SO what is there to like about Doncaster? It’s not one of those towns with a glamorous image, or one that can claim to be a cultural hidden gem.
In fact, when I told friends my wife and I were going to head up for a weekend and explore the area’s highlights some of them actually laughed at us.
But actually, we’ve discovered there’s a lot to like about the area if you take the time to explore what it has to offer.
Doncaster itself is nothing to write home about - at least, on the face of it. It’s a fairly sizeable market town with a reasonably functional one-way system and a sensible mix of shops.
But once you get in to the town you’ll stumble upon the absolutely remarkable market. And that’s what sets Doncaster apart. It’s not just any market, you see. In fact it’s an award winning market that’s split into different sections, catering for all tastes and budgets.
There’s a fairly traditional outdoor market, a ‘wool market’, corn exchange, food hall and fish market - and more besides if you take the time to look round it in its huge entirety.
The best bit by far though is the food hall with its dizzying array of butchers, some lovely delicatessens and cheese stalls and the award-winning pies from Topping Pie Company.
Away from the town Doncaster is surrounded by some very pretty Yorkshire Countryside. Of course, you’ve heard of the racecourse - which was sadly under several inches of snow when we visited - but have you heard of Brodsworth Hall?
It was also ‘under the weather’ on the particularly snowy Saturday we tried to pay a visit but the English Heritage property looks stunning and is dubbed by experts to be one of the best stately homes in the area.
One attraction not far from Doncaster that we were able to go and have a look round before the worst of the weekend’s snow fell was Yorkshire Wildlife Park. And, despite the freezing temperatures, it was a wonderful place to look round.
Relatively new and with development still underway around the 70 acre site, there is a fabulous mix of animals spread out in spacious enclosures around the fairly flat park, which has wide walkways that encircle each enclosure.
The 10 acre ‘Lion Enclosure’ is among the must-sees in the park. You won’t miss it, not just because of its size, but because of the sound of the male lions roaring as they make their presence known. It’s an unforgettable sound that echoes around the entire site and something I won’t forget in a hurry.
Our destination for our overnight stay in the area was Bawtry. It’s a charming little market town that’s very easy to reach from Doncaster and its cute little squares and narrow roads are worth a wander round.
For a small community, Bawtry has a buzzing nightlife. There’s no shortage of pubs and bars but we were booked in to the Crown Hotel, which seems to be the epicentre as its small bar at the front of the imposing building became very busy late on.
By contrast, the rest of the hotel, from the warm and welcoming reception back, was very calm and serene. I’d even go as far as saying it’s quite luxurious.
Its four star status is evident all the way through, from its spacious restaurant, through to its nicely decorated corridors, which lead to one of four types of rooms.
We were staying in an ‘executive’ room. There are four options; standard, executive, superior and suite. Our room, which had a large L-shaped layout, was absolutely gorgeous.
Properly deserving of its four star status, the room was warm, comfortable and with fairly lavishly decorated with very atmospheric (if a little dim) mood lighting.
There was small corner sofa, a rotating 32” television, a sunken double bed on a raised wooden platform and wireless internet, tea and coffee facilities, hair dryer and so on was all present and correct.
The bathroom, which was accessed through a an opaque glass door, was also top notch. A large bath, beautiful stone floors and walls, huge basin and a double shower that could accommodate a rugby team (I kid you not) were all part of the package.
It’s the sort of room you’d be happy to spend the whole stay in, if there wasn’t so much on offer outside your four walls. Our evening meal was fabulous, the service was excellent and the complimentary breakfast was also delightful.
I’d only be unfairly nit-picking if I had to pick fault with the Crown Hotel. It delivers everything you want for a short stay. It’s also the ideal place to use for your own exploration of Doncaster - or even just a day at the races.
So while the heavy snow might have kept us away from sights we wanted to see, we left convinced there is more to Doncaster and its surrounding area than it’s often given credit for.
I’d definitely go to Doncaster again. It’s only a short distance away and there’s plenty to do to fill a short break. Next time though, I’m definitely going to buy more pies.