The Cheltenham Listening Stones are a set of nine sculptures located next to the GCHQ headquarters in Cheltenham, UK. Two of the stones bear an encrypted inscription.

The British GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) is sometimes referred to as the world’s second most powerful surveillance organization after the NSA. The GCHQ is located in a round building (“donut”) at the outskirts of Cheltenham, UK. When I attended a conference in Birmingham earlier this week, I took the chance to take a side-trip there.

While the NSA building near Washington is surrounded by “photographs prohibited” signs, no such thing can be seen near the GCHQ building. The following is a picture I took at the entrance of it:


A side exit of the GCHQ building directly leads to the Hester’s Way Park – a beautiful place, especially on a sunny September afternoon.


In Hesters Way Park a collection of stone sculptures created by artist Gordon Young was installed in 2005. Each of the sculptures has an inscription consisting of letters, numbers, or symbols, mostly without an obvious meaning.

Last year, I published an article about the Cheltenham Listening Stones illustrated with pictures provided by artist Gordon Young. Now that I have been there myself, I can present a number of photographs of my own creation. Only a stone’s throw from the  GCHQ side exit the following sculpture is located:


It bears an encrypted inscription:


Blog reader Robert solved this cryptogram. He found the following cleartext:

TACHIBANA AKEMI What a delight it
is When on the bamboo matting
In my grassthatched hut,
All on my own, I make myself at
ease. What a delight it is
When, borrowing Rare writings
from a friend, I open out The
first sheet. What a delight
it is When, spreading paper,
I take my brush And find my
hand Better than I thought. What
a delight it is When, after
a hundred days Of racking
my brains, That verse that
wouldn’t come Suddenly turns out
well. What a delight it is
When, of a morning, I get up
and go out To find in full
bloom a flower That yesterday
was not there. What a delight
it is When, skimming through
the pages Of a book, I discover
A man written of there Who
is just like me. What a delight
it is When everyone admits
It’s a very difficult book,
And I understanid t With no
trouble at all. Wtha a delight
it is When I bloaw way the
ash, To watch the cmrison Of
the glowing fire And hear the
water boil. What a delight it
is When a guest you cannot
stand Arrives, then says to
you ‘I’m afraid I can’t stay
long,’ And soon goes home. What
a delight it is When I find
a good brush, Steep it hard
in water, Lick it on my tongue
And give it its first try.

The next sculpture has an encrypted inscription, too:


Here’s the proof that I have really been there:


Here’s the encrypted Text:


It was solved by blog reader Dan Girard in September 2015. It turned out to be a Playfair encryption with the keyword LECKHAMPTON and the following plaintext:

leckhampton chimney has fallen down
the birds of crickley have cried it it is known in the town
the clifxfs have changed what will come next xto that line
watcher of west england now that landmark oas falxlen
severn has changed course it is known by barxrow
malvern may heave up in other lines by tomorxrow
but maisemore hill stable and rounded shalxl stay
and strawberry flowers found surprise on christmas day
clexeve will front sunset birdlip shalxl have its road
flung angled and noble on its breast broad
many things xshall stay but the stone chimney
leckhamptons mark has falxlen like a stick or a trexex

Kommentare (2)

  1. #1 Dan Girard
    11. September 2016


    There’s something I probably should have mentioned in the comments last year. While I was searching for information about the poem in the Playfair cryptogram, I found this Wikipedia page about the “Devil’s Chimney” rock formation at Leckhampton Hill:

    If you click on the first photo on the right side of the page, and then zoom in on the upper right corner of the photo, you can see the GCHQ building clearly visible in the background.

    Since the “Donut” can be seen from the “Devil’s Chimney”, I wonder if the reverse is true, and the “Chimney” can be seen from the “Donut” (perhaps with the aid of binoculars). After checking Google Maps, I would guess that the distance between the two is only about 5 km.

    In any case, it looks as if you had a very pleasant afternoon.

    Dan Girard

  2. #2 Klaus Schmeh
    13. September 2016

    Thanks for this information. I didn’t see the “Devil’s Chimney” from Hester’s Way Park, but I didn’t look out for it. The chimney might be a good point to see the “Donut” and take pictures of it.