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Duchess of Cambridge takes surprise trip to Northern Irish farm
12 February 2020, 14:45
The Duchess of Cambridge has taken a surprise solo trip to Northern Ireland to meet with young children at an open farm in County Down.
In a one-stop solo visit to Northern Ireland on Wednesday, Kate received a guided tour of the Ark Open Farm in Newtownards, meeting the owners and staff at the family-run attraction.
The trip was unannounced and kept secret, with the farm given just ten days to prepare for her arrival.
It comes as the mother of three has turned the spotlight on Early Years, which is aimed at improving children's life chances by supporting expectant parents, parents and carers of children up to five years old, young children and their families.
Last month Kate launched a landmark national survey on the early years development of children.
The poll, conducted by Ipsos Mori on behalf of the Royal Foundation, is thought to be the biggest survey of its kind and will ask "five big questions on the under-fives".
The duchess had made the issue of the "future health and happiness" of children a pillar of her public activities and hopes the results of the survey will spark a conversation on early childhood and guide the focus of her work.
During her visit, she met with local representatives of Early Years and families who have benefited from the work of the charity.
She was greeted on arrival by the Lord Lieutenant of Co Down David Lindsay, the Sheriff of Co Down Austin Baird and the Mayor of Ards and North Down Bill Keery.
The duchess was guided around the facility, meeting a range of animals from lambs, goats and alpacas, by the farm owners Stewart and Lorraine Donaldson.
Kate was left amazed as she held the pale yellow reptile named Sophie at Ark Open Farm in Newtownards, confessing it was the first time she had picked one up.
Holding out her arms, the duchess remarked: "Are you sure it's OK? Oh my goodness. No way," before adding: "Is there a way to hold her? Wow, look at that."
She asked a youngster next to her: "Do you want to touch the snake?"
Kate added: "She's got the most amazing skin. This is the first time I've ever held a snake like that. How cool is that?"
Kate surveys respondents about the health and happiness of children in the area, nature vs. nurture, and a swath of other topics. The survey is set to conclude on February 21.
During the visit, she spoke with local parents and grandparents about the themes covered in her survey.
She heard their thoughts on the factors that are most crucial for keeping children happy, help them to become happy adults and the roles of parents in society.
According to the Ark's owner Stewart Donaldson, the staff only had 10 days' notice that the location would need to keep Kate's visit under wraps.
"It’s our 30th anniversary. We’re all very excited. It was quite a job keeping her visit secret," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
Last month, the Duchess visited Birmingham, Cardiff, Woking and London to promote her survey and speak to parents about their experiences.
it follows eight years of work and research by the Duchess.