Want to see this view for yourself? It's just a short walk from King's Cross, and it's totally free.
I'm standing at the top of the Caledonian Park Clock Tower. It's something of a local landmark in Islington, though not exactly in the A-list of famous London landmarks.
That's a pity, because this 1850's Italianate tower is something of a beaut.
The tower deserves to be better known. To that end, Islington Council recently gave it a major overhaul, with help from a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. The spruced up tower is now safe for free public tours. You should definitely give it a try. But first a bit of history...
Last remnants of London's main cattle market
The tower has stood here since 1855, when it formed the centrepiece of the new Metropolitan Cattle Market (which explains the slightly odd quote in our top image). This huge complex took over from Smithfield as London's main livestock market, at a time when animals had to be slaughtered close to where they'd be sold and served up. The vast site could hold up to 13,000 live animals, which must have been quite a sight (and sound, and smell).
The livestock market was operational up to the 1930s when advances in transport and refrigeration diminished its need. Meat was still sold here up until the 1960s, however.
Most of the market's buildings have long since been swept away, with the land converted into Caledonian Park. The exceptions are three former pubs, which once served pints at each corner of the market, and a few of the original railings around the perimeter. And then, of course, there's the clock tower...
Climbing the Caledonian Park Clock Tower
There's plenty more to say about the history of the market and tower, but rather than type it here, we'd recommend taking one of the free tower tours. These are facilitated by Islington Council and led by the knowledgeable guides of Islington Guided Walks.
Your journey to the top is an adventure in its own right. Visitors must climb a succession of increasingly steep steps (220 in total), which are essentially ladders at the more nervy sections. The climb might be tricky for those with an acute fear of heights, but the ladders are sturdy, with well-positioned handholds at the tops.
The ascent takes you to a series of internal platforms, from which the guide gradually tells the story of the tower. Along the way, you'll get glimpses of the panoramic views, see photographs and illustrations from the site's history, and get a chance to view the tower's clock face and mechanism up close.
Needless to say, the views from the top are breathtaking. You can walk right around the balcony level, allowing panoramas in every direction. Interpretation boards point out the key buildings, but the guides will also be able to identify most locations. All that remains then is to make your way back down the ladders... perhaps the scariest part.
Tours of the Caledonian Park Clock Tower must be booked ahead (semi-regular Saturdays), but are free. Those unable to climb the tower also have the option of a virtual tour. Spaces on each tour are limited, so be sure to cancel your ticket if you can't make it.