Duchess of Cambridge turns snake charmer on surprise visit to Northern Ireland

Rebecca Taylor
Royal Correspondent
The duchess wants to encourage a UK wide conversation about childcare. (Getty Images)

The Duchess of Cambridge has proved herself braver than Indiana Jones by handling a corn snake while on a trip to a zoo in Belfast.

Catherine paid a quick visit to Northern Ireland, where she stopped in at the Ark Open Farm in Newtownards and showed she can work with both children and animals.

Catherine invites some of the children to touch the corn snake. (Getty Images)

The visit was part of her early years work and the 5 Big Questions survey, which she hopes will spark a nationwide conversation about the first five years of childhood.

As she held out her arms to take the snake, she said: “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?”

Catherine was apparently very enthusiastic to hold the snake. (Getty Images)

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?”

The snake’s handler Sophie Wrigglesworth, 26, from Co Down told PA they had not originally planned to bring the snake out to the duchess as they had been advised she had a fear of them.

“But she said, ‘oh no, I want to see the snake’, straight away she held it,” she said, adding that they often receive visitors with a fear of snakes.

“We have a creepy crawly loft, spiders, hissing cockroaches, and stick insects, you often get people who say ‘oh no, I’m not touching them’ but then they do have a feel and it encourages them to face their fears.

“It was good fun meeting the duchess, quite nerve wracking initially but she was so calm and collected, and she was good at approaching people and making sure everyone felt comfortable.”

Kate helps feed a lamb at the farm. (Getty Images)
Kate also seemed charmed by an alpaca. (Getty Images)

During her one-stop visit, the first time she has been to Northern Ireland on her own, she also stroked an alpaca, fed a lamb and talked to a young boy about the farm’s “massive” bull.

The duchess has been touring the UK to promote the 5 Big Questions survey, and spoke to Early Years representatives, parents and grandparents in the Ark’s cafe.

Kate chats to a boy about a hedgehog. (Getty Images)

Her surprise visit to Northern Ireland came a day Kensington Palace confirmed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have been asked to go to Ireland for a state visit between 3 and 5 March.

Kate travelled from Northern Ireland to Scotland, where she visited the Social Bite cafe in Union Street.

The cafe provides jobs to people who have been homeless, and Kate, who is the Countess of Strathearn in Scotland, spoke to customers and staff about the lasting impact of childhood experiences.

Catherine poses with the staff members at the Social Bite. (Getty Images)
The Duchess, or the Countess of Strathearn in Scotland, helps out in the kitchen. (Getty Images).

Alice Thompson, the cafe’s co-founder, said: “We’re always delighted to have anybody in the public eye come and shed a spotlight on our mission to end homelessness in Scotland.

“It’s completely doable and people like the Duchess of Cambridge coming to help publicise our message… means the world.”