Newest Review: ... steps. There is no wheelchair access and if you are infirm (or even rather unfit), you may struggle to reach the top. The same also applie... more
At that price, Clifford can keep his Tower
Clifford's Tower (York)
Member Name: SWSt
Clifford's Tower (York)
Advantages: Offers some stunning views across York
Disadvantages: Not a great deal to see inside, expensive for what you get, need to visit on a dry day
Any visit to York is generally considered incomplete without a visit to Clifford's Tower, the remains of an old stone castle first built in Norman times and further developed during the reign of Henry III. Never ones to buck the trend, Mrs SWSt and I decided to make good use of our English Heritage membership and venture inside.
Clifford's Tower is all that remains of what was once a pretty extensive castle which at one time covered a large area of York and offered a strong defensive position. The tower itself is mostly derelict and fell into disuse a long time ago. However, the ruins themselves are still rather impressive from the outside. Although the tower has no roof, its original circular structure is still completely intact. Standing atop a large mount, it offers impressive panoramic views of the city and is one of the main reasons why people choose to visit.
Clifford's Tower is very central and easy to get to. Located near the York Museum, it is less than 5 minutes walk from the city centre and not much further from the train station. York has an excellent Park and Ride system which costs £2.30 per adult for a return ticket and only takes around 10 minutes to get you into the city. If you do decide to drive in, there is a car park right by Clifford's Tower, which is really convenient, but also very expensive - the current charge is £2 per hour!
Inevitably, Clifford's Tower suffers from some accessibility issues. Since it is set on a tall mound, the entrance is accessed via a long flight of some fairly steep steps. There is no wheelchair access and if you are infirm (or even rather unfit), you may struggle to reach the top. The same also applies once you are in the tower. As we will see in a moment, the lower levels are pretty bare and the real payoff for your visit comes from climbing a narrow stone staircase, which is again fairly steep, to reach the upper level.
Once you get to the top of mound, the ticket office is immediately on your right. Here we were greeted by two very friendly staff who made us feel really welcome, having a laugh and a joke with us as we got our tickets. This made a very nice change from the surly ticket attendants you sometimes get. The same staff also proved to be very helpful and knowledgeable, as I overheard one man asking them to point out a couple of things, which they were very happy to do.
Once inside the tower, there isn't actually a great deal to see on the ground level as it has been exposed to the elements for so long that any furnishings and interior detail on the stonework have long since disappeared. There are a couple of fireplaces, windows and other features you would expect to see, but little else. To help you get some idea of both the history and the impressive size of the castle at the height of its powers, there are a number of informative display boards dotted around. These are well designed and interesting to read, giving you a potted history of the site, without going into too much detail. Even if you take the time to read every single word on them, however, the ground floor will not detain you for long.
Moving up one floor, the only room still in existence is a small chapel. Again, there is an information board (although this repeats some of the information you have already seen downstairs.) It's interesting, but again, there's not really much to detain you for long, as little of the original interior remain.
Moving on up, things suddenly become far more impressive as you emerge from the winding staircase onto the roof of the tower (or more accurately where the roof would have been!). The walls here are in pretty good condition and you can actually walk the circuit of the tower. Since Clifford's Tower stands so much higher than the rest of the city, you can get some stunning views on a good day and see for miles. A word of warning, though: the top of the tower is very exposed and completely open, so make sure you go on a dry (and ideally calm) day.
The panoramic views across the city are really stunning, and if you have struggled with the climb up all those steep and winding stairs, at least you feel it has been worth the effort. To help you pick out the more interesting landmarks dotted around the city and its outskirts, there are a number of information boards which contain a skyline drawing of the city and put names to some of the buildings you can see. There are several of these, all different, at different points in the tower, telling you the landmarks you can see from that particular point. These were very well drawn and made it incredibly easy to pick out and identify the building noted on the map and match it against the view in front of you.
The big problem with Clifford's Tower is that once you've walked right the way round the top, there's not much left to do and that makes it a pretty expensive place to visit. It currently costs £3.50 for an adult ticket, yet you won't spend a great deal of time in the place itself. Mrs SWSt and I are both historians by training and are the type of person that probably annoys you when you are in such places. We go around and read every piece of information on every board, so we don't exactly do a whistle stop tour. Yet, even allowing for that, I would estimate we were in Clifford's Tower for no longer than 20 minutes, which doesn't represent great value for money. Apart from the views, there is very little extra you get from paying to go inside - the interior is so sparse, that you can admire the structure of the building just as well simply by wandering around the base of the mound from outside - something you can do for free! As noted above we are English Heritage members, so it didn't actually cost us to go in; yet whilst we enjoyed it, we both felt that had we paid £7 to get in, we would probably not have been quite so happy.
Clifford's Tower is an interesting place, particularly for its fantastic views over the city. However, as ruins go, there's not much else to see and if you take along a family, a visit to Clifford's Tower is going to be a pretty expensive way to spend half and hour. What's there is interesting, but it's expensive and with so many other tourist attractions in York, you might prefer just to walk up to it, look around the outside and save your money for something that will give you greater enjoyment.
© Copyright SWSt 2010
Summary: Interesting, but not great value for money