Prince Charles has paid a secret flying visit to Scarborough this afternoon to visit the town’s historic listening station.
The heir to the throne arrived via helicopter for a tour of GCHQ Scarborough to celebrate the 100th birthday of the station, which is thought to be the oldest in the world.
The Prince of Wales visited the World War Two concrete bunker, and paid tribute to the “extraordinary” on-site museum, which is typically only open to the 200-plus staff members.
The Prince, patron of the Intelligence Service, was in good spirits throughout the afternoon.
And he received a civic reception, fronted by Scarborough MP Robert Goodwill and mayor Cllr Pat Marsburg.
He joked with Cllr Marsburg if two months into her stint as mayor she ‘regretted’ donning the chains, and asked Mr Goodwill if he was going on holiday this year after enquiring if Parliament had broken up for the summer.
Mr Goodwill, who was meeting the prince for the second time, replied that he wasn’t, adding: “Why would I need to go anywhere else, Scarborough is lovely for the summer.”
And at the private museum, Prince Charles also received a brief lesson on how to use an Enigma code-breaking machine - briefly toying with the keys himself.
Although the hushed-up event was on a much smaller scale to previous Scarborough royal visits, those in attendance were still full of praise for Prince Charles.
“He puts people at ease,” said MP Robert Goodwill, with Mayor Marsburg adding that the Prince was a “natural”.
And during his visit to the Irton Moor site, Charles also learned about Scarborough’s “significant” contribution during World War Two, efforts which included tracking the famous German battleship the Bismarck, prior to its sinking in 1941.
Taking him around the site was retired historian Mike.
A self-described former “puzzle solver” himself, he demonstrated the encryption machine to the Prince.
He also informed Charles for the first time that the Royal Yacht Britannia had part of it kitted out with equipment during the Second World War - turning it into a “floating” war room.
And he added: “Charles seemed genuinely interested.
“He’s a former Royal Navy Officer so of course he was interested in ships at sea.”
It was the first ever official royal visit to the secretive base, although it’s thought that King George VI may have paid a surprise visit during World War Two on a “morale boosting” trip.
And Charles, who had previously visited the main site in Cheltenham, was accompanied throughout by the Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, Lord Crathorne.
During the afternoon visit, the Prince was also briefed on a variety of other subjects, including some of the current operational work that Scarborough does in support of GCHQ’s mission against serious crime and cyber threats and the many volunteering and charity initiatives that station staff support.
He also unveiled a plaque dedicating new accommodation facilities and commemorating the visit.
Charles had flown up from Sandringham, where he had spent the morning attending the annual flower show. His scheduled stop in Scarborough was made en-route to Scotland.
A GCHQ spokesman said: “It is a real pleasure for us to host a visit by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales to our Scarborough site in this centenary year so that he can meet staff and see first-hand the vital work they do in keeping the country safe.
“The Prince has long been a strong supporter of the work of the intelligence agencies and his presence here today is a reminder of that.”
Situated on Irton Moor, the secretive base was built in 1912 when the Royal Navy established a wireless telegraphy station in the Scarborough area.
However it relocated in 1943 to the present site.
Since 1914 it has played a vital role in protecting Britain from attack.
It serves as an outstation to the main Cheltenham GCHQ site, and helps fight terrorism, the spread of nuclear war and cyber crime.
For further coverage see The Scarborough News next week.