What to see
Doncaster’s chapter in Towns of Two Halves is updated below and the tourist attractions of 91 other places can be found in the book and on this website: order the book now for £8 from email@example.com. For additional information plus shopping, eating out etc there’s Visit Doncaster and Heritage Doncaster.
Links to Doncaster attractions include:
Ashworth Barracks Military Museum
Doncaster Museum & Art Gallery
Potteric Carr Nature Reserve
The Vulcan Experience (closed for building new hangar)
South Yorkshire Aircraft Museum
Yorkshire Wildlife Park
Come off the M18 at junction 3. Almost immediately – suspiciously close to the motorway – you’ll find signs pointing to Potteric Carr. Follow them, at all costs. Potteric Carr is God’s Little Acre or, to be strictly accurate, 494 normally-sized acres.
That’s less than a penny an acre, with the ticket costing £4.50 for an adult. Where else will you find value like that? And if, with kick-off providing a deadline, you haven’t got all day, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust thoughtfully suggests a variety of routes around the reserve: from an hour to a full day.
At a minimum you should enjoy the trails, the variety of habitats, the simple but helpful signs, the quirky woodcarvings and the sounds and glimpses of bird-life. Potteric Carr is so large you’ll feel as if you have it to yourself much of the time, however full the carpark is.
Sadly, the website (like so many other media outlets) can’t resist a cliché. “Many hides allow you to get up close and personal with birds such as woodpeckers and kingfishers,” it promises. Up close and personal. This is a tiresomely obvious lie. You won’t be stroking any downy little breasts or feeding grubs, sprats or processed bread into eager beaks. You may not see ‘woodpeckers and kingfishers’ at all. A heron halfway up a distant and plainly dead tree, perhaps; small song-birds on feeders outside the visitor centre, definitely. Second, why is a reference to an indifferent romantic film from 1996 assumed to make something more attractive? Michelle Pfeiffer, then aged 38, plays an ambitious young reporter building a career, assisted by Robert Redford (60 at the time) as the news director. If anything, ‘up close and personal’ promises a glimpse of what awaits us if we deny the passage of the years, but that’s hardly what you’d visit a nature reserve for, is it?
Redford might almost crop up again at the South Yorkshire Aircraft Museum for his turn in The Great Waldo Pepper. The museum’s breadth is a constant surprise. As you approach, it looks rather motley: the unadorned truncated shell of a Douglas DC3 fuselage draws the eye, as if in a salvage yard. That proves to be deceptive but not entirely unrepresentative. One of the many charms of the SYAM is its restoration work, which proceeds throughout the site and alongside some of the more complete exhibits.
The museum has aircraft from the very earliest times. Magnificent men in flimsy flying machines were aloft above Doncaster Racecourse in 1909, just over five years after the Wright Brothers’ achievement at Kitty Hawk. A Bleriot flew in that early air show and the museum has a replica. Machines from all eras, in part or in whole, offer plenty to gawp at. And if you need to sit down, there are cockpits to try and even an air-raid shelter.
The museum occupies a cluster of the buildings of RAF Doncaster, with exhibits in and out of doors. There are also impressive displays devoted to World Wars I and II and to the Falklands War. Among many poignant items is the note, in an account of the Zeppelin raid on Sheffield in 1916, saying: “There were anti-aircraft guns at the Manor, Wincobank and Eccleshall but not a shot was fired. The officers were at a ball at the Grand Hotel.” The raid killed 28 people.
The museum is just across the lake from the Keepmoat Stadium, and the prospect over the water and the trees keeps faith with the old Doncaster Rovers by being an undeniably Belle Vue (see Gallery).
If you’re approaching from the north, down the A1, Brodsworth Hall is no distance out of your way. The gardens are extensive, varied and lovely; the house is opulent above stairs and intriguing below. Also on this side of Doncaster are Cusworth Hall and, to the southwest of the town, the Ashworth Barracks Military Museum. In the town centre you’ll find Doncaster Museum & Art Gallery.
And in Towns of Two Halves, under Doncaster, there’s an extensive and thoughtful treatment of the subject of half-time entertainment at football matches.