WE all know Doncaster has lots to offer - but what would a group of specially invited journalists from across the country make of our town? Features editor DARREN BURKE joined a whistle-stop tour of the area’s cultural gems to hear their thoughts...
IT’S a drizzly April morning on a grey and overcast day in South Yorkshire.
Shoppers are huddling to keep out the chill and squally showers against a backdrop of leaden, ominous clouds.
Let’s face it, Doncaster is never going to rival Sydney Harbour, Las Vegas or the Taj Mahal in the tourism stakes. But while we might not be able to compare the the globe’s hotspots, a packed itinerary for visiting journalists suggests there’s still lots to shout about.
The bustling markets, the gothic majesty of Doncaster Minster, the pomp and splendour of the Mansion House and, of course, the faded grandeur of Brodsworth Hall, the thrills and spills of Doncaster Racecourse and the Cold War icon of XH558, the world’s last remaining flying Vulcan bomber, now based at Robin Hood Airport.
It’s these treasures and more that town centre manager Roy Dean and tourism chief Colin Joy are eager to show off as travel writers from around the country arrive to be given a brief taster of Donny’s many and varied delights.
Says Roy: “We are determined to show what Doncaster has to offer. There’s a lot going on here and it’s time we crowed about it a bit more.”
And so, to get the word out there, a gaggle of freelances have been invited to brave the elements and to savour the sights, sounds and smells and hustle and bustle of Doncaster’s Friday market as part of a day-long itinerary taking in the town’s best-loved places.
Stalls piled high with fresh fruit and veg are a riot of colour and the air is rich with the earthy tones of traders calling their wares.
Louise Bonner, who hails from Stafford, is enthused by the scenes unfolding around her.
“It’s amazing,” she says. “Just like being abroad. I had no idea there was so much variety and so much going on. This is a proper market - just how it should be.”
Indeed, its not every market that stocks weird and wonderful produce like the dasheen, a Ugandan vegetable which one elderly Jamaican female shopper enthusistically points out to the visitors, along with a few pointers on how best to serve one!
Over a slice of Toppings pork pie and beneath the ornate arches of the historic Corn Exchange, freelance travel journalist Liz Gill, who hails from Muswell Hill in London, admits she’s a “Doncaster virgin.”
“I have been through it on the train many times,” she adds. “But it never looked interesting enough to make me want to get off. I’m glad that I’ve been proved wrong - there aren’t even markets in London as good as this one.”
Fishmonger Nigel Berry dishes up samples of seafood, while inquisitve shoppers, eager to know what the mass of scribbling and notepads is all about, chip in with their own opinions. “Best market in Britain - put that,” says one. “Can’t get better than Donny market,” says another, while in that typical blunt Yorkshire style, another elderly marketgoer berates the gaggle of outsiders under his breath as his path to his regular butchers stall is temporarily blocked by our party. “Couldn’t tha’ hold tha’ meeting someweer else?.” he mumbles.
There’s a friendlier welcome awaiting at the Mansion House where long-serving councillor Yvonne Woodcock and Civic Mayor Eva Hughes are on hand to show off the 260-year-old building’s treasures.
Leaflets explaining the building’s history are eagerly snapped up off highly polished tables and the gleaming silverware of the town’s treasures raise draw enthused gasps as the band of writers draws closer to take a look.Roy explains how Doncaster’s tourism scene is booming with regular coach trips coming to town, the majority heading for the market, now officially Britain’s favourite after scooping a prestigious award earlier this year.
He adds: “Like many towns, we’ve suffered from the downturn but we are resillient, too. Doncaster is still a very vibrant place to come and enjoy - whether you’re from here or from further afield.”
Travel writer Neil Bonner agrees, and told me: “It is wonderful to see such a thriving town centre. I’ve seen more to write about in a day than I did in a whole week in Malaysia!
“I have never been here before, but there’s lots here I never knew about. It’s a real eye-opener.”
Questions are asked, snippets of info are scribbled down and as the tour of the Mansion House comes to and end, myself and photographer Malcolm Billingham, in fine journalistic traditions, make our excuses and leave.
But for the rest of the party, there’s still a hectic schedule of the racecourse, the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Doncaster Minster, Brodsworth Hall and the Vulcan to fit in.
And if those don’t help draw in the visitors to this fine town of ours, then nothing will.
Let’s just hope those journos are as kind as me when it comes to penning their words of wisdom on Doncaster!
Five things you might not know about Doncaster...
1. The town centre has 1,200 businesses - and 700 shops
2. Doncaster Market was voted Britain’s Best Market in 2011 and Britain’s Favourite Market in 2012
3. The Mansion House was built in 1749 and is one of only three in the country - the others are in York and London
4. Doncaster has ten separate markets, centred around the Corn Exchange
5. Doncaster Minster, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, is home to the magnificent Schulze organ which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.