Amazing Views And Free Tours Of Cally Clock Tower

By M@ Last edited 33 months ago

Last Updated 20 October 2021

Amazing Views And Free Tours Of Cally Clock Tower
Skyscrapers line the horizon under a menacing sky. A green park is in the foreground as seen from a tower.
Just look at that view!

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.

An Italianate tower rises above the treeline. It features a clock and a belfry.

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).

A black and white image showing the clock tower in the centre of a sprawling market of livestock. Smaller buildings line the perimeter

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

A view of central London through a circular window
Through the round window...

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.

A panoramic view of London with a railing in the foreground

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.

Stair cases radiate at funny angles in an internal scene
Some of the less-steep stairs. Don't worry, the photo was taken at a jaunty angle.

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.

View of buildings and distant hills from above.
The view looking north towards Highgate.

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.

The back of a large clockface, showing the hands in silhouette
Behind the tower's clock face.

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.