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5th April 2020

When I established this website in 2007, I would update this news page at least once a month with latest happenings on the farm.  Now I am busier than ever with the Belted Galloways and selling ‘Beltie’ beef, getting involved in the promotion of British farming and local produce via social media as well as a few diversification projects which have filled any spare time we may have had. 

Somehow, we seem to be busier than ever, so I was determined this year to spend more time with family and to plan some new adventures that I might undertake before I get too old!!

But as ever, life has taken its own pre-determined course. And here we are in April 2020 amidst the CORVID-19 pandemic, with all but essential workers in the UK advised to stay at home and stay safe; to help to ‘flatten the curve’ of the spread of this virus.

I posted a video on Twitter recently; a ‘thank you’ to all front line NHS staff, care workers and emergency services and a little about how farmers are continuing their essential work caring for animals and crops, to produce safe, nutritious and sustainable British food for us all to eat #FoodArmy #FeedTheNation

The food chain is having to adapt very quickly; whereby food was previously being grown for restaurants, schools, Universities, museums etc and supplied in large quantities; these are no longer required. However, with families staying at home, much more food will now be home-cooked and everything from flour to meat or eggs, which would have been packaged in large quantities for thousands of food outlets, is now having to be redirected and packaged in smaller quantities to be sold in supermarkets.  There’s some fantastic, creative work going on behind the scenes across all parts of the food chain, to ensure these huge logistical changes are happening in a very short space of time.

However, since I drafted that last paragraph earlier in the week, things are changing swiftly and I suspect some elements of the big buying power of supermarkets, may already be to the detriment of long-term food security and improved self-sufficiency within the UK.

Farmers like ourselves produce beef to high standards of welfare and this goes hand in hand with environmental work across farms up and down the country. 

We were due to sell a group of beef animals from the Friesian x herd as part of the normal cycle of production and to specifications which are set by the abattoir.  We’ve now been told that they’ll be taking less cattle even though the finished stock has reached the requested conformation or grading, and which just last week they had wanted to buy.

We then heard yesterday that one buyer is supplying cheaper imported Polish beef for two of the big supermarkets and they appear to already be following the money and looking for profits rather than buying the British beef that is ready on many farms and has been produced to their specification.

Farmers will continue to tend the crops in the fields and the livestock they care for, working towards what I hope will be a sustainable and more self-sufficient provision of UK food with a more ‘bottom up’ rather than ‘top down’ approach to food and farming in the future.

We put strict COVID19 safeguarding measures in place a few weeks ago, our team now only drive specific vehicles including tractors, trucks and tele-handlers. There is one driver per vehicle and no passengers unless from the same household. 

Morning team meeting following physical distancing guidelines during COVID19.

In a normal week, as many as five of our staff could have driven the two tele-handlers on a variety of jobs such as loading fodder beet onto trailers or lorries for deliveries off the farm, lifting fertiliser into the spreader or bedding up the calving barns.

In a COVID19 week, each of the tele-handlers now has its own dedicated driver.  Those two drivers have their own work to complete, as well as the extra tele-handler jobs that other members of the team used to undertake.  We try to share the other jobs such as cattle checking and fence repairs to share the work-load. 

This spring we had a smaller number of Belted Galloways to calve and planned to have a further eleven due in the Autumn.

The calving barns are bedded up with fresh straw and calving is in a safe, dry environment with higher biosecurity than the busy footpaths and fields around here can provide.  The cows are given vitamins and minerals and hay to eat. We’ve found it’s important that the dams don’t get too fat as this causes calving problems.   

Calving is almost over, with just one more to arrive.  Everything has gone smoothly except for two cows who didn’t calve when due; so, these were checked by the vet last week and as suspected have slipped their calves at some stage since the pregnancy test in August last year.  Blood samples have been taken from those two which might give us some explanation for why they miscarried.

Wotton Lady Ann had her calf about a month early; a perfect little heifer named Mary but very quiet for the first few weeks, sleeping in the soft hay beneath the hay rack in between feeds. 

We turned most of the cows and calves out to grass last week.  Ethelred’s group are grazing Upper and Lower Park (Ellix Wood) and Thorn Grove and Mister M’s family are grazing in the fields we call ‘Cressbeds’.

It’s great to have the cows back onto grass now; turning grass into nutritious milk for the calves who will stay with their mothers for about nine months, but will soon also begin to graze, as they gradually eat more grass and drink less milk over the coming months. 

The Surrey Hills Business Park is a diversification project on the farm which helps us to continue to farm and to undertake Higher Level Stewardship across a large area of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). 

One tenant of the business park is Brooks Life Sciences, who bought out 4Titude two years ago. Brooks Life Science products are now directly focused in support of vaccine discovery and medical science to accelerate the global response and cure to the COVID-19 virus.  There are many bio-science businesses adapting their production lines, and Brooks Life Sciences which is already internationally renowned, has stepped up to help with this vital global challenge.

Due to a very wet Autumn we couldn’t get out onto a third of the land that we’d intended to sow with winter wheat and as the ground has only dried up enough in the past three weeks, this has meant a change of plan; 100 acres will be left fallow, 100 will be drilled with maize and 112 acres will be spring barley.

Another 25 acres of fairly poor land that would have gone into winter wheat, has instead been drilled with spring barley, peas and grass. If successful, the barley and peas will be harvested in August and made into silage for the Belted Galloways and the grass will be grazed from next spring or possibly this Autumn depending on how well it’s established.

Once the ground was dry enough, digestate was spread in the fields from an anaerobic digestion system.  Following on from this organic fertiliser, Edd drives the Xerion tractor and Horsch cultivator which undertakes minimum tillage before the crops are sown.

David uses the Amazon drill to sow the barley and peas about 1.5” deep and the grass seed just within the top surface of soil.

This year’s crops include 200 acres of Oil seed rape, drilled at Shalford in August last year and 600 acres of winter wheat which we managed to drill before the extreme wet weather moved in; this will be harvested in July in fields at Cranleigh, Wotton, Abinger and Gomshall.

110 acres of Spring barley for malting, was sown last week in our heavier soils at Park Farm, Coomb farm and Whitedown and will be harvested in August.

When the soil temperature warms up in April or May, 250 acres of maize will be drilled.

 

17th March 2020

Last night we listened to the first of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s daily briefings, which gave new guidance for businesses and individuals in order to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

Laurence spoke with our team this morning to explain the measures we will put in place on the farm as of today, but with view to adjusting these as and when necessary.

We want to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading to or within our team and amongst our families, therefore all face to face meetings on site have been cancelled or postponed for the foreseeable future.

Fodder beet is still for sale because we are able to load lorries and trailers without close interaction between drivers. Fodder beet orders are being taken on this number: 07774 275930 

We can also receive farm deliveries whilst keeping a safe distance from drivers.

9th February 2020

Since bringing the Belted Galloways back from their conservation grazing on the North Downs, it’s been a time for managing the herd, weaning, foot trimming, sorting the groups and moving to winter grazing.

The Belted Galloway suckler herd is grass fed all year round, with extra grass-based fodder as required during winter or at calving. You may see our Belties in the fields around Wotton, Abinger, Shere and Gomshall as well as on the North Downs from approximately April until late Autumn or winter depending on the ground conditions.

This is Ethelred’s group of in-calf cows, currently grazing with the North Downs in the distance behind them.

The two groups of in-calf cows will come in from the fields next week and will be housed in barns during calving to ensure better biosecurity and safe handling.  The barns are bedded up with straw from last year’s harvest and the cows will have sweet smelling, home grown hay or haylage to eat.

We have cameras in the calving barns to keep an eye on the cows, even when we are working elsewhere on the farm.

The bulls, Carsluith Ethelred and Barwise Mister M are currently out, running with a few heifers. The heifers will be pregnancy tested in April and hopefully will be due to calve in Autumn. 

Arable field work has been limited due to a fairly wet Autumn and winter thus far.

Following on from last year’s harvest, we’ve managed to drill 600 acres of milling wheat; Elicit, Zyatt and Firefly.  Firefly is a new variety for us this year.

We hope that the ground conditions will improve in the next two weeks so that the remaining 300 acres can be drilled with winter wheat.  However, if not, much of that area will remain as fallow which will result in a third less potential income from wheat in 2020.

This wheat is emerging at Park Farm.  The ground is quite stony with lumps of iron stone. This field grew oil seed rape last year.

It’s not good practice to grow the same crop in the same field every year, therefore different crop types are rotated around the fields.  We need to grow crops that will survive and thrive in these grade three soils and which are viable for the business, therefore a field which grew wheat last year, could be growing oil seed rape this year and fodder beet in 2021.

Fodder beet grows well on the sandier soils and currently forms part of the crop rotation. We harvest the fodder beet between September and March and the beet remains fresh whilst still in the soil.   The fodder beet is sold to farmers and smallholders across the south east, as winter rations for sheep, pigs, horses, farmed deer, dairy and beef cattle. Inquiries can be made to: 07774 275930

The majority of maize grown on the farm was harvested in October by contractors with a forage harvester.  The entire plant is cut, chopped and carted to a silage clamp, which is a level area with two or three walls.


The chopped maize is tipped into the clamp area, compressed by a tele-handler or tractor to expel oxygen and covered in sheeting.  Natural fermentation of the ensiled maize in anaerobic conditions, preserves the forage until winter, when it is either sold or fed to our Friesian x cattle.

7th January 2020

I am happy to say that the photos have returned to this page!  I'm off out now to move some Belted Galloway heifers, so watch this space for some January news coming soon!

4th January 2020

Wishing you all a happy and prosperous New Year!

Unfortunately due to a major problem at Photobucket, the photographic hosting platform I use for the Latest News page, all the photos on this page have disappeared.  The problem began on 8th December 2019 but they haven’t provided contact or support thus far.  I hope they resolve the issue very soon so that my photos are available to view again.

13th November 2019

We began to 'bring home' our Belted Galloway herd which graze the North Downs each year, between April and about November or December.  The cattle have been undertaking important conservation grazing on this rare chalk downland habitat as part of our Higher Level Stewardship Scheme during the past ten years.  For the remainder of the year the cattle may be seen in the fields around Wotton, Shere, Albury and Abinger.

The Beltie cows and calves are gathered from the fields to a local barn and from here they are loaded onto the cattle trailer and taken back to the farm.

In August the ‘Beltie’ cows and heifers were pregnancy tested and have remained grazing local pasture with their calves ‘at foot’.  However, for these two groups with calves at foot, we avoid fields with any public paths so that the suckler herd is not disturbed.  This is quite restrictive because the majority of fields in this area do have some form of public right of way dissecting them.

Mister M’s group have been grazing behind the Kingfisher Farm Shop, in the field we call ‘Cressbeds’ and they have been alternating with the fields south of Abinger Hall,  whilst Ethelred’s group have been in the fields around Raikes Farm.

The calves have been naturally weaning themselves over the past nine months as they gradually increased the amount of grass they ate whilst reducing the quantity of milk suckled from their mothers.

This week the cows and calves have been sorted out and final weaning has taken place.  Ears have been trimmed so that we can read the ear tags even at a distance and any missing tags were replaced. 

The in-calf cows will go back out to the fields during the winter and will have access to additional hay if needed.  Their weaned calves will stay together in a group over winter and for much of the next two years.

The bulls; Carsluith Ethelred and Barwise Mister M have been taking it easy for a while back at the farm, but in December they will run with a few of the girls that were scanned as not-in-calf (NIC) during the summer.

4th September 2019

Harvest was hindered by intermittent rain in August, frustratingly with rain one day and fine the next, but not quite enough time to dry the crop in between showers. 

The final fortnight, with a few long nights and Christopher taking on most of the combine driving, brought the last of the wheat in from the fields.

The bad weather resulted in reduced grain quality and more brittle straw. 

The straw has been baled up into about 800 Heston bales which are 8’x4’x4’ and weigh in the region of 600kg each.  These were loaded onto flat-bed trailers and transported from the different harvest locations; back home for storage in several barns where they will remain dry until used on the farm.

We grew three varieties of milling wheat; Skyfall, Zyatt and Elicit with the aim of meeting the quality required for bread or biscuit making.  However, if weather conditions reduce the grain quality of the milling wheat, it will only be purchased by the grain merchant as a ‘feed wheat’.

It’s worth noting, that farmers are often criticised for growing crops for animal feed, whereas in this type of situation the crop has been damaged by weather and doesn’t meet the quality to function as a milling wheat for human consumption.  The feed wheat is sold to a merchant who sells it on to for many uses such as an ingredient of dog food and wild bird food.

The yields of approximately 3.5 Tonnes per acre were quite promising on our grade 3 soils, with a total of 3,300 tonnes going into the grain stores.

Samples are taken from every trailer-load of grain that is harvested and we keep records of the moisture content, temperature and the specific weight (density of product) of each load.


We ensure that the grain is below 15% moisture content before it can be storedand below 21/22 degrees so that it doesn’t overheat in the grain bins.

Grain merchants visit the farm to undertake their own grain sampling, checking protein content, screenings and the Hagberg Falling Number (HFN).

The Hagberg Falling Number is a test that measures the number of seconds it takes for a plunger to fall through a mixture of wheat flour and water.  The plunger falls slowly if the mixture is thick with starch and is faster if some of the starch has converted into sugar by the enzyme, alpha-amylase.

A high Hagberg falling number is an indication of low alpha-amylase activity which is good for bread making. Large-scale bakeries work with an ideal HFN range of 250–280 seconds.

Unfortunately, due to the rain and delay in harvesting, about half of our wheat grain was reduced in quality and didn’t meet the grade for milling wheat. This has caused a drop of about £7 per tonne in price paid on half our wheat harvest, or a reduction of £11,550 for the grain that will become ‘feed wheat’.

We tend to sell wheat in the Autumn, but due to a possible exit from the EU on 31st October and after various conversations with grain merchants, Laurence decided to sell much of it before that deadline due to the uncertainty surrounding trade in the coming months.  In the last three days 1,000 tonnes has been transported to Sheerness’ Port for export, 500 tonnes to a feed mill and 1,000 tonnes to a further merchant for collection in October.

Following the harvest of wheat at Shalford, the fields were cultivated and drilled with oilseed rape about two weeks ago. The plants are emerging and will have benefitted from the rain early this morning. 

The fields around Park Farm and Coomb Farm have been cultivated and will be sown with wheat starting in mid-September.

For nine weeks the bulls ran with their own small group of cows and heifers.  The bulls are then removed from the fields and we allow at least 35 days before having the cows and heifers pregnancy diagnosed. 

The results for our older bull, Ethelred were relatively good, including his maiden heifers being in-calf.   However, it was disappointing to find that six of Mister M’s group were not in calf, four of which were his maiden heifers.  The vet took blood samples from the empty females and the results were clear, not indicating anything untoward; therefore, Mister M will have a further fertility test next week to see whether there are any changes since his last check in the spring.

All being well, we expect 26 calves next March-April.

When I established this website in 2007, I used a camera to take all the photographs.  Things have changed so rapidly in the past few years and I take many more videos now using my phone because that’s always with me and will use those to ‘post’ our farming activities or wildlife onto Twitter.

However, I am glad to have remembered to take a few still pictures of the orchard recently and some dis-used nests!

Topping the brambles so the trees are not choked

We have an old orchard which we leave as a wildlife corner, only entering occasionally for pruning, topping the brambles to prevent them from engulfing the fruit trees and apple picking in September. 

Some apples will be used for home baking and others are left for birds and insects.

This bird’s nest was discovered in the fork of one of the orchard trees.

Whilst walking a Bramble clad field margin recently, I was picking the odd blackberry along the way and was fascinated to find a bundle or ball of leaves and grasses in amongst the spiky brambles.  On closer inspection there was a hidden entrance and tunnel into the centre of what I believe is a harvest mouse nest. 

Harvest mouse nest

The nest shows how clever and adaptable wildlife can be, creating a dry, secure home from the simplest materials.  It really is a thing of beauty in my opinion.


31st July 2019

Last weekend we welcomed a group of Australian and New Zealand farmers to Manor Farm.  The group are on a tour of many farms, rural enterprises and Agricultural shows across Ireland and the UK which has been organised by Fiona Lake, a professional rural industries photographer and advocate.

www.fionalake.com.au

This was the first time I had met Fiona in person, having only ever spoken with her via social media and email in the past.  However, having seen some of Fiona’s incredible photography of outback Australia and her outward looking attitude towards farming Worldwide, I was delighted that she wanted to bring Quadrant Tours to visit us and hear about farming in Surrey.

In organising this visit, my aim was to show the different aspects of our farming enterprise and how we need to dovetail our mixed arable and beef farming with our conservation work and biodiversity, whilst diversifying and future proofing the business. 

All this must be achieved in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), just 20 odd miles from London and with high visitor numbers along the Public Rights of Way network, which criss-cross the fields in which we grow crops and graze livestock.

We talked about the history of the Matthews family farming in Somerset and how EDG Matthews took a tenancy in Cowden, Kent before moving his family, staff and livestock to Manor Farm in 1935.

Conversation included everything from land tenure to soil types, the formation of the North and South Downs and the marine deposits in the chalk, minimum tillage to Red Tractor Farm Assurance and grain storage to conservation grazing. The conversation flowed for five hours and could quite easily have continued!

We took a short climb onto Holcomb Down from where our visitors could look out across the patchwork landscape of arable fields and pasture, hedgerows and woodland and south over the Weald.  We were joined for the afternoon by Rob Fairbanks, Director of the Surrey Hills AONB who explained the designation of the area, which in brief, is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape, to enable the quiet enjoyment of the countryside whilst having consideration for the interests of those who live and work in the AONB.

On the Downs we also met some of our Belted Galloway herd, discussed conservation grazing on a SSSI and why I choose to sell the ‘Beltie’ beef direct from the farm; connecting with consumers and giving them the opportunity to know exactly where and how their beef is produced from farm to fork.

This is one photo I took earlier

To round off our Manor Farm tour, we looked at some areas of the farm where we grow wild flowers and grasses for pollinators which are located in areas interlinked with other habitats such as ditches, hedgerows and field margins some of which are sown with crops to feed birds in winter and other lengthy grass margins for small mammals, insects and birds such as Barn Owls which use the area for hunting.

Due to the small size and increasing isolation of populations, the Small Blue butterfly (Cupido minimus) is under threat and the Butterfly Conservation group have been undertaking work along the North Downs to try to support this species. Kidney Vetch is the sole food plant for the Small Blue butterfly and the larvae live only in the flower heads. 

Having collected some native Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) seed from the Butterfly Officer, it was great having the Australian and New Zealand farmers getting involved and helping us to safeguard UK biodiversity by sowing the seeds onto bare ground and scratching some soil back over them. 

I hope that we provided a good overview of farming, food and wildlife in an AONB with increased external pressures and proximity to London. Each farm on the Quadrant tour will provide a myriad of contrasts the length and breadth of the country.

We completed our evening with a hog-roast, home-made cakes and British strawberries and cream!


The previous week Laurence and I went to the Lambeth Country Show to help ‘man’ the National Farmers Union (NFU) #BackBritishFarming exhibit. The Lambeth Show is in its 45th year and is the largest free family festival in the country.

The NFU exhibit had some beautiful wildflowers, a native hedge and crops on display which drew visitors in.   Alongside the crops were their respective grains, oilseeds, pulses and examples of their by-products.

We spoke with people of all ages and answered questions about how we farm and what we grow and we received a lot of interest from school teachers and community and Scout group leaders interested in arranging a visit to a real working farm, so I shall be following up on these inquiries. 

One recurring issue for educational visits is the cost of transport and I would like to see the government supporting every school with transport out to a farm, at least one class each year to help re-connect children with farmers, farming and to see how the food they eat is produced.


Children and adults enjoyed using a hand operated grain mill to see how grain is turned into flour and ‘milking’ the model cow proved very popular!


Harvest 2019 began with oilseed rape (OSR) at Park Farm and along the foot of the North Downs towards Westcott.  250 acres were originally sown, but 20 of these were written off due to pigeon damage and some drainage issues.

There is only a short window of time in which to harvest our crops according to weather conditions and subject to any mechanical breakdowns.  Therefore, if the crop isn’t damp with dew, harvesting will continue into the night and begin again the following day once the dew has dried off in sunshine or a breeze.

The weather was dry and hot for the OSR, with temperatures eventually reaching 37 degrees on the final day. Our concern this year has been that the OSR pods could pop open in the extreme heat, with the seeds simply falling to the ground before they could be harvested.

Oilseeds are tiny black seeds which are over 40% pure oil.  Rapeseed oil is one of the highest quality vegetable oils, has low saturated fat and is high in omega-3.

The crop should be below 9% moisture content at harvest and above 6% otherwise the seeds begin to crack.

The oilseed will be sold to a grain merchant in due course.

The harvested OSR fields will have organic fertiliser spread, probably starting tomorrow and this will be followed by the cultivator.  In late September/early October these fields will be drilled (sown) with wheat.

10th July 2019

Another four weeks has flown by in which we hosted a Clay pigeon shoot and hog-roast for fifty people on the hottest day of the year!

Many of our Belted Galloway herd spend the summer grazing the North Downs, a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  Conservation grazing is an important part of our Higher Level Stewardship Scheme and we work in conjunction with the National Trust following the HLS specification from Natural England.

This coarse grass is being grazed down, which over many years should enable the finer herbs to become more prevalent and keep the encroachment of scrub at bay in certain areas. The hillside does have areas of scrub and woodland which are also important habitats for a variety of species and alongside the chalk downland they provide a diversity of flora and fauna.

Bee Orchid

Birdsfoot Trefoil, otherwise known as 'Eggs and Bacon'

Today we moved the Belted Galloway yearlings from the large expanse of Blatchford Down east, into the smaller west side where there is fabulous re-growth for them to graze. 

I can see the hillside from the farm house and even at a distance the white belts of the cattle can be seen against the green landscape; I wonder how many people look upon the hillside but can’t quite fathom what the moving white blobs are!

This group of 29 have been a little unusual since going into this grazing compartment, because they have spent much of their time in two separate groups.  They have grazed in amongst the scrub and across the open grassland which is fantastic, but it has made checking and counting the cattle in their sub-teams, more like a fitness regime for us, walking up and down the hill!

The Sandy Meadow pond that we dredged in February, began to re-fill with water run-off from the land above.  The pond is now filled with clear water and is already teeming with pond life above and below the waterline.  This was a pond previously cleared by Laurence’s father and grandfather and the water used to be pumped from the pond, across the field to Park Farmhouse before mains water was supplied.


9th June 2019

 

The Surrey County Show is held on the spring Bank Holiday and is organised by the Surrey County Agricultural Society.   

Laurence has been a steward at the show since 1978 (41 years so far!); his father Fred was a steward for about 40 years and his Grandfather Edward represented the Surrey Agricultural Association in 1954 when the show began.

I was photographed in a bowler hat, traditionally worn by the show stewards and I couldn’t resist holding up my ‘Back British Farming’ bag!   

By backing or supporting British farming and buying British or local produce when possible, this helps to support sustainable Agriculture, hundreds of associated rural businesses, the rural economy and tourism across the UK.

Viable, rural farm businesses in the UK are better placed to provide high quality, high welfare food, improved habitats, increased biodiversity and unique regional landscapes which we can all enjoy.  This may not continue to be possible if we import more food at lower standards, some of which is currently produced in ways that are not legal in the UK and some which may potentially cause Environmental damage and consequences abroad that are out of plain sight.

We’ve taken various farm machinery to the show over the years to provide a display in the main ring and this year was no exception, with a variety of tractors, combine harvester, cultivator and sprayer plus another tractor and baler provided for the demonstration by Claas dealers, Olivers. 

Laurence had arranged for a trailer-full of round hay bales to be unravelled around the ring.  The hay was subsequently collected up by the baler, producing rectangular bales in front of a packed audience. There was a moment I held my breath, hoping that the demonstration would go according to plan and I’m pleased to say that it was really successful and packed with interest and information about farming in Surrey. I hope that everyone enjoyed it.

Thanks, must go to Laurence for arranging the display and for all our team for driving the kit to and from the showground and during the display as it takes up much of Sunday-Tuesday.

On Rogation Sunday, the day before the County Show, a service ‘In Celebration of the Farming and Agricultural Life of Surrey’ was held at Guildford Cathedral.  The day produced two ‘firsts’ for us at the Cathedral: I was asked to read the second Lesson and Laurence was asked to take the combine harvester along!


The Address was given by the Reverend Dr Mark Betson, who mentioned this could become an annual celebration.  It was certainly an uplifting service for farming and Agriculture and Guildford Cathedral is quite a beautiful and peaceful place to visit.

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