Prince enjoys the view at cathedral

A THRILLED Prince Charles has promised the EADT he will return to Suffolk next year to inspect a cathedral's crowning Millennium tower of which he laid the first stone.

A THRILLED Prince Charles has promised the EADT he will return to Suffolk next year to inspect a cathedral's crowning Millennium tower of which he laid the first stone.

Speaking during a short visit to rain-soaked Bury St Edmunds yesterday, the future king described progress on the £10.3 million project as "wonderful," praising the "amazing" craftsmen working 100 feet above the town to transform the ambitious plans into a reality.

Enjoying his third visit to St Edmundsbury Cathedral since 1998, the Prince of Wales, who is patron of the tower, was greeted by well-wishers gathered under darkening skies before touring Suffolk's scaffolding-clad mother church for around an hour.

Protected from the downpours by a cocoon of sheeting and steel, the royal visitor chatted to stonemasons and bricklayers after ascending to one of Bury's highest points – which would have provided one of the best views over the town had the English weather been slightly more generous.

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But despite the rainfall, a crowd of around 75 people gathered outside the Cathedral's Great South door to greet Prince Charles, who arrived in town in a sleek grey Vauxhall.

Looking relaxed in a grey pinstriped suit, blue striped shirt and navy and red tie, the heir to the throne, clasping a black umbrella, spoke to around half-a-dozen well-wishers on his way into the impressive church.

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"I do hope you are not getting too wet," the Prince joked as he met the crowds, before singling out, among others, Daphne West, whose husband Don works as a surveyor on the project.

"The Prince asked me if I had been waiting long," said Mrs West, from Berkshire. "But it was certainly worth standing in the rain, as meeting Prince Charles is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I felt quite flattered.

"This is a wonderful project, and lovely he has taken so much interest. It is great he took time out to come and see the work in motion."

And 63-year-old Joyce Deadman, from Essex, was thrilled to be given the chance to chat to the royal visitor, saying: "People forget Prince Charles is just human, and he doesn't deserve all the stick he gets.

"I think he has got some good ideas on the environment, and is becoming a real father to his children."

After meeting the crowds, a massive external lift transported the Prince 100 feet up to check the progress made on the project since his last visit.

Cathedral dignitaries, including the Dean Warwick Pethers – who designed the exterior of the new tower – and Horry Parsons, who is overseeing the building work, then introduced their guest to the craftsmen who have been busy with the project for the past two years.

"The Prince asked me how my apprenticeship was going," said bricklayer Paul Gill. "He was very interested in the work we are doing, and whether we enjoyed our jobs."

Venturing down a narrow, 25 foot spiral stairwell, Prince Charles was also given a rare opportunity to glimpse the inside of the new tower, due for completion next year.

"It is wonderful to see the progress taking place," he told staff at the site. "I'm very impressed by the amazing work that has been put into this."

But the bashful royal, who laid the tower's first stone following a 15-minute crash course during a visit to the Cathedral in July 2001, then joked: "From doing the brickwork last time I came to Bury, I had an awful feeling there may now be a weak point in this tower."

After just over an hour, the Prince completed his tour by chatting with St Edmundsbury Mayor, David Lockwood, before signing the Cathedral's visitors' book.

And as the rain clouds began to clear, the popular royal took the time to talk to those waiting for him to re-emerge – and even shared his views on the project with the EADT.

"Progress on the tower is absolutely fantastic," he said. "It is certainly much higher than last time I visited.

"I will definitely be coming back to the town to see the finished project."

There was a special surprise in store for Dolly Ashcroft and her seven friends, who had planned to tour the Cathedral yesterday.

The visitors from Witham were left questioning the cause of the delay in gaining admittance – before Prince Charles bound over to say hello and shake their hands.

"We just came down to go to the Cathedral. We didn't know anything about Prince Charles being here," said the wheelchair bound 94-year-old.

"He was very nice and just said he hoped he hadn't disturbed our visit. We couldn't get in and he apologised. It's the first time I've met him. He looked the same as he does on the television only slightly thinner."

Meanwhile Alistair McWhirter, Suffolk's chief constable, said security for the visit had been stepped up to avoid a repeat of the behaviour which blighted Prince William's 21st birthday party last week.

"Obviously we took steps to assure the safety of the royal party and crowd," he said. "We had to balance the needs of the public to meet and greet Prince Charles, against the interest of security.

"We were concerned there was no copy-catting of the things which occurred at Prince William's birthday party last week."

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