THE Prince of Wales said he was excited for the future after visiting Auckland Castle to see the saved Zurbaran paintings.

Prince Charles, on his first trip to Bishop Auckland , was given a guided tour of Auckland Castle by its new owner, philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer.

The visit yesterday came only three days after the multi-million pound sale of the castle and the paintings from the Church Commissioners was completed.

As he unveiled a plaque to mark his visit, Prince Charles said he was delighted with what he had seen.

“I am thrilled to have this brief opportunity to visit and, above all else to congratulate Jonathan Ruffer on his extraordinary part in helping to save the Zurbarans and this remarkable house.”

The Prince met with the crowds of flag-waving people, young and old, who had lined the grounds of the castle to welcome him.

He was then shown inside to the chapel before spending the most time looking at the Zurbaran paintings and asking questions.

He added: “I think it is truly remarkable that you (Jonathan Ruffer) are so determined to help regenerate the North-East.

“I can’t wait to see how this particular project develops.”

Stokesley -born financier Mr Ruffer agreed to buy the 17th Century Spanish paintings so they will remain on public display in the castle for the benefit of the people of the North-East.

The Auckland Castle Trust was set up earlier this year with the aim of owning and running Auckland Castle, once the home of the Bishop of Durham.

Mr Ruffer, who accompanied Prince Charles around the castle before asking him to become the first person to sign the visitor book, said: “It (the sale of the castle) is all signed.

“It is all rather exciting that the first thing that happens as owners of the castle is to have Prince Charles to show around.”

The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Justin Welby, said: “Prince Charles has given lots of support in many ways and his visit makes an extraordinary day.

“The castle is a symbol for our region. All too often people stop off in York and then go straight on to Scotland and we need to make sure people stop here and stay.”