Bringing back Doncaster's 'lost' ferry landing station

Dan Goddard, Mexborough Ferryboat Association team leader (front left), pictured with volunteers back l-r Pam Chambers, Darren Lucas, Natalie Seddons, Chaz Prouten and Chris Dalton. Front Elijah Goddard, five. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Canal Volunteers MC 1
Dan Goddard, Mexborough Ferryboat Association team leader (front left), pictured with volunteers back l-r Pam Chambers, Darren Lucas, Natalie Seddons, Chaz Prouten and Chris Dalton. Front Elijah Goddard, five. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Canal Volunteers MC 1

Two years ago, a historic section of the River Don  was pretty much lost to the world.

Years of lack of maintenance, and vast amounts of silt, had reclaimed the former site of the ferry near Mexborough which once carried passengers across the river, before a bridge was built.

Pam Chambers, Chaz Prouten and Chris Dalton, pictured, volunteer on behalf of the Mexborough/Swinton/Kilnhurst Royal British Legion. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Canal Volunteers

Pam Chambers, Chaz Prouten and Chris Dalton, pictured, volunteer on behalf of the Mexborough/Swinton/Kilnhurst Royal British Legion. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Canal Volunteers

But a concerned group of residents refused to let nature take its course on the site of the former landing station.

They turned their attentions to transforming the site. That done, they have now moved on to make what had been a tired and littered river bank into a much more attractive place for people to walk, or even to sail past on their canal boats.

They may have completed their work in digging out the former steps down to the water, but they are continuing their work to improve the area.

Volunteer Dan Goddard is one of the members of the Mexborough Ferry Boat Association which has been carrying out the work.

Darren Lucas, who is also a volunteers Lockeeper, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Canal Volunteers MC 4

Darren Lucas, who is also a volunteers Lockeeper, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Canal Volunteers MC 4

Since the group was first set up, he and a band of public-spirited volunteers have carried out littler picks along a two mile section of river, put in place raised flower beds, and painted many essential features along the river and canal.

The group first sprang into action in May 2015.

Dan said: "There was an old 17th century ferry boat landing at the bottom of Ferry Boat Lane. It used to be a ferry across the Rover Don before the bridge was built, and it was a lovely old structure, but it was left going to wrack and ruin.

"It was completely covered in silt, since the floods which happened in 2007, and trees were starting to grow out of that. You would not have known that the old landing point was there.

Dan Goodard, Mexborough Ferryboat Association team leader, pictured with his son Elijah, five.'Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Canal Volunteers MC 5

Dan Goodard, Mexborough Ferryboat Association team leader, pictured with his son Elijah, five.'Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Canal Volunteers MC 5

"We appealed for volunteers to help preserve it - and we had a great turnout. We sorted it out in a couple of weekends, and things have just progressed from that."

Since they completed the manual work of shifting the silt and vegetation from the site, they have also done more work to make it site an attractive place to spend time and relax.

There is now seating in place.

"Now it's a lovely spot," said Dan. "Your're right there by the river bed, you can hear the sound of the running water, and you can sit there in the sun in the summer."

The volunteers are now looking to improve and look after the two mile stretch of the water running from the boundary of Mexborough and Swinton, and all the way to Mexborough Low Lock.

Mexborough Low Lock is one of Dan's favourite places on the canal. He describes it as peaceful, with a range of wildlife including water birds, rabbits and foxes. "It's a little bit of countryside amid the built up area of the town," he said.

The work continues, and this month the volunteers have been painting Mexborough Top Lock. They are working on the structure and handrails at a lock which still works, carrying traffic including house boats and even oil tankers.

There is a committee of five people, and the number of volunteers attending events usually rangers from around eight to 25. In the past groups including the scouts and army cadets have all joined in.

They have at times had help from the Swinton Lock Activity Centre. The centre has provided its boat in the past to carry litter away for the volunteers.

They are planning another major litter pick next month on September 16 at 10am.

The group has continued to try to make the waterway through Mexborough as attractive as possible.

There have been challenges. At one point, they found Japanese knotweed, a notorious invasive weed which is difficult to move and can cause major damage to buildings.

To move it is a major process and the group has paid for one of its members to receive specialist training It has had a year of treatment by volunteer Tom Attree, who is planning to do more work on the site this year.

Dan is proud of what the volunteers have done. He said: "A good volunteer is someone who comes along and helps and we try to cater for everyone. Some of the jobs are pretty physical, but some are not. Some people will come and do five hours, others will do an hour - everyone is welcome."

Restoring the canal has not all been plain sailing - and arsonists have hampered the work of the volunteers.

The Mexborough Ferry Boat Association managed to get grants to put a number bins in place along the banks of the canal. The volunteers empty them to keep the banks tidy.

They had arranged them so that people would never be more than a few hundred yards away from a bin.

But vandals have recently struck.

Committee member Dan Goddard said: "We installed the bins, which the walkers seemed to be using, but unfortunately we have had a problem with people setting fire to them.

"We installed five bins in March, but now we only have two left. We have had a problem with them being destroyed through antisocial behaviour.

"It has been a battle but we shall not be defeated."

Volunteers have found themselves clearing up decades worth of litter on the banks of the canal.

When they started the work, they found a large amount of rubbish had accumulated over the decades - and there was evidence that it went back 30 years.

Committee member Dan Goddard said: "Of all the things we've done, cleaning the environment has been one of the challenges. The litter has literally gone back decades. One of the items that we picked up was a packet crisps, a packet of Nik Naks, which had a best before date of 1987."