farms and lavender fields and gingerbread cottages. And then, several fitful naps and cartons of melon and mad wind-whipped hairdos later, there we are, at the gates of Helmingham Hall.
We disembark, hot and sleepy, under an ancient oak tree and walk up to the house. The moat glitters. Swallows flit and dive in and around the red brick chimneys above our heads, the occasional flash of silver belly. In the distance, herds of fallow deer move under the dark shapes of trees in the park.
Helmingham Hall has been the home of the same family since 1510; generation after generation of Tollemaches have lived here, and still do I am told. Imagine how much history, turmoil and change this family seat has seen over the years. By night it is an island - the drawbridge taken up every evening and let down again the next day.
From the house, which is kept private, you enter the gardens through a wrought iron gate that opens onto a lawned causeway leading you to the Parterre of box hedge topiary and giant stone urns surrounded by a cloud of white cosmos. Beyond is a rose garden of hybrid musk roses.
Some places are so beautiful they make you crazy. Jesse walks ahead whispering 'it's the most beautiful garden I've ever seen' over and over like a woman who's lost her wits. We step through an ornate gate flanked by the palest lilac campanula and lavender. Here we are inside the walled garden, the original shape of which probably dates from Saxon times, and now encloses a kitchen garden of herbaceous borders, sweet pea tunnels, vegetable beds, a wild meadow flower garden with a spiral of cornflowers and the palest pink poppies.
Soft washes of colour against pitted brick - the pastel colours of summer drift into beds of silver, burgundy and white. Clearly someone with an artful eye for the nuances of colour and texture designed these planting schemes. We weave through; the sun beats down; there is the din of insects, great dragonflies dipping down and back from lily pads on the mirror-still surface of the moat. We follow each path in turn, under creeping ledges of honeysuckle, reaching out to foxgloves and spires of delphinium, straggly pale yellow scabious, tall, silvery-throated Japanese anemones.
Over another moat is the wild section of the garden, a meadow of swishing golden grasses, an orchard, and several beehives. Looping behind them we find ourselves on an apple tree walk bordering the garden and the parkland beyond where the deer are beginning to run now, barking in their strange unintelligible language, and then we are back where we started. We stop for sandwiches and elderflower and then do it all over again, reluctant to leave. Weddings at Helmingham Hall must be a magical affair; Suffolk brides of the future, we are up for it!
Later, we drive on to Walberswick beach down tree-lined lanes banked by interlinking hedges of wild clematis and raspberry cottages (plastering your house raspberry pink in Suffolk is a thing), rapid-succession vistas of flint and flat meadows and picture-postcard villages one after the other.
It always surprises me how you can smell the sea before you see it. That honeyed fragrance of summer sharpens and then there is the needle-sharp brackish scent of ocean air and saline mist. Down through the village, over the bridge, sandals off, up across the sand dunes and there it is - the flat, never-ending horizon of the sea.