RAF Menwith Hill, the Yorkshire secretive military base with 'golf ball' domes

Even from the outside, this building has an air of mystery.

RAF Menwith Hill. Technical details: Camera Nikon D5, shutter speed 1/400sec, lens Nikon 70-200mm, aperture f/8.0, ISO 80. Photo: James Hardisty
RAF Menwith Hill. Technical details: Camera Nikon D5, shutter speed 1/400sec, lens Nikon 70-200mm, aperture f/8.0, ISO 80. Photo: James Hardisty

Its distinctive white spheres are in stark contrast to the rolling fields that it stands among, on the edge of the of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The military establishment is called RAF Menwith Hill and is owned by the Ministry of Defence.

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The intriguing base is one of the most secretive places in the nation, with little known publicly about the precise nature of its operations.

Located just outside of Harrogate, the site is more than six decades old, having been established in 1954.

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According to paperwork submitted to Harrogate Borough Council with previous planning application documents, the site was set up to act as a “communication intercept and intelligence support service for both the United Kingdom and the United States of America”.

Since its founding, it has been occupied by both members of the Royal Air Force and of the United States Air Force.

In August last year, Harrogate Council approved an application for three additional ‘radomes’ at the base.

These large structures, pictured here, are often nicknamed ‘golf balls’ because of their white, dimpled appearance. They are designed to shield and protect radar equipment, particularly from the elements.

The site is not the only one in North Yorkshire where intelligence work takes place.

Nestled in moorland and surrounded by a barbed wire fence, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) site in Scarborough has for decades played a vital role in protecting the country and its armed forces.

It is believed to be the longest continuously-serving site for signals intelligence (intercepting and interpreting messages) in the world - and in 2018, it began greater outreach work, running its first work experience scheme for teenagers.

But for many, the site, like RAF Menwith Hill, is seen as a place shrouded with mystery.

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