Do the Don – walking the rewilded river from Doncaster to Sheffield

Do the Don – walking the rewilded river from Doncaster to Sheffield

The post-industrial river, called South Yorkshire’s answer to Apocalypse Now by Jarvis Cocker in the 1970s, today boasts great trails and clean waters

Growing up in Doncaster 40 years ago, I barely knew the river that named our town. Keen walkers as my parents were, their rambles studiously avoided the Don. Like an unsavoury or disgraced relative, its name was rarely mentioned.

The Don snakes 70 miles or so from the peat bogs and moors of the Pennines through Sheffield, Doncaster, the lost fens of Yorkshire and on to join with the Ouse and the Trent. This is a mighty river. Back in my childhood, however, the Don’s reputation was as tainted as its waters. For more than 200 years it was canalised, culverted and heavily polluted, serving collieries, power stations, mills and, most significantly, Sheffield’s steel industry. Its waters were artificially heated, poisoned with everything from arsenic to lead, and treated as an open sewer. In The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell wrote caustically of Sheffield’s “ugliness” and the stench of its “bright yellow toxic river”. By the 1960s, the Don was declared biologically dead. When Jarvis Cocker and friend took to its waters in a dinghy in the late 1970s, the singer described the experience as South Yorkshire’s answer to Apocalypse Now.

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