Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Challenge Number 19 – Visit Clifford’s Tower

Everyone has a place in their home town that they never get round to visiting. That is, if their home towns contain places worth visiting. I mean, your home town might house a shithole that you deliberately avoid visiting (divey nightspot, concrete shopping centre, power station), but that’s not the same thing. I mean somewhere you really SHOULD visit, but never make the time. Because you don’t need to. It’s always there. You’re always there. One day, it will happen. Except it never does.

For me, that place in York is Clifford’s Tower. Despite various visits to York throughout my childhood and teenage years, three years as an undergraduate here and now nearly five years as a full-time resident (where did that go?) I’d never been. Some might think that’s because it’s up an awful lot of steps and I am a bit of a lazy arse. But I can do steps. For example, I climbed the tower of the Minster at the end of my first year at university, which contains loads of steps, not to mention a hideous walk across a parapet. So I don’t think the steps were the problem. It might be because it’s one of the sights in York that a resident has to pay to visit (unless you are a member of English Heritage) and I’m a bit of a tight Yorkshire lass at heart. But most likely it was just because everyone has to have somewhere in their home town that they never get round to visiting.

So this Bank Holiday Monday, I went to see Clifford’s Tower. And it’s brilliant. Apart from the whole Jews burning themselves to death and prisoners being strung up by chains thing. I’m not saying that was brilliant. What is brilliant is the view. You get a completely unique aspect of the city from the top. There’s the Minster for starters, which is hard to see from anywhere else within the City Walls (unless you’re in the cafe in the menswear section of Marks and Spencer’s). Then there’s the Castle Museum and law courts on one side, the rivers Ouse and Foss, the North York Moors on the horizon, the Yorkshire Wheel, the sails of Holgate Windmill, Fairfax House, Rowntree's, Terry's, the Grandstand at the Knavesmire, our house, as well as the less good stuff like the Coppergate Centre and the world’s worst car park (= who needs room to actually open a car door?) directly at the foot of the mound.

It doesn’t take lots of time to look around Clifford’s Tower but there’s lots to learn while you’re there. And it’s not just a faceless ruin inside, which is what you might think looking up at it from the road. There’s a chapel that I never knew was there, as well as fireplaces and latrines - evidence of rooms (a Royal Treasury no less) long gone.

There are some very friendly people working there. And some very annoying people who go and visit it. Not the teenagers who think that rolling down William the Conqueror’s mound is a right laff. (They would slide down the banister, but some killjoy stuck metal knobs at regular intervals along its length.) Or me, trying to take a photo of myself at arm’s length as my husband had gone off shopping with Charlotte. But tourists. Looking for the lift. Shouting down iPhones. Having mock sword fights with plastic swords. Doing rock and roll dances in the courtyard. And that was just one family.

For those who’d like to know more, there’s some good historical information about Clifford’s Tower here and here, which I don’t have time to plagiarise.

Generally, people in York have not been kind to the site of Clifford’s Tower. They've burned it down three times. (Once with intent, once as part of a tragic mass suicide and once because someone was careless with a cannon.) They've allowed it to fall into ruin twice. They've blocked it off from view for centuries behind high prison walls. They built that sodding car park next to it. They used to have a fireworks display in it on Bonfire Night, which was probably somewhat disrespectful to all those persecuted Jews. They’ve covered it in graffiti at least once since I’ve lived in York. Now apparently they want to expand Coppergate and build a shopping centre even closer to it. And then there’s people like me, who never get round to visiting it.

Until now.

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